I don’t know about you but I am parenting a “feeler”. What I mean by this is that he is keenly aware of any change in routine, behavior, and feeds off it. Meaning it is my job to be his internal regulator by calming my own chaos. Through our families' decision to practice social distancing and being aware about COVID-19, I have had to practice my own internal regulation in order to be able to guide my child through this time. When he asks big questions like “why can’t I go to school, play at the park, or see grandpa”. I have found pause with how to answer him.
The answer for talking to your child about what is going on is simple but intimidating. Practicing an honest & age appropriate dialogue in our home for all things is crucial. Where is Fred Rogers when we need him?!
Working with children has taught me about the importance of following your child’s lead, answering honestly, and empathizing with how they feel.
It’s important that we empathize with their experience but we don’t make the experience about us. We need to hold space for them in hard moments. For example, “It’s hard that we can’t see Grandpa. It sounds like you miss him”. For our teens who are craving the in person social interaction, “I hear that you wish you could go to your friends house. This is frustrating to have to practice social distancing. Is there something that I can do to make this easier?” If they can’t find an answer, you can offer a connection-based activity with your family like a board game or making a warm batch of chocolate chip cookies.
The crucial step to handling hard conversations is being aware of your own feelings and knowing how to handle them in a way where your child doesn't end up trying to comfort you. It is okay to have big feelings as an adult or a child during this very confusing and scary time. As adults, it is our responsibility to be honest and attuned for our children to feel safe.
Fred Rogers is my favorite model of having difficult conversations with children during difficult seasons of life. Check out this great article from the Atlantic about how to coin “Fredish Terms” in your home.
Here are some of my favorites from the article in relation to where it is and isn’t safe to play. I modified these for my child with the neighborhood playground being a current unsafe place to play:
- “State the idea you wish to express as clearly as possible, and in terms preschoolers can understand.” Example: We are not able to play at the park because our family is avoiding germs right now.
- “Rephrase in a positive manner,” as in "It is good to play in our own space".
- “Rephrase your idea to eliminate all elements that could be considered prescriptive, directive, or instructive.” In the example, that’d mean getting rid of “ask”: Your parents will tell you where it is safe to play.
- “Add a simple motivational idea that gives preschoolers a reason to follow your advice.” Perhaps: Your mom and dad can tell you where it is safe to play. It is good to listen to them.
- “Rephrase your new statement, repeating the first step.” “Good” represents a value judgment, so: Your mom and dad can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them.
- “Rephrase your idea a ﬁnal time, relating it to some phase of development a preschooler can understand.” Maybe: Your mom and dad can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them, and listening is an important part of growing.