What unprecedented and unpredictable moments we are living in. Perhaps fear of loss of control, safety, and family have been swirling around your mind. You may have many burning questions as you attempt to continue on with life as you’ve known it. I am here to let you know, it’s okay to feel, it’s okay to worry, and it’s okay to sense discomfort in the face of uncertainty. The aim of this article is to provide you with insight into how to address these questions bubbling within, notice signs of distress in your children, and face uncertainty with unwavering confidence.
I have been practicing as a mental health clinician for years and see a wide range of clients from young to old. One of my favorite parts about being a clinician is gifting space for clients to explore the deeply ingrained blueprints to their here and now. Blueprints are the artful illustrations that architects closely create and observe to ensure the successful completion of any project. Homes are the blueprints of our lives as human beings. Within homes, the concepts of what is normal are passed down, routines ingrained, relationships observed, and definitions created. In neighborhoods across the world, the home is seen as a place of refuge from the outside. Paula Giddings (1984) discusses that for Black families it serves dually as a place of refuge but also the home is a bulwark (or defensive wall) that secures one’s safe passage through it.
“In the face of COVID-19, what are your children observing, internalizing, embodying, and ingraining into their blueprint of life?
What does this mean? The home is a safe haven but also a place where Black children are intimately and constantly learning in communion with kin and the familiar. Constantly learning means that one must also be constantly teaching. In the face of COVID-19, what are your children observing, internalizing, embodying, and ingraining into their blueprint of life? What does it mean to exist in their homes amidst a global pandemic? Setting a healthy foundation for your children in the here and now is extremely important as they will likely face stressors, pandemic-like moments, and uncertainty in the future. You are crucial to help set the foundation and cultivate their healthy development!
There are several steps you can take to create moments of calm and normalcy in your child’s day. While the home provides a firm foundation for children to explore, grow, and become; the worlds outside of it become lands of newfound agency, autonomy, identity, and peer support. Sheltering in place for young people often can mean living in shelter from the lives, friends, and moments of becoming they once felt. Feelings of isolation, disconnection from peers, loss of routine, and fear of the unknown, as a result, can trigger feelings of depression and anxiety (Casey, 2015; Matthews et al, 2015; )
Here are some things to look out for when it comes to changes in your child’s behavior (Mayo Clinic and American Psychiatric Association):
- Feelings of sadness, which can include crying spells for no apparent reason
- Frustration or feelings of anger, even over small matters
- Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
- Tiredness, sleeping longer than usual, and loss of energy
- Insomnia or inability to sleep
- Changes in appetite — decreased appetite and weight loss, or increased cravings for food and weight gain
- Frequent stomach aches or physical complaints
- Agitation or restlessness — for example, pacing, handwringing or an inability to sit still
- Feeling keyed up or on edge
- Slowed thinking
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, and making decisions
- Social isolation (e.g., isolating themselves further from family while in quarantine)
- Self-harm — for example, cutting, burning, or excessive piercing or tattooing
- Making a suicide plan or a suicide attempt
Depression and anxiety are complex disorders that are not preventable for some due to biological factors such as brain chemistry, fluctuations in hormones, and negative, stressful, or traumatic experiences in early childhood (i.e., the sudden death of loved ones, divorce, witnessing violence, abuse, etc.). Children are deeply interconnected yet resilient beings. According to the Mayo Clinic, while depression and anxiety cannot entirely be prevented, taking steps to actively control and manage stress along with fortifying friendship and social support during times of crisis can build resilience in children and teens.
So, what to do?
The home is your child’s learning environment! Vygotsky, a well-known researcher of child development wrote about the concept of zones of proximal development (1978). Adults guide children in carrying out activities that are beyond the child’s individual skills and this joint communal problem-solving provides children with information to stretch their own skills. In these moments of uncertainty and fear, lean into your own humanity with honesty and compassion. It will help you model to your children how to do the same.
HOW TO DO IT:
Check in with yourself
With family all hunkering down in one space, it is important to remember that it is impossible to pour from an empty cup. Your kiddos and partner deserve the best parts of you. Before your feet touch the ground in the morning and you begin answering phone calls, teleconferences, making breakfast and homeschooling your little ones, check-in with yourself. Breathe. Place your hand to your chest and inhale and exhale repeating “I am here.” In the mayhem of our new realities, it is easy to feel lost and disconnected from ourselves. Be intentional with your humanity, emotions, fears, and anxieties by repositioning yourself out of the landscape of a global pandemic and into the sacred spaces of your body, your home, and your humanity.
Make space for open communication
If you find that your child is refusing to follow quarantine guidelines, rebelling against the idea of having to stay inside, sneaking out, or exhibiting signs of rage, create an open space for them to discuss their feelings. Create weekly family check-ins where everyone in the family sits together and finishes the following statements: “I think…” “I feel…” “I need…” During these check-ins, perhaps you can always have freshly popped popcorn or make steaming cups of hot cocoa. Make these moments of routine connection special. If your teen is constantly stating that they feel they need freedom, their friends, and desire the ability to travel outside freely, democratically and collaboratively devise ideas with them to meet their needs. Weekly family check-ins intentionally open and hold space for your family to remain connected, open, and honest with each other during such shifting times. These moments also allow you to monitor any developing signs of depression or anxiety in your children and create additional space for social and familial support. Gather!
Create democratic routines
Keeping and maintaining routines are crucial amidst uncertainty as they create much-needed stability, predictability, and comfort. Try to create schedules and routines for your families. Set a time that everyone is out of bed, showered, and eating breakfast. Make it fun! Give positive reinforcement (i.e., praise, stars, treats at the end of the week for the family member who was able to make their bed the most or the neatest, etc.). Create time periods where your child is doing schoolwork and for your older children, allow them autonomy to work independently. Just check in on them from time to time to see if they need assistance.
As discussed above family check-ins are crucial to ensure that everyone in the family has space and time to express their feelings, concerns, fears, and hopes. During these family check-ins also ask each child “what would you love to do this week?” Perhaps it’s building a Lego castle, painting, taking time to connect with friends, making a favorite meal, reading a book, or taking dance breaks. Check in with your child on a weekly basis and if it is feasible and to your best ability, make space and time for them to build in their wishes into the regimented routines of day to day!
While we are in unprecedented and unpredictable times hopefully this article sheds light on the fact that there are ways to remain healthy, connected, and attentive to the needs of your children and family. With confidence be the bulwark, the strength, the stability, and the sacred space for healing and safety in the face of COVID-19.
Camille Lester lives in NYC and is a practicing mental health clinician, a National Certified Counselor (NCC), and a current Ph.D. student in Developmental Psychology. Her work centers around the multifaceted dimensions of Black motherhood and socialization, primarily peering into the process of how Black mothers sort, wrap, and gift identity to their children. She also has a private practice (therapy with c) where she opens and holds space for couples, teens, children, and individuals of color to reunite with and embody the ever-present light that exists within; she practices primarily from a Black feminist narrative framework; fundamentally believing in autonomy and freedom. She believes there is great power in the stories about our lives we hold as truth, and there is great liberation involved in taking back the pen, to re-story and re-author life’s most difficult narratives. Additionally, Camille is training to become a doula. Her future goals are to blend research, clinical, and birth work to create spaces for radical and integrated care, healing, and community for black and brown women, mommy’s, and families.
This article is re-posted with permission from the American Psychological Association’s RESilience Initiative, which provides resources to parents and caregivers for promoting the strength, health, and well-being of children and youth of color. Learn more at www.apa.org/res.