This week has felt like whiplash. Our lives have changed so quickly that it is surreal to think about what it was like only a short while ago. But, as predicted, people have rallied. We have found solutions for our schools, our families, and our children. Truly, I am impressed. We have set the stage beautifully for this tenure into the unknown.
But now, please, let’s be very gentle as we give ourselves time to adjust.
No matter how effectively we have managed to rearrange our lives, it is not possible to fully “hustle along” the time human brains need to adjust. As adults, I suspect many of you are feeling as mentally “foggy” as I am. Our higher-order thinking is gonna’ take a while to catch up and our emotional brains are going to be trying to run the show for a while. All of this is a very normal part of the process that takes place when our brains have moved into survival mode as we face the threats (real and anticipated) that are part of our existence right now.
As you can imagine, if our fully-developed adult brains need this space for adjustment, the far less-developed brains of our children are going to need even more. In my own home, my worrier is attempting to elect himself the CEO of All Things, seeking control wherever he can. My free spirit is decidedly less free, prone to tears, and needing more assurance and snuggles than usual. And this Mama? I’m succeeding sometimes but I’ve also chosen hollering over hugs a few times too. We’re all just muddling through.
To some degree, we can all expect a period of physical and/or emotional regression as we move through this time. It is going to be very common, especially in these early stages, to see our children return to old or exaggerated patterns that you may have thought were long gone. Elimination issues (goin’ pee-pee and poo-poo in the potty), bed-wetting, sleep concerns, and physical acting out/tantrums may all be part of the transition, especially for younger children. Kids are more likely to be irritable, prone to tears, resistant to things that are normally not a big deal, and more worrisome than is common for their personality. They are working out, in their little kid way, how to make sense of these changes and where they can place their footing as it comes.
Here are a few things that may be especially important to consider as we all move gently into this new normal.
Control. Let go of the things you can let go of. Our kids are seeking ways to feel control in of this strange new experience. To the level that it is developmentally appropriate, give them creative license. I cannot let my 8 and 4-year-olds determine the schedule for the entire day, but I can definitely let them decide Mondays are pajama days, what shape their pancakes are, and where we are going to walk outside. Cash in as much appropriate control to them as you can because this situation will have us making withdrawals we usually don’t have to make.
Play. Pay attention to what your kids are playing. Following the changes this week, the themes of play in our home have become markedly louder, more panicked, and more driven by “calamity”. My kids have always played natural disasters (so many floods and tornadoes) but the intensity has increased exponentially. Children’s play is often how they deal with their real-life situations. It is essential that they have unstructured creative time to work things out in their imaginations. Observe, notice changes, and offer as much routine and comfort as possible as they heal themselves through play.
Touch. This is such a weird category as we are dealing with social distancing. But, so long as we have health in our home I am not social distancing from my children. We have to remember that prior to these changes, our tiny humans were not only getting touch from us, they were also getting high fives and hugs from their teachers and social touch from all their little buddies at school. Be aware that they may be touch deficient right now. Consider reading that extra book together, giving an extra cuddle, or taking on an additional round of living-room-wrestle-mania to fill this space.
Compassion. For yourself. For your kids. For the times when you tear up and you didn’t see it coming or your anger bubbles up because yet another option has been taken away. Tell your kids these changes are hard for everyone but you are so grateful for the opportunity to go through it together. Teach them what it means to embrace the waves of change so they will be able to ride them well later in life. Be patient with however long it takes you, and takes them, to find a way in this strange new experience.
We are adjusting folks, but we can’t be perfectionists about it. It takes as long as it takes, let’s love ourselves in the meantime.
*For an incredible resource during this time I wholly recommend looking into Aundi Kolber’s recent release, “Try Softer“. She speaks the language of self-compassion better than anyone I have heard in a long time.