Building Resilience: The Struggle is Real
The Struggle is Real
While adults can use words to express their feelings, young children often share their anxiety and distress with us through their behavior. Right now, lots of things are different and despite our best efforts, children can experience worry, uncertainty, anger, sadness, or fearfulness related to things they’ve seen, heard, or experienced. Children don’t yet have the skills that adults have to understand and regulate their feelings and behavior. (To be honest, even as adults we sometimes fail at regulating our feelings and behavior!) When under stress, children’s behavior changes can include increase in tantrums, development of new fears, sleep problems, or increased needs to be close to their parents, to name a few. Some may even take a step back in skills they had already acquired, such as toilet training. These are normal responses to change and stress in children.
Parents can help children through these moments by remaining calm and responding to behavioral disruptions with kindness and consistency. That doesn’t mean abandoning all rules and limits, which would be very confusing, but it can mean giving your child more help with following the rules, helping them calm down and giving them second (or third!) chances, choosing your battles, and being patient with temporary regressions in behavior. Maintaining a comforting environment is crucial during these times. This includes creating routines, which are very reassuring to your young ones. Also, children need more loving gestures, reassurance, and enjoyable quality time with parents, even if they are not explicitly asking for it. Think about quality time and closeness as “filling your child’s emotional cup.” When they are drained and running on empty, the experience of feeling safe, nurtured, and close to you recharges them and fills that emotional cup back up!
Older children or teenagers may be more irritable, less interactive with family members, or may have changes in their sleep pattern or appetite. Parents can reach out to their pediatrician if a child’s behavior places them or others in danger. Ask for help from your pediatrician if your child has a prolonged period of appetite loss, a prolonged or significant change in sleep patterns, or is no longer interested in activities they used to love doing.
Are you old enough to remember that saying, “Little pitchers have big ears?” It’s hard to remember that our children are listening to us even when playing or in the next room. We can try to protect them from additional stress by doing our best to shield them from overhearing adult discussions about worries and problems. Keep in mind that, especially for our youngest children who don’t yet have the cognitive maturity to understand the coronavirus and its implications, much of what they experience as stressful is absorbed second-hand from our reactions and demeanor.
Parents and caregivers of young children who are worried about their mental health or adjustment can also request no-cost early childhood mental health consultation through this program at Tulane University. In addition, another program called TBEARS provides no-cost phone support to parents of infants and children up to age 2 years and can be reached at (504) 988-9222.
Note: Mental health is always important, but during times of crisis it is paramount. The following guidelines are designed to support you in finding ways to cope, understanding how to practice self-care, and nurturing your connection with your child. Building Resilience: Parenting During a Pandemic is a joint effort between Louisiana Children's Museum and Tulane Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health.
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