Helping Kids Cope Right Now

As former news reporters, we have always encouraged our kids to ask good questions. Curiosity and a search for answers is rewarded in our house. But here’s the thing: Lately? I have no freaking clue how to answer their questions. 

Almost daily I get, “When will this be over?” or “What happens if I get sick?” or “Will we go back to school in the fall?” I have to remind them, this is my first pandemic too. I’ve never lived through anything like this, so I try to be as open and honest as I can. I give them as much information as I know, without overwhelming them. 

But with all these recent questions, I’ve had to answer honestly: “I’m sorry. I don’t know.” 

The impact of coronavirus, especially school closing and social distancing, has taken its toll at our house. Even with states starting phased openings, it’s hard to predict what life will really look like. I am bracing for our summer to not look like much of a summer at all. Most summer camps have been cancelled. There may not be any pool time or vacations. Luckily, my kids are old enough to understand what is going on, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t emotional about it.

My Game Plan

As parents, we are all stressed out too. It’s easy to be overwhelmed when a problem arises, so I like to have a game plan. Not every issue gets resolved in these five steps, but when my kids’ world turns upside down, here is what I do to help get them through it.

  1. Make them feel heard – No matter what the issue is, I try my best to make sure my children’s feelings are validated. I remind them it’s ok to feel mad/sad/upset, etc. I never want them to bury their emotions or make them feel like their problems don’t matter. So even if I have the answer or I want to fix it, I try to listen first. Half the time getting all their emotions out into the open helps move things forward.

    My instinct is to always say, “We need to feel grateful we have a roof over our heads and food in our pantry.” Yes, we feel lucky. But that doesn’t solve how they are feeling. These kids need to know their disappointment and frustration is valid. It sucks.
  1. Show grace –  I feel very lucky to have kids old enough to navigate the distance learning (pretty much) by themselves (also, our teachers are rockstars and they deserve a parade for how they are guiding them through this) BUT there have been moments when each of the kids have failed to turn in an assignment or missed logging in for a class. I think the “me” of three months ago would have responded, “what else are you doing besides school!? How could you forget!?” Now,  “Pandemic me” shrugs and moves on. There are days they seem to be moving through a fog and have to be reminded to put on shoes before going on a bike ride. If I’m being honest, I have had days when I just can’t do life. With zero things on my calendar I have failed to return emails or phone calls. I have to extend the same grace to my kids. They really are trying their best. 
  1. Offer comfort and support in a way they need it –  I am a true believer in hugs, especially Mom hugs. A hug from my Mom can always make me feel better. Now that Lola is a teenager, she doesn’t outright ask for a hug. But I have noticed that if she leans into our shoulders, she is subtly saying, “I’m ready for my hug now.” I know to stop what I’m doing and snuggle. 

    Sometimes I show comfort and support by giving them space. We are around each other A LOT so some time alone in their rooms is good for everyone. Also…pizza. We’ve ordered a lot of pizza lately. Pizza fixes almost everything. 

    Comfort and support can also come in the form of distractions or constructive activities. When they were upset about not returning to school – after tears and pizza – I suggested Zoom hangouts with a friend or some social distancing tennis at a court nearby with Penn. It is always good to get their minds off their troubles when you can manage it.
  1. Set an activity goal – I printed out blank calendars and had them design their own P.E. schedule. Penn Charles wants to run a faster mile and Lola wants to get stronger for tennis. They check off every day and sometimes we do the workouts as a family. Having a goal and a deadline in this weird new world has helped them stay engaged. Exercise is like medicine for me and I suspect it works the same way for my kids. 
  1. Keep the door open – We’ve all been on a rollercoaster of emotions since this all started. Even when things are going great, I make it a point to check-in on how they are feeling and remind them I am always here. All I do is ask, “Is there anything on your mind today?” or “How are you feeling about all of this?”  We’ve had some of the most honest discussions we’ve ever had as a family. I remind them every day will feel a little different, and that it’s okay to be sad. Sometimes they roll their eyes and say, “I know MOM.” But what I hear in teenage-speak is “thanks.”

Are your kids feeling big emotions right now? How are you helping them get through it? I’d love to hear what is working for your family in the comments.