NEW Making Sense of our Children’s Reality during the Pandemic: How Telling their Story can Make your Child More Resilient
Imagine for a moment that you are sitting in a room with your colleagues and you openly have to perform a COVID test in front of everybody daily. A test you may ‘fail’ for no reason, except you happen to test positive, there is nothing that you have done wrong and nothing you can do to affect the outcome. However, for many people (and children alike) there is an associated stigma. How could you have not known you were sick? Were you flaunting the rules? Wearing your mask upside down? Or even worse enjoying a playdate with friends, party or not social distancing… how do you feel?
This may be your reality every day, but it certainly is the reality for many of our children in schools at present. We may argue, or admire, how resilient our young people have become to sticking bits of plastic up their noses in public, but I wonder how much we are maybe taking for granted.
How has the mental health of our children and teens been affected by all the testing, mask-wearing, social distancing, and general levels of stress and anxiety of the past 2-3 years? And what can we as parents, and people who care for young people, do going forward?
One of the most important things we can do is encourage them to talk about their experiences and really listen. This may seem obvious, but there is still an old school of thought that suggests that not talking about things that make our children upset or anxious helps diminish these feelings. However, there is growing evidence in the field of psychology, neuroscience, and child development that children need to talk about their experiences, and that talking about their experiences and being ‘actively listened’ to improve their mental health.
In their book The Whole-Brain Child (2012), Dan Siegel and Tina Bryson discuss strategies for helping our children to make sense of their world including painful, scary, or disappointing things. They intend to help parents become aware of the different parts of our brain and the part they play in child (and adult) development. In their book they describe the concept of integration that, put simply, refers to the bringing together of all these parts of the brain for healthy development. This process is not only important for children but adolescents and adults too. They use the example of a child who has witnessed an upsetting event and is left anxious and emotionally fragile. In this case, they suggest taking the time to allow the child to re-tell their own story of the event or ‘personal narrative’ as many times as they need to. This can take some time but eventually, with the support of attentive parents or carers, they will integrate the experience and it will lose the emotional charge of an upsetting event that has not been processed.
What Is Active Listening
Actively listening, so that the other person feels heard, is a learned skill that adults and young people can struggle with. The importance of feeling heard cannot be overestimated especially when we are having difficulties or challenges in our everyday life. Often just being able to talk freely with someone we trust can help us find our own solutions. To listen actively to another person you need to give your full attention to them which includes creating an environment where you should not be interrupted, facing them and giving eye contact where possible, and allowing them time to explore while not asking too many questions. In our everyday busy lives this may seem impossible but in fact, creating the environment essentially means committing to reserve a time in the near future when you can give this person your full attention. By making this commitment you are showing that person that not only do you respect them enough to do this but you are also giving yourself time to prepare to listen. To prepare for this time you might want to open-up a conversation to make time for a deeper discussion later. For example, you could start by sharing your own experience, or if they are school-age ask them about testing in their schools, and then suggest you sit down as a family or 1–to–1 to talk about it.
Telling our stories helps us deal with loss, grieve, and move on
The concept of grief is often only associated with dealing with the death of a loved one. Although this has played a large part for families during the pandemic, grief is also the emotion we can feel when life changes in unexpected ways. Every person experiences this differently and if we don’t learn how to grieve properly as children, even the things perceived as ‘small’ by some adults, this means that we have not integrated these experiences and this can lead to serious mental health issues later in life.
Grief & Loss in Uncertain Times
Join us for an information evening focusing on helping children cope with grief and loss. To be held on Thursday, 10th February, from 7.30pm until 9pm at Manzoku. The speakers will be grief specialist Libby Kramer and Passage parent group support leader Lynn Frank. The event will be held in person, however, it will also be streamed for those who cannot attend.
Article by: Lynn Frank who is a coordinator for Passage.
Last updated: Sunday6th February, 2022