Anxiety and worry can crowd a child's mind. This mom has advice for cutting through the noise. Shutterstock
Anxiety and worry can crowd a child's mind. This mom has advice for cutting through the noise.

Relax and let your kids be kids says Mitten State therapist Erica Carulli of navigating life amidst COVID-19.

MICHIGAN—Moms wear the “worried” hat regularly. 

One emotion that doesn’t surprise me is sustained worry. Primary caregivers are constantly thinking about, and maybe even fretting over: 

  • The current global climate
  • Virtual schooling
  • Kids and their well-being
  • Keeping our families safe and healthy. 

Our plates overfloweth. Everyday. With worry. But what we don’t want is our children to feel that worry. How can we help mitigate that for our littles? 

As parents of children during a global pandemic it is really difficult to determine whether or not our worry is crossing over to our children’s worries. We want to take time every day to consider whether or not our children are struggling, and what that struggle might be. We may also want to figure out a way to help them; but where do we start? 

Meeting the needs of our children is a good place. And whether those needs be emotional, physical, spiritual and psychological, these areas are great places to focus to best ensure that they are growing into beautiful people. 

When I think about children and caregivers helping to manage their emotions, though, I think about three things in particular things. These are ways in which we can, as a family, work toward lessening the burden on our littles. 

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Check Yourself

Check in with yourself. Check in with your emotions regularly. How are you feeling? What is coming up for you emotionally in the moment? You, as the caregiver, needs to take the time to be aware of how you are feeling in order to take care of your child and how they are feeling. For example, if you are scared of spiders, say. Everytime you see a spider, you are likely to express a response of fear. Your child sees that response. They are now conditioned to respond to spiders with fear, as they do not know that there are other ways to respond. They just know what they see. Spiders equal fear. A good spot for an emotional check in would be here. If you are feeling anxious, imagine your anxiety as the fear. Your child is a sponge, soaking up the response to the anxiety they are regularly seeing. As the grown-up, your reactions matter. You have a choice to be mindful in these moments and check in with yourself.

I also recommend good self-care. Emotional self-care may look different for everyone and that’s okay! We are all different and respond differently to stressors. Sometimes, taking a moment to collect your thoughts is useful. Sometimes, making a habit of spending time meditating at the end of a long day and reflecting on the ways you’ve responded to situations could be useful. 

Remember, being mindful of your reactions isn’t something that you are going to have mastered the first time you try it. Give yourself grace. Practice it. Let go of the idea that it will look perfect and will be executed perfectly the first time. Or even the millionth time. 

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Let Them Be Little

Let kids be kids. Once we’ve spent time reflecting on our own influence on our children, we can focus on the idea that we have a lot of expectations of them. We expect them to move swiftly from task to task, quickly, quietly, with no hiccups, have incredible concentration and little to no disruptive behaviors, be adaptable to every new scenario thrown their way, all while learning and growing and changing and developing. The amount of pressure we (unintentionally) place on our children’s laps is exceptional. The antidote, though, is simple. Let them be kids. We need to let our children explore and play and do the things that they love to do. 

We need to let our kids be creative, imaginative, explore the arts like music, dance, writing, crafting. I would encourage a portion of everyday for a child dedicated to the space and autonomy of play. Because play is learning. Play is a child’s work. And play is one important way we can let our kids be kids.  

Family Time

Sans a global pandemic your family probably spent a lot of time doing things that you all loved together. Whether it was going shopping together, meeting for family dinners at a local restaurant, visiting the farmers market on Sunday mornings, traveling and exploring new places, taking time to visit family members outside of your immediate family, or going to your local museums or library.  We want to make sure that we are socially distancing and we are doing things that are safe and according to the plan that is in place to keep our families healthy but we want to try to do things that would keep a sense of normalcy in place. 

There is nothing “normal” about a global pandemic. Let’s just be clear. These are unprecedented times. We are kind of building the plane as we are flying it. But we can still find activities to do as a family that would encourage togetherness, bonding and a sense of joy. We can bring it back to a time that once was pre-pandemic. 

Think about something you would have done as a family before. Being flexible and adapting to the times we are navigating is another way in which families are learning to work together, to create special moments that are just as important as they’ve always been, allowing the collective worry to subside. 

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Creating an environment for your family to thrive and feel emotionally safe is ultimately the goal. Taking care of yourself by checking your own feelings and emotions, discovering what kind of self-care works for you, letting your kids be kids and spending time together as a family are all ways to help manage your children’s emotions. Anxiety is one piece of the puzzle, but having an open environment for your children to feel safe and comfortable to share is also incredibly important. You are your children’s safe space. 

Have conversations, talk about your week, allow time to process feelings, emotions, and thoughts. By doing these things you are creating an open and safe space for your children to talk about what they are experiencing in the world and all the emotions that they’re carrying with them. You are creating a place to process the worry, a place to go when they are scared or happy or sad, a place where they know they are safe, and they won’t be judged. You are setting the stage to open the lines of a lifetime of communication and making sure they never have to worry about being loved.