Emotional Vocabulary and Coronavirus - Parenting Connection
Talking about feelings can be a challenge for a wide range of reasons. Sometimes we don’t like the discomfort of vulnerability, sometimes we haven’t quite acquired a complete vocabulary for emotional language and sometimes we simply can not quite identify what we are feeling.
This is a scary time to be human and there are a lot of feelings, some of which might be new for us all. When the adults are scared, the kids know it. This is a great time to model appropriate ways to manage these big feelings by showing ourselves love and compassion and practicing self care.
There are a lot of new and unfamiliar expectations on us and our children right now. Our routines are different, our jobs and school work are more complex, and fear of the unknown surrounds us. While your child’s education is important and their school work should continue, the most important thing we can do is give them the love, attention and support they need to wade through this confusing scenario. Some ideas for managing feelings and supporting your children are listed below.
- A smile goes a long way. Children read our body language and energy quickly (and efficiently)! A sincere smile can ease a lot of feelings of discomfort.
- Accept, acknowledge and give space for the discomfort. Your own and your child’s. We can’t fix the confusion of what is happening in the world and that is okay. Acknowledging it gives us power to find ways to cope. Everyone should have permission to experience their feelings!
- Maria Montessori stressed the importance of the preparation of the adult. She called it the “spiritual preparation of the teacher.” Be sure to take time every day to prepare yourself in whatever way brings you comfort and strength. Then, allow yourself to be present for your child when the time comes.
- Practice physical grounding, alone and with your child. Meditation through breathing, visualization, sound (chanting, mantra or song) and body movement (asana) all send messages to the brain and body to regulate your nervous system. Not only will this do wonders for your mental health, but is proven to improve the immune system.
- Do you notice your child acting clingy? Moody? Quiet? Keep in mind, behavior is communication. Read their signs and try to respond accordingly.
- Talking about feelings and giving your child your attention is important. But, so is their work cycle. Be sure to observe your child and choose the right time to talk or interact. Avoid interrupting your child’s work/play as this is a form of self-care and self-soothing. Plus, interrupting their work and play impacts concentration levels. Allow your child to complete their cycle of activity to support their overall development and concentration.
- Introduce emotional language at an age appropriate level. For toddlers and some early childhood aged children, visuals are helpful. I suggest pictures of faces showing various expressions that can be matched with the corresponding vocabulary to help children develop the language needed to express oneself. Comparing feelings to the weather (cloudy with a chance of sunshine, for example) can help older children express vulnerable feelings while also making the connection that our feelings change.
- The side by side chat: Many people respond to vulnerable discussion more easily when eye contact is not involved. Standing next to one another while working in the kitchen, sitting on the couch and knitting or putting puzzles together, or laying in bed after story time are all really great times to have conversations about feelings.
- Use code words. Help your child come up with a code word they can use when they are in distress or when they feel they need your undivided attention. Maybe you can stop what you are doing immediately to connect and maybe you can make a plan then and there for a time to connect. Ie; “Thank you for letting me know you would like to talk. I am going to finish this work call and then I can give you my undivided attention.”
- Use the right questions. Starting a discussion with “how are you feeling?” can be a turn off for people who are feeling uncomfortable, scared or otherwise vulnerable. Try questions like:
- What have you heard about the coronavirus?
- What do you think about it/that/this?
- What do you miss about going to school?
- What do you like about being home with mom/dad/siblings/grandparents?
- Create reliable and consistent routines for your “new normal.”
- Create happy memories. When this is in the past, we are all going to be looking back on the lessons we learned. Make an effort to ensure your child has happy memories of this experience.
*Adapted from Webinar "How To Talk With Children When The Grownups Are Scared" Kathy Leitch, Montessori Foundations