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In early March I was chatting at the school gates with some friends about the virus in China. We laughed at how people were panic buying toilet roll. It was the hysteria around this virus that would be the real danger we decided.
Even then it seemed unthinkable that schools would close indefinitely. That we would be asked to stay indoors, work from home and only leave for certain permitted activities.
The change in our lives was sudden and absolute.
As adults, we struggled to cope as our normal routines and support networks vanished.
Slowly we’ve adjusted. We’ve learned to work from home, how to Zoom and to shop for as many days as possible in one go.
We’ve drawn rainbows and done ALL the garden activities.
Some of them have done better than others. But there has been a running theme with the parents we talk to and work with.
It isn’t difficult to understand that our children are struggling as much as we are but that their anxiety presents in a different way.
Regressive behaviours in children are a common response to significant shifts in circumstances.
It’s a child’s unconscious way of taking back some control and safety in a suddenly unsafe world. These behaviours are designed to elicit care and attention from the people they feel safest with – us.
To be clear, children aren’t doing this on purpose – it’s a common human response to stress. Like when an argument brings out your stroppy teenage side. Human brains simply aren’t designed to function at their best in times of ongoing challenge.
Connect, connect, connect.
This is a tough ask right now. Especially for parents trying to work from home and provide childcare or home school.
The trouble is that children are genetically wired to seek our attention. It may sound dramatic but their survival depends on it.
The younger the child, the greater the need.
So even though you know that you just need to do 15 minutes of emails, all they see is you focusing elsewhere and they panic. The harder we push independence, the more they resist.
Think of it as like a cup – your child needs regular refills of you. If you keep topping up the cup you might just be able to complete some work. Or at the very least have 5 minutes of peace with a cup of tea.
The way to fill up that cup?
What’s really happening here is that your loving presence is reassuring your child that things are okay. That they don’t need to act out to get your attention.
Simply that you are really ‘there’ for them.
If you can expect to see some of these behaviours then you will be less inclined to find them so frustrating. Just like you, they need some extra TLC right now.
Remind yourself that this is just their way of letting you know that they are struggling.
Cut their toast up small, add some extra bedtime snuggles, help them get dressed.
Pre-empting these behaviours with care and love will reduce the battles and make life a little easier for everyone.
Provide some consistency as much as you can. Predictability is a real safety booster. So if your children know what’s going to happen they’ll be more likely to fall in line.
These don’t have to be strict, colour-coded schedules (in fact, I’d avoid those!) It’s more a sense of having rhythm and flow to the day. Be flexible if you need to be; it’s better to be responsive than rigid.
Also verbalise the day to your children. In the morning and throughout the day. Let them know what’s coming and when. Older children can contribute to the day’s plans which will help them to feel a comforting sense of control.
Remember that while we don’t know what the future brings, there will be a time when your child is able to function better again.
When they won’t ask for your help getting dressed.
Or have a meltdown every time the TV goes off.
It will pass but using some of the approaches above might make it a little calmer and easier for you and them.
Claire and Dr Nneka backgrounds are in Psychology and Wellbeing. They know what it takes to stay happy, healthy and connected to your values.We are having lots of conversations like this over in our free, private members community on Facebook, Mellownest Mindful Parents. Come and join us, we’d love to see you there.