As the COVID-19 Pandemic persists, concerns around the long term ramifications on us, and in particular on our little ones, increase. Read on for some words of encouragement from FRP-BC’s Parent Champion Dr. Vanessa Lapointe and advice on how to deal with the feelings of isolation that this pandemic has brought on.
If you had asked me a year ago if we would be talking about the pandemic as much as we are today, I don’t think I would have believed you. And I’m guessing that many of us are in the same boat. It has been over a year of non-stop hypervigilance, doom-scrolling, and hushed conversations. Of changing restrictions, limited social outings, and working from home. And here we are, headed into another Summer of Covid, wondering what will be at its other side. We can see that light at the end of the tunnel! And yet, why is getting through these tough months ahead seemingly almost harder than the first few months of the pandemic?
The worry that has been swirling throughout this pandemic has impacted nearly every part of our lives – especially when it comes to our children. Lately, I have heard numerous concerns from parents, caregivers, and teachers about the impact that our physical distancing is having on our kids. And it might be surprising to learn that this isolation is having a far greater impact on society’s big people than it is on our littles.
Despite what parenting pop culture might have us believe, kids don’t need other kids. They need grown-ups. Of course, children enjoy being with their peers. They love the thrill of imaginary play with other kids or kicking a soccer ball with other kids, but the “with other kids” part is not actually what they NEED. Play. YES. Other kids. No. Children need connection with their big people. They need to know that there is a soft place to land when big feelings pay a visit. They need to feel safe. They need to feel truly seen and heard. These are the necessities that children are seeking in their relationships with grown-ups.
The biggest challenge that children are facing during this time of separation is the isolation that their parents and caregivers are feeling. Children are little sponges; they are constantly reading the room and trying to make sense of what’s going on. They absorb your hushed conversations or your loud complaints. They see the changes in your expressions and when you’re feeling lost. Children have been programmed to look to us as their guides – through times of smooth sailing AND through times of rough waters. And when it seems as though their guide is unsure of the next turn, that can lead to feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for our children.
And so, in order for us to foster that connection with our children, we need to ensure that we are also filling our own buckets by meeting our connection-needs. We must reach out to our village as best we can. This might be by putting ourselves out there and connecting with a friend or family member via text, phone, Zoom or a distanced chat. It might be asking a neighbour to go on an evening walk. We know that face-to-face interactions that feel “real” feed the soul far more than a text interaction, so consider chatting via FaceTime or Zoom rather than a phone call or email.
When our children are mourning the loss of their playdates and extra-curricular activities, it is important that we do not rush in to make them feel better. Instead, this is a time for listening. We must give them our full, uninterrupted attention so that they feel truly heard. We can provide a big space for all of their emotions to come alive around this, allowing them to move from mad all the way to sad, so that they can practice moving through their feelings. We cannot fall into a pit of despair that our child is unable to play in the way that he or she would prefer to. Instead, we have to focus on our own relationship with our child and continue to practice connection with them.
Adolescents are naturally inclined to pull away at this developmental stage in the game and will gravitate more towards their peers. So the isolation that comes with the pandemic may be really big to them. There may be a stronger resistance to adherence to rules and keeping distance from friends. Rather than fighting their fire with your own, we must meet our teens where they’re at. It is crucial that we listen to fully hear them, and not to react or retort to their words. We are not responsible for fixing their complaints or hurts, but instead, we only need to hear them out. We can also help them find ways to connect with peers that still work within our public health guidelines. And we can try to find ways for our adolescents to maintain their relationships with mentor adults in the community, from teachers, coaches, a community leader, a youth care worker, etc. Relationships with big people outside of the family circle are so very important at this stage of development.
We are getting so close to the end of the tunnel, but I know, so much of the experience of this past year is wearing on us. It is much easier to get wrapped up in a whirlwind of worry – especially about our children, including the impact of isolation. But we do not need to take on feelings of guilt or concern that our children are unable to socialize in the way we want them to. This is a time for our own self-reflection and for really keeping the connection with our kids alive. When our buckets are full, our children will feel that shift in the household, and they will be able to feel calm and connected. We are almost there. Stay the course. You’ve got this.
See more articles from Dr. Vanessa Lapointe in our Parenting Corner.