Northern Beaches Mums Group
Northern Beaches Mums Group

How to emotionally support your children during challenging times

If your house feels, at this time, somewhere between pandemonium and complete mayhem, know this: you’re not alone.??

With the majority of Australia?s children now home from school (with a less-than-concrete plan about when it will really be safe for them to return), households nation-wide have had to perform the gargantuan task of trying to home-school while trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy at this chaotic and stressful time.

But beyond the mayhem, is something deeper askew at home? Many mums have said yes, with our kids? emotions seemingly all over the place. From tantrums to defiance, destructiveness to outright rebellion, it seems that our children?s emotions are on steroids. But why? And more importantly, what can we do about it?

Why are our children so emotional at the moment?

Admittedly, all of our lives have been turned completely upside-down. And whether it?s something our kids saw on the news, the fact that they?re missing their friends, or that they?d simply rather be somewhere else but home, there?s lots of reasons for them to not be their usual selves. But psychologist Lisa Firestone says that before we analyse our children too deeply in this respect, we need to look at one of the most important factors in their emotions: us.

Little affects kids more than how we ourselves are feeling, says Lisa. As naturally egotistical creatures (especially between the ages of 3-7), children are more likely to internalise our moods and believe that they are the problem, instead of the situation. As a result, she says, it?s inevitable that if we?re highly emotional and constantly showing it, our children will too.

The solution? Start by taking care of your own mental health, mama! Many experts have said that right now, it?s ok to be not ok and nationally, it?s clear we?re not doing that well – there?s been a 30% spike in calls to Beyond Blue. So if you?re really struggling, make sure you reach out as the first step to emotionally supporting your children at this time.

Label and talk about your own emotions

If us being stressed affects our kids, should we instead try to hide our emotions altogether? Absolutely not. In fact, a big part of creating an emotionally supportive environment for your children is to give them a safe space to talk about and process their emotions.

Take, for example, a common situation right now where many of us are feeling frustrated or even downright furious, exhausted or overwhelmed by having to juggle multiple children at home while managing work or other responsibilities. A ?safe space? for emotions might look like taking the time to explain this to our children. Although of course, children aren?t always rational creatures and can be impatient, a quick chat at the beginning of each day can do wonders to creating a safer and less chaotic environment.

Labelling and talking about our emotions in a calm and rational way shows them that we, too, have feelings we need to cope with, and we trust our children to understand them and vice versa.

Try not to dismiss your children?s emotions

With so much going on right now, talking to our children about how they feel may not be at the top of our priority list. But it?s critical, says psychotherapist Katie Hurley, as parents who don?t take the time to listen, and instead just tell their children they?re ?fine? can unwittingly lead them to shut down.

Right now, it can be tempting to tell our children that the fact that they miss the playground or want to see their friends is insignificant compared to the very real catastrophes that are going on around them. We might also be tempted to tell them this to increase their resilience, as after all, if they can?t cope with missing the playground, how will they cope when they encounter real problems?

But what feels insignificant to us can feel huge to our children, says Katie. And children need to be given the opportunity to express themselves, and work through their own feelings, in order to later regulate them.

So how should we act, then? As challenging as it might be, we need to take the time to listen to our children?s problems, show we understand, and if words aren?t appropriate, give a hug to demonstrate our empathy.

Avoid judgement

You?re trying to create an emotionally supportive home and you?ve taken the time to listen to the fact that your three year old is horrified that you?re not cooking chicken nuggets for dinner. But then, your partner gets home from work and said three year old is having another meltdown. What do you do?

After the day you?ve had, wine in hand, you utter ?Hunter really doesn?t want pasta for dinner? with an eye roll, and continue what you?re doing, confident that Hunter doesn?t understand the sarcasm in your answer.

But does he?

No, according to developmental research into children?s emotions. But frighteningly, he may confuse your sarcasm for a criticism of his behaviour, and may start to develop negative core beliefs on account – in other words, what he?ll really hear is: ?Hunter, you?re the problem here.?

There?s no doubt that right now, we?re all experiencing a myriad of frustrations. But if you can, avoid sarcastic comments about your children?s emotions (in front of them). You never know what they?ll internalise.

Try not to be a ?fixer?

In the name of helping the ?economy? (or something like that!), we?ve all been indulging in a bit of ?Add to cart? lately. And we?ve been doing it for our children too – according to Amazon, toy sales have increased by a whopping 800% since the coronavirus first hit.

But is constantly trying to keep our kids ?happy and distracted? really a good thing?

Absolutely not, says psychotherapist Katie Hurley, who says parents who are constantly trying to prevent their children from experiencing a range of emotions can end up causing them to become more troubled for a range of reasons..

Firstly, there?s the fact that (as we all know) emotions can be like hot lava. The more they?re left to brew, the more likely they?ll be an explosion later on.

Secondly, emotions don?t need to be fixed or ignored – they need to be dealt with. Kids of parents who try to make them happy all the time often feel as though they should act ?happy? around their parents, even if it isn?t how they truly feel. We all experience negative emotions sometimes, says Katie, so it?s more important to teach our kids that it?s ok to experience the entire range.

Support them now and reap the benefits in the future

This pandemic has been a ?once in a century? occurrence and all of us hope it will be over soon. Yet come what may, creating an emotionally supportive environment for our kids is important – now and in the future. When kids feel emotionally supported, there?s less tantrums and fights, which is great news for us. But more than that, if we teach them now to cope better, they?ll grow up to be more emotionally healthy and connected young people and adults.

Teigan Margetts is a freelance journalist and co-founder of kids? book publisher, Ethicool Books. Ethicool Books creates beautiful bedtime books for children, designed specifically to educate and empower them on the issues that matter.