Many families have experienced an unusual level of stress this year due to job loss or changes, online schooling, social isolation, and anxiety about illness affecting them or someone they love. Some of you may feel as though your physical and emotional reserves are depleted. If you, as an adult, feel as though you’re running on fumes, you can imagine that your children, who don’t have your years of maturity and experience to draw upon, may be running on empty emotionally.
Kids who are stressed or depressed may act out their feelings with misbehavior, back-talk, appetite changes, aggression, poor sleep or bad dreams, headaches, tummy-aches and unexplained crying. As a parent, you may not be able to fix everything that’s going on, but you can put some small habits into your relationship to strengthen your children’s resilience.
Here are some ideas that will help refill their little emotional tanks:
Demonstrate simple kindness. Say “please” and “thank you”, acknowledge efforts, help with homework, come alongside to help them with chores on special occasions. We can forget that our children deserve the same courtesies we give to others. And the example you set is priceless!
Promise carefully, and keep your promises. Younger children, especially, may interpret an idea as a promise. “If we get all our work done maybe we can go get ice cream.” To a child, that sounds like a promise, so don’t plant the expectation unless you are prepared to follow through. Keeping promises teaches your child to trust and to feel secure.
Maintain realistic expectations and communicate them clearly. Many problems arise between a parent and child due to unrealistic expectations and miscommunication. “Clean your room” is a classic example. It’s better to say, “Put your toys in the box and your dirty clothes in the hamper” so the child knows what is expected.
Demonstrate physical affection. Appropriate touch, kisses, shoulder rubs and hugs help a child feel wanted and loved. Always be respectful of your child’s wishes and boundaries, but whether they prefer bear hugs, butterfly kisses or high-fives, make that physical connection often.
Demonstrate confidence in them and express words of affirmation. The problems kids face may seem easy compared to your adult responsibilities, but they are genuine challenges for them. From learning to put their shoes on the right feet to successfully connecting for a class on Zoom or getting a job, your kids need to know you believe they are competent and capable. “I know you can do it.” “You have what it takes.” “I have faith in you.”
Spend time with them. Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest. You may have a lot on your plate, but your children need your time and attention, even if it’s just chatting while you enjoy a snack or watching a movie together. You don’t have to take them to Disneyland (unless you promised); just put your phone down and spend some real “face time” with them. Time is the most valuable gift you can give to the most precious people in your life.
Learn how to say, “I’m sorry”. When you lose your patience, forget something they need, or experience any kind of “parenting fail”, be quick to apologize. It will clear the air of resentment and repair the relationship. Letting your children know you are human fosters respect and trust, and showing them how to take responsibility for their own mistakes is one of life’s most valuable lessons.
Avoid saying “No” or “Don’t” whenever possible. Negative words suggest that you expect the child to do something wrong instead of giving them credit for the ability to do things right. For example, instead of saying "Don't spill," try, "Pour carefully." Instead of saying, “No, you may not have a cookie,” try, “Yes, you may have a cookie right after lunch.”
Acknowledge positive behavior. Acknowledging positive behavior increases the likelihood that it will be repeated. “Thank you for putting your cup in the sink!” “It’s so nice that you are being gentle with your baby sister.” “I really respect your decision to tell the truth.” Reinforcing good behavior and attitudes will encourage your kids to keep up the good work.
None of the things on this list are complicated. They are habits that can be developed with daily practice. You won’t change old habits overnight, but you can make small changes in your interaction with your children that will fill their emotional tanks and give them confidence to face the challenges that they are experiencing.
Live, Work and Relate Well!