Why is my teenager more irritable than usual? Why is my child so quiet and withdrawn these days? Why has my child become so clingy and needy all of a sudden? Why are my children fighting more than usual?
Our children are trying to make sense of this upside-down world that we all find ourselves in, and many of them are struggling. So much of what our children know and are used to has been taken away from them; creche, school, play dates, family gatherings, visiting neighbourhood friends, soccer in the street. Simply put, our children might be feeling lonely or afraid.
Younger children don’t have the words to express what they are feeling, and teenagers are still figuring out how to express their feelings in acceptable ways. These behaviours are completely normal for children and teenagers. You are not a bad parent because your 3-year-old has tantrums or your teenager ‘talks back’ to you, or just ignores you.
It’s important to remember that behaviour is how our children and teenagers communicate, which can be challenging for us parent to remember when that behaviour is negative or disruptive.
So, the change in my child’s behaviour is normal, but how can I help her/ him through this time (and still keep my sanity)?
- Start the day off by asking your child, “How do you feel today?”. All children should be encouraged to talk about their feelings, and this is especially so at this time. Try to use feelings words in everyday day conversation, e.g. “It’s disappointing that we can’t go and play with Ilan today.”, or “It must feel so unfair not to be able to hang out with your friends on a Saturday, like usual.” This not only gives your younger child the words to name their feelings, but is also a great way to invite your child to describe how they are feeling.
- Help your child to think about ways to manage difficult emotions by making use of long-term coping strategies, e.g. play with their favourite toy, draw a picture, write in a diary or listen to and dance to their favourite music (this last one could be fun for the whole family to do).
- Acknowledge and validate your child’s feelings by saying things like, “I can see that you are annoyed at having to stay at home all the time. I’m also feeling a bit annoyed that I can’t go back to work.”
- Help your older child to be kind to themselves by replacing negative self-talk with more positive self-talk e.g. “I’m never going to catch up at school.” Can be replaced with “My whole class is in the same boat as me, we’ll all catch up together.”
- Wherever possible, help to arrange virtual contact between your child and family or friends close to her/ him. Be it via phone calls, text, What’s App messages, voice notes, photos, videos or video calls. This will help your child feel more connected to others and less lonely, and take some pressure off you as parents.
- Ask your child if there is anything that they would like to know about COVID-19. This will let them know that you are open to talk to them about the pandemic. Feel free to say “I don’t know, but I’ll try and find out.” If your child asks you a question that you can’t answer. Just be sure to come back to your child with the answer once you have one!