This is more complex than it may first appear.
School principal, Andrew Oberthur, reminds us of the analogy,
“We are flying the plane as we build it”.
You as a parent are creating a new normal on a daily/hourly basis. This Brain Whisper Tip is to ensure that you look after YOU first and then your children. Just as in an aircraft you put the mask on first in an emergency, and then share it with the child.
We do understand that a child’s brain is still developing. It is not the same as an adult brain. Children, including adolescents, have an underdeveloped Prefrontal Cortex, the part of the brain that can weigh up options, make well thought-out decisions, plan ahead, which means that they are less able to manage their emotional states, anxieties and impulses. They are also less able to understand the more complex issues, make balanced decisions and make sense of a big picture nature. COVID -19 is as big a picture as your child and you have ever known.
Often their primary need is reassurance and security to know that they are safe and that you are handling their worries. That is your job as a parent.
Importantly, what this means for you is NOT to give children more information than they can process cognitively and emotionally, no matter how factual it may be. Nor how grown up our children would like to be seen.
Children need reassurance and security.
This is a prerequisite for any child to be able to learn in a homeschooling environment.
So, when children ask about this crisis, it is essential to discern whether they really need a factual answer or indeed, reassurance. This is critical factor often overlooked by parents who are trying to be “honest” with their kids, especially as news is breaking every day with new guidelines, parameters and global analysis.
Let’s examine the difference. This concept is based on the work of Dr Stan Tatkin PsyD MFT and founder of the PACT Institute.
A security question is one that needs a security answer. It is a question often driven by fear, insecurity, doubt or confusion and could be asked by your child at any time. It is asked with an underlying need for reassurance or comfort or to be soothed and thereby does not necessitate a reality answer.
REALITY QUESTION: “What time will I start my schoolwork tomorrow because I’m not at school?”
REALITY ANSWER: “The same time as if you were at school. 9.00am when we will both sit down together and make a start.”
SECURITY QUESTION: “Daddy, will you and mummy get sick like other people?”
SECURITY ANSWER: (without hesitation) “No, darling. That is why we are doing extra things to make sure we are safe by washing our hands and keeping a distance from other people when we walk the dog.”
REALITY ANSWER: “Well, this is hard to say. Mummy or Daddy could get sick and have to go to hospital.”
SECURITY QUESTION: “Why can’t we see grandpa?”
SECURITY ANSWER: (without hesitation) “At the moment, darling, we are taking the very best care of grandpa by not being near him because he needs to be kept safe. We are doing special things to ensure he has all he needs and is being very well looked after. How about we chat online now or give him a call?”
REALITY ANSWER: “Your grandpa is nearly 80 years old is regarded as high risk. If he got sick this could mean he may not recover.”
These security questions need to be considered in advance with practised responses.
Neuroscience dictates not long at all. It only takes milliseconds in a delay or an overly complicated response before the recipient, the child in this case, starts to feel insecure and unstable.
Dr Tatkin cautions, “If you are among those who believe the best response is the one that is most truthful (realistic), then accept the cost that comes with that stance for there will be a cost in the currency of safety and security.” If you are concerned about the primary relationship then security questions must “be addressed swiftly, simply, and unequivocally if the relationship is to remain safe and secure”.
Please be mindful of how you speak about our current global pandemic and how often you mention this situation in front of your children.
Always keep in mind that children are not little adults. Much is being asked of our children right now and we know they are being forced to grow up all too quickly. Be cautious that children do not misinterpret facts. I invite you to be discerning about what facts you share – it is not helpful to overburden young minds.
What you can do when you observe that your child is agitated or stressed?
When you see that your child may be stressed or agitated, encourage them to breathe deeply at least three times. You can make a game of this (depending on their age) by breathing in with them and then breathing out fully. The breathing out actually reduces the stress more than the inbreath. Do this as often as you need to and eventually your child will learn to self-calm.
Remember deep breathing works for mums and dads too, to reduce their anxiety and stress.
Children are still children. They are not expected to understand the global implications of this current situation and may be confused and afraid in different ways – regardless of what we may see on the outside.
It is also important that our children take the measures we are taking as serious since this will potentially last many months.
A United Kingdom report published in 2020 by Ofcom noted a rising number of 12-15-year olds get their news from social media, their friends and the people they ‘follow’ as influencers. They rely heavily on the voices from social media. Children are absorbing news on social media but were not aware of this fact. This is because news on social media like Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram is presented in a mix of gossip, fashion, advertising, games and other subjects. As parents you need to be on hand to temper those voices and make sure your voice is the one they hear over and above the others.
• Look after yourself emotionally so you can respond to these questions when they arise.
• It may be a good idea to check the health directives from the Government and other media before you greet your child in the morning and then check in with yourself so that you will be prepared to give your child a warm and unhurried greeting to start the day.
If you have had a restless night with little sleep, try the deep-breathing exercise and increase the count to 10 breaths to ensure you give your body and mind the best chance of clearing clutter and anxiety before you start your day.
• Avoid leaving the television on as background through the day as your child may see news clips and hear things that may be disturbing for them – with or without your knowledge.
• Reassure your child, often, no matter what age. Remind them that our country is working alongside all the other countries in the world on this situation. Remind them that we have the some of the very best scientists and doctors working with other clever people around the world to direct us in what to do.
• Be mindful not to express your concerns and opinions of the government or other health bodies in managing this crisis in front of your children. Interpret what is being said by these bodies and explain that to your child, as appropriate.
For instance, the Government has said we are allowed only two people to gather together in public, outside of a family. Directives have been changing on an almost daily basis – help your child to accept this and show that you can adapt to new guidelines since we are all in this situation together.
Finally, reassure your child that there have been many problems like the ones we are facing that have been dealt with before with help from around the world. There have been big problems like flu-epidemics and world wars, that have been overcome and this one will be overcome too. We’ve got this!
Parents are not teachers. Parents require assistance. Parents can show vulnerability.
Parents often ask me for professional guidance to support their child at home and this is always a joy for me getting to know a family and offer tailored assistance.
The tip I have shared in this article forms part of what I support parents to do.
Do they always find it easy – not necessarily.
But anything worthwhile is worth the effort and surely the continuation of your child’s education amid our global situation is worth this effort.
This article is Part 2 of the “The HomeSchooling How to Series” with BRAIN WHISPERER ™ Jill Sweatman
Photo by Patricia Prudente on Unsplash