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Looking ahead to 2021 – from Melissa Hood

The start of 2021 has been very challenging with high numbers of CV19, a total lockdown and a return to home schooling. You’ve been overseeing lessons, whilst trying to carve out some time and space to do your own work. It’s been sooo relentless and tiring. And if the adults have been having a hard time imagine how difficult it’s been for kids, with less emotional maturity, to cope with challenge, change and loss. And that is exactly what the adults can teach them.

If that feels like an impossible thing to do right now remember you are not alone and that with the vaccine roll out, the drop in CV19 numbers and a provisional plan out of lockdown from the government, there is now at least some light at the end of the tunnel..

If Covid has taught us anything it has shown us that we are dependent on others for our wellbeing and that pulling together and asking for and giving help is what helps us to survive crises, and cope with everyday challenges. I’m delighted that The Parent Team are carrying on the legacy created by my business partner Camilla McGill and I back in 2004. The team are continuing with our model of evidence-based practices that help families thrive and are expanding their knowledge base all the time.

But back to you. You have no doubt felt plenty of frustration and maybe some resentment around the restrictions on your freedom (and perhaps seeing others not being so compliant). You may have felt anxious and powerless. Of course our children have all those feelings as well. Some are more prone to anxiety than others. About 15% of people have what’s been dubbed the ‘worrier’ gene which makes them more prone to feeling unsafe. You may have noticed differences between your own children or you and your partner.

Anxiety is closely linked to uncertainty so helping a child to feel more in control is part of the solution. Since there is much that we can’t control it’s important to focus on what we can do. Even after the pandemic has receded, our children will of course face adversity and we want them to not be overwhelmed by their negative feelings. It won’t work to try to push them away or ignore them and if children learn that uncomfortable feelings can’t be tolerated they can develop habits of distraction like disappearing into a virtual world or, in adulthood, numbing with alcohol or gambling or obsessive work habits. We want them to emerge from set-backs stronger and able to try again. This depends on them remaining optimistic and hopeful. Resilience is having the confidence that you can cope with what life throws at you, including emotions, and knowing that you have inner resources to deal with challenges.

Resilience and optimism aren’t just characteristics that your child has or does not have; they can be taught.

Here’s what you can do to help...

  • Frequently point out to your children how they have coped with something challenging, from figuring out how to climb some rocks (nature provides lots of problem-solving opportunities) to persisting with a maths problem, to working out social dilemmas. Describe how they dealt with it, what resources they called on, and what this shows about their character. You want to build a picture of them as resourceful, capable people. For example: “That climbing net looked really high but you looked where to put your feet and hands and you got all the way to the top! You know how to keep yourself safe” or “I love that you did a really thorough search on the internet to find answers to your question before asking your teacher for pointers. It makes sense to draw on his expertise, but I am glad you used your initiative too. You’re building your research skills.”
  • Encourage your children to develop passions because when they are enthusiastic about something they will be prepared to really work hard to achieve mastery which is great learning for other areas of their lives.
  • Let your children know you are there to support them but don’t do for them what they could be doing or learning to do for themselves. This way they develop resourcefulness and feel capable. If they haven’t found the solution to a challenge yet, don’t sort it out for them but ask them questions which might help them to see their way forward.
  • Model healthy ways of dealing with problems, such as calling on others for help, taking exercise to clear your mind and get rid of frustrations, prioritising sleep, breaking down a problem into smaller components and addressing one at a time, focusing on what is working well in your life.
  • Establish rituals of emphasising what’s good about your lives, maybe at mealtimes or bedtimes. If you have a child who’s more of a glass half-empty personality don’t make them wrong for that but encourage them to identify the small things that bring them joy.
  • Teach your children about the power of ‘yet’ which encourages them to think that the goal that currently eludes them is possible with time and effort.
  • If they are prone to worries help them put these in perspective and help them understand how anxieties work to keep us safe but that our brains sometimes overreact.

Here’s what to avoid...

  • Allowing your children to think that uncomfortable feelings are intolerable, that they should be happy at all times, and if they are not something is wrong.
  • Trying to deny their negative feelings or argue them out of them. For example: “Don’t worry, everyone else is in the same boat. Think how much worse things could be.”
  • Trying to jolly them out of their feelings, or distract them from their feelings with offers of toys or screentime. It’s OK to guide them onto things after you’ve had a discussion about how they feel and even to talk about things they can do to lift their mood but don’t ignore the feeling.
  • Modelling despair or anaesthetizing oneself against emotions.

We will come through this time, maybe stronger than before. It’s up to us how we respond to these troubles and what we teach our children in the process. See it as an opportunity. Focus on what you can do for your children, and reach out for support and advice when you need it!