10 Keys To Your Kids’ Emotional Health

Originally Published on Spark What Matters on April 15th, 2020 by Sandy Trzcinski  

We are living in a season of unprecedented new relational dynamics, and increased emotional demands. Families are feeling this exponentially as energy levels, ideas, and margins are stretched thin. Especially for global workers, staying tenderhearted towards the needs of the world, while engaging the many needs in your home may seem nearly impossible on some (most?) days.

As a counselor, I want to provide some encouragement and relieve some pressure. Brains and hearts have an amazing capacity to grow! Not only can you and your kids make it through, but with just a bit of intention, you can take the next steps to building resilience and a meaningful family story during this time.  There is so much more to say, but these are just a few of the keys to supporting your family’s emotional health and resilience during this time and always.

1. GRACE, GRACE, GRACE.

There is a need for living in grace during this time. There is no reference point or rule book for navigating a global pandemic. You are figuring this thing out as you go along- and you’re killing it! Perfection is  impossible. Let humility, presence, and grace abound! 

The next few pair up nicely…

2. YOU COME FIRST. YES, YOU!

Parents can pour themselves out until their tank is empty. But tending to your own emotional states first is foundational to the well-being of your children. Much like you’re asked to put your mask on first on the airplane before helping others, you must tend to yourself before you help others. It doesn’t need to take a ton of time, in just a few minutes you can practice awareness and take a step to regulate physically and emotionally.  Parent, what helps YOU when you have big feelings?

3. Because YOU are their CO-REGULATORS

The naming and healthy movement through emotions is a learned skill. (One that many adults are still developing!) There are a lot of big feelings happening right now. Children need the presence of a calm adult to help them. Kids can only be as regulated as the adults around them. That teaching moment that may need to happen will be much more effective once you help them past the big feeling.

4. KIDS NEED STRUCTURE

Kids always need structure, but they really need it now. Structure should provide them the environment of consistency, predictability, and safety to be able to learn and flourish. Pizza night on Fridays or the song at bedtime can provide emotional/relational anchors through times of change. At this unique time, there may be a need for additional structure and there may be some that need to be reconsidered. The key is to be clear on your why.  Ask: what good goal is the structure serving NOW?

5. AND, KIDS NEED FLEXIBILITY

Flexibility allows us to take the circumstances into account as we consider structure.  This is a new season that may call for flexibility on usual rules or routines. Maybe jumping on the bed helps meet their sensory needs while having to be inside. Maybe flexibility on bedtime allows for some additional needed snuggles. Again, the key is to know your why.  What good thing will be cultivated if I’m flexible on this particular thing?

Only YOU can know what your family needs. One family’s structure might be too rigid for another, one family’s flexibility is too chaotic for another. The key is to stay somewhere between rigidity and chaos (and there’s a LOT of space there) by staying attuned to your particular people- personalities, ages, current circumstances to find your sweet spot. 

6. Kids will reach for CONTROL

There is a lot out of our control right now. If we feel it as adults, kids really are feeling it. One way to return to them a good sense of control is to make the most of age-appropriate choice giving.  Do you choose an apple or an orange?  Would you like to sit on the couch or at the table for school?  You can also allow them to ask for a 3rd option, a compromise.  Bottom line, go to town on choices.

7. AND they will ask for CONNECTION

During times of stress, children may seek more connection. Eye contact, physical nearness, undistracted time together will open up those spaces.  For older kids, open up conversations where they can share anything and just reflect.  Nearness and empathy are a winning combo. Bedtime may be a time where anxiety surfaces or kids/teens talk.  Oh, and never take away connection as a consequence or punishment.

8. Don’t underestimate the POWER OF PLAY

In play, children process their world, among other things. For younger kids, toys are their words. It’s vital for them to have plenty of unstructured free play. Don’t be surprised if themes from this pandemic time come up in play- doctors, nurses, hospitals, dolls doing online learning, superheroes defeating viruses. Join them in their play while letting them lead. Playfulness disarms fear in both kids AND adults. It promotes delight and connection in families. How can you bump up the playfulness in your home? These days call for extra dance parties in the kitchen!

9. AND make the most of REPAIR

Ruptures, misses, meltdowns are unavoidable, maybe more so during times of heightened stress. They also open the door for the repair that not only heals but strengthens relationship. Many adults didn’t grow up in homes where parents apologized. Now it may be time to change that. Not just kids, but moms and dads need do-overs and forgiveness. Get really good at repair!

10. Last, but not least, STAY A TEAM

To be a team means that if one person wins, then everyone wins. A team helps one another through the challenges and learns together for the good of everyone. Remember when there are problems, your kids aren’t struggling AGAINST you, they’re just struggling. How can you come alongside them? What have been your team wins lately?

All of these reflect something about God as our perfect parent.  Which of these are sparking good things in your home?  Which ones do you want to remember this week?