We have been through the first week of a four-week nationwide lockdown here in Aotearoa, New Zealand. There isn’t much that the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t affected. Every household in almost every corner of the world has experienced so much change over these past few months and as world leaders make big decisions that are needed to eradicate the virus, it impacts our homes in the smallest of ways, which can in turn bring about some even bigger emotions as families navigate these next few weeks.
If it’s affecting us as adults, you can bet it’s having some sizeable repercussions with our tamariki—who can’t always find the words to express their feelings and will therefore use their emotions to speak.
Our small children experience big emotions and their expressions of these can be loud, long and frightening—for both parties. As adults we can choose how to respond, but in that moment, when it is all go, our children do not. They are overwhelmed and have over-extended their ‘cope-ability’. Calmness isn’t in their power when they have reached that intensity of emotion, but it IS within ours.
The close connection we share with our tamariki means that we don’t just read each other’s energy, but also feed off it. It can be a challenge when our children are screaming, crying or raging, to not get caught up in the moment and do exactly the same. But we all know—having been in those situations—that if we match loud with loud, and stressed with stressed, things don’t diffuse. They escalate. And it doesn’t feel good, or like we are the adult they are needing in their difficult time.
That is something we tend to overlook sometimes, in the thick of it. It is the child’s difficult time, not ours. They aren’t doing it to make things hard for us, but because they have no other option. They don’t have the tools, experience, or energy reserves to calm themselves.
It is up to us, as the adult in this partnership, to step up as the choosing one, and choose calm.
We can choose to pause, to breathe, to just sit with our child and let them express whatever it is they are feeling. Even when it feels hard, we can exhale our own discomfort, so they can inhale our calmness. We can put ourselves in our child’s shoes, recalling a time we have felt distraught. It can be a frightening enough experience as an adult, but more so for our little ones! It really is terrifying to feel so out of control.
We’d remember this if we looked closely at the words we so often use to describe this kind of emotional state—’beside themselves’, or ‘out of sorts’. These phrases describe exactly how off-centre the child feels. If we match their emotional intensity, we add even more instability. And that is not what they need from their adult.
An overwhelmed young child can’t come back to the centre because there is nothing to anchor themselves to. But we can be that anchor, the port in their inner storm. Our calmness can call them in and let them know they are safe with us. Our evenness means they can find their feet again, match our breathing and catch their breath. We’ve thrown them a lifeline, reaching out to them, and giving them security when they need it most.
So, kia kaha over these next few weeks as they (and you) adjust to the changing landscape of the weeks ahead and work out the new normal…well, their temporary new normal.