Children, Teens and COVID-19: Identifying and Validating Feelings
During times of increased stress, a skill that you can practice with your child is to be a feelings role-model. What this really means is to label feelings that are obvious that you see your child feeling. So if you can tell when your child’s mad or scared or sad, label that feeling for your child. You could say something like, “I can tell you’re really mad right now because you’re clenching your fist,” or, “I can tell you really scared today because you haven’t left my side.”
Use Emotion Vocabulary When Talking to Children
Also practice labeling your own feelings. Modeling that for your child will help them be able to learn emotion vocabulary. If you are feeling anxious or nervous, you could say, “I’m feeling really nervous right now because I’m not sure when we’ll be able to see grandma again.”
What if Your Teenager is Struggling with Feelings?
So the first thing I would say is to validate your child’s response. If your teen is really struggling with these sudden changes of not being able to see their friends, or feeling like they won’t be able to see people again because they won’t be going back to school, let them know that it’s okay to feel sad about that or even angry about it.
If your child isn’t saying a lot because they think they need to be strong, many parents may start to ask a lot of questions. What you probably experience is that as you start to ask a lot of questions, your child shuts down or gets even more quiet. So what I would say is to stop asking questions, which sounds counterintuitive, however what will work best when your teen is scared or sad that they wont get to have these experiences, is to label that for them. You could say something like, “Johnny, it seems like you’re trying to stay strong during this pandemic, and I appreciate that you’re trying to keep yourself together. It’s okay though if you are feeling sad about not being able to see the seniors who are graduating this year.”
Another scenario may be if your child plays sports, and now they’re suddenly not able to play sports, labeling that by saying, “Yeah, it’s really upsetting that we can’t go to the wrestling tournament now, and hopefully we’ll get to have that experience next year.”
Be an Energy Detective
Another skill that you can use with your child is to be an energy detective. A lot of times when kids are stressed out, or are having negative feelings, they’ll either wind up or they’ll wind down. So pay attention to what your child does.
If your child tends to wind up when they’re feeling negative emotions, getting them to do things that are high-energy will actually overstimulate them and make them more dysregulated. On the flip-side, if your child tends to wind down when they’re having negative emotions, doing high-energy tasks might actually make them feel better; so pay attention and plan accordingly. Coping is another skill that relates to this, and there are lots of really creative ways for coping. So things like running, skipping, or dancing, those are examples of some high-energy activities that you can do with your child, if your child is more of a wind down kid. If your child is a wind up kid, doing things like grounding techniques will really be helpful. Examples of grounding are counting all of the blue objects in the room, blowing bubbles, or coloring.
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