Connect with your children as if their future depends on it. It does!

Phil McInnes

Most of us have had a sense of disconnection brought about by lock down measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have experienced a sense of disconnection from the real world, family, friends, colleagues and activities that we enjoy. There has been a plethora of bad news and uncertainty over the future. We have experienced strong emotions of anger, sadness, anxiety and fear. Dwell on this for a moment. There may not be a vaccine for the Corona virus, but there is an antidote for our own sense of wellbeing. But, first consider the following.

Our pre-schoolers may have small bodies, but, "oh boy", they have big feelings. They can become overwhelmed by emotions such as anger, sadness, anxiety, fear and helplessness. They do not have our life experiences and their brains are still developing the ability to process and cope with these feelings.

COVID-19 has sprung many of these emotions on us, so we can now empathize more readily with our little ones

. In moments of feeling low, we have told ourselves (or worse, been told by others) to dismiss these feelings, or ignore them, or simply disapproved of ourselves even considering wallowing in them. And, did this help? Probably not much, if at all.

What did help? Connecting with someone we feel close to and trust. Sharing our feelings and worries and having them acknowledged, and not being judged. Talking about coping strategies and how we might support each other. What did not help?  For example, that boss at work who responded to our concerns through teasing, threats or even punishments. And, when we expressed anger, he responded with a suggestion of one taking unpaid leave (effectively a "time-out" for a pre-schooler).

Viktor Frankl studied human behaviour in concentration camps during the second world war. He made a remarkable observation. Those most likely to survive were not the toughest, or those with the mindset and the capacity to cajole or steal sparse rations from fellow inmates. Rather, it was those who connected with fellow inmates in need, shared their sparse rations and focused on helping them to survive. Interestingly, this human trait has become one of the key selection criteria for selection into elite groups, such as the Navy Seals!! !

So what is the antidote for your own feelings of "pain" brought about by COVID-19? Go out and connect. Form support groups and talk about your concerns and how you may support each other through these tough times. Look for positives. Lend support to someone who really needs it. You will feel better and you yourself will cope much better, and you will get stronger.

The insights above are equally useful to help your pre-schooler deal with strong negative emotions. There is a lot of evidence to support the value of a loving secure relationship. Children who are securely attached are more likely to develop prosocial behaviours., greater ability to solve social problems, more likely to show empathy and help others in distress, more likely to be generous and even share with kids they don't like. And the result? They are less likely to be excluded or become lonely. 

Evidence suggests that being a caring and dependable parent/care-giver, who is sensitive and responsive will build secure attachments with your pre-schooler. Work on becoming a good emotional coach and role model to your kids. There are plenty of practical, concrete ways of doing this, which we will share with you in our blogs. Many of you will have had recent experiences that will bear out that ignoring, dismissing, disapproving or punishing negative emotions is not useful.

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