I came across this great article (in Hebrew) that discusses the ways therapists can handle a crisis like the one we are going through right now (Spring of 2020). While reading, my mind just translated it all to us as parents. So here are my main takeaways:
- The downside of being a SuperHero: We are all in a shared traumatic reality, our children and us, are exposed to the same reality (doesn’t mean our children must know all that we know, but they know we can’t do many things we could do before). Our children look at us and expect us to be stronger, more knowledgeable and kinder. But right now, we are all in a maze of uncertain times, and many parents are facing stress and difficulties far beyond taking care of their children. Some parents deal with this by feeling like they can rescue others. This can translate into: “I want to help the society around me.” Perhaps start a cause of some sort, like helping local businesses. This can also translate into keeping your children occupied at all times so they won’t feel anything of what is going on around them. In either case – it makes a person feel capable, and brings out one aspect of the personality and magnifies it. It allows a sense of continuity and control, in a time we feel like we have no control and we are losing parts of our identity. The advantages of this are obvious both for the individual and the people they help. The only issue with this approach is that usually, a person that uses this kind of defense mechanism – forgets to take care of themselves. I am the hero that will rescue some, if not all. But while you’re operating as a superhero, you’re not attuned to your needs. This may result in more trauma feelings after the “danger” is gone. This can also make us less attuned to the needs of people around us because once we stop truly feeling ourselves, we can’t *really* be attuned to others. We can provide all we think they need, but that’s not the same as real deep listening. The bottom line here is that helping others and being there for your children is incredible, but don’t forget about yourself. Your children and other people will need you once this is all over, and you want to take care of yourself now as well so you won’t crash later. You matter too.
- We all cope differently. This one is super important. The basic PH model talks about different patterns of coping: Belief – our values, faith, beliefs. We will tune into those channels to cope. Affect – feelings and emotions. Coping through expressing emotions genuinely. Social – seeking support through friendships, and decrease isolation which is important for their well-being. Imagination – creativity, and imagination as emotional release channels of coping. Cognitive – honest dialog on events, facts searching. Physiological – physical activities. Every adult and child (with the help of an adult) can take the time to think about their coping styles. Some might use god (belief) and exercise (physiological) as two major ways to help themselves – pray and run. My son (4) uses running (physiological) and play pretend (imagination) as his major ways to cope. I know, as his parent, that if I give him the chance to practice these two ways of coping every day, he feels better, he gets less stressed, less angry and less frustrated about this situation. My daughters (7, 10) care more about sharing their emotions and connecting with their friends (Affect and Social). I made sure they both can use different Apps to connect with friends, and we create Mandalas every day and have a shared time to talk about our feelings – the Madala allows emotional release and organizes our inner space, then we play a short game that makes us feel connected and we talk. But it was important that I take the time to notice what ways best serves each and every one of them because trying to find one size fits all simply wouldn’t work and would create a lot of frustration. Not only for them, for me too. Why? because like we discussed in the first part of this post – I can’t always think in a superhero state of mind. I can’t do it all. If I take care of me, I stay tuned to my children as well. This way I can focus on what helps and not try everything and do everything every single day. This way of looking at ourselves and others brings us to the third part of this post.
- Compassion. We learned that we all cope differently. Look at the adults around you. This applies to them too. Not all your friends and family will cope like you. That’s OK. I hope they all cope in a way that actually helps them. But I also want to talk about Self compassion. We will make mistakes. We won’t do everything right. We are human. Be kind to yourselves (instead of judging yourself), Try to feel a sense of human connection and belonging (instead of isolation) and try to practice mindfulness, attuning inside (instead of detaching and avoiding your feelings and needs). When you do this, it will be easy to translate it to your children. My daughter was angry with my son. She took out a lot of her frustration on him to a point they both were crying. When I came in she threw herself at me and said: “I’m a horrible older sister”. If I wasn’t practicing self-compassion, considering the amount of pressure we are all under, I might have said something like: “Well, you did say some things you shouldn’t have said” (because I wouldn’t have enough room in me to see her pain). But I saw her. She was being very hard on herself because she felt like she lost herself while fighting with her brother. She no longer knew who is this person who was talking, it was an angry person that blew things way out of propositions and she almost watched herself behave in a way she couldn’t control. It happens to all of us at extreme times. I hugged her. I told her it happens, and I will help her recenter herself and she will know what to do. I reminded her that she is kind and loving. That she truly cares about her brother and I used her coping mechanisms to bring her back to herself (recenter) – I let her share her emotions with me, I let her connect with me by also telling her about situations when I felt like her (by choosing the ones that are age-appropriate), and we also talked about her friends and how her chats with them were like today. By showing her it’s only human, she was able to feel compassion towards herself. I have no doubt they will fight again, as siblings do. But I also know she will safe and not as if she lost herself. Either way, I’m there, not as an all mighty savior, but as a mother, that makes mistakes and stays compassionate about it, towards my children and also myself.
- Yes, I said 3 things, but here’s a bonus one. Research shows that finding the time to play with your children is the number one thing you can do to reduce their stress. 30 minutes is enough, just make time for it during the day that they know you are all theirs during that time. Let your child lead the way, don’t be judgmental during this time and try to echo emotions that are coming up. Play can mean different things at different ages. For example, with my 4 years old, this will be play pretend, yesterday we pretended we are flying the helicopter to our favorite playing location and my son was fixing the helicopter while flying it (impressive!). I let him know what a wonderful pilot he is and how excited I am to fly with him, but it wasn’t until I changed my voice and pretended to be someone else that he started to really have fun and sharing his heart out. Why? because sharing in play pretend feels safe, it’s just a game, and also – they get easier access to their emotions. With my daughter this includes drawing Mandalas and talking about them if they don’t feel like talking about them, I sit on the floor with them and play a hand game, that makes us feel connected, and then I ask them about their day. They talk. They share, I listen. This usually evolves to us laughing our lungs out from inner jokes and sarcasm. With a teenager, this can be simply asking them what are they doing that you can join for a short while (watching a movie, playing a video game, and also Mandalas are great for this age – just don’t make remarks over their art unless you’re asked to). Just so they know that you are there, the connection is there and they are not alone.
If you think more parents can benefit from this – please share <3