With Christmas holidays right around the corner and the recent news of an extended break from school (that includes remote learning) parents and caregivers are stressed! Memories of our last lockdown in the spring are flooding back, worries of how we are going to get assignments done at home, having to quickly change work schedules and arrange childcare, and feeling uncertain about how we are going to manage the stress of Christmas in the midst of a pandemic- this is NOT an easy time for grown ups. But we also know, it’s not an easy time for children.
So what happens when children (and even adults) become overwhelmed? Meltdowns. Ah yes, meltdowns. Outbursts, temper tantrums, behaviours, acting out, whatever you call them, it all stems from one source, emotional dysregulation. What is emotional Dysregulation you ask? Well, essentially it is when we have a difficult time modulating (managing) our emotions/emotional responses to stimuli, or things that happen in our environment or life.
Children, like adults, are being faced changing routines, new expectations at home, learning in formats that might not suit their needs, managing distractions, dealing with a lack of peer interaction and feeling worried and uncertainty about how the coming days, weeks, and maybe even months are going to look. It you ask me, emotional dysregulation sounds like a pretty normal response to everything going on. But that doesn’t make it easy to manage. So when “meltdowns” happen and we know our children are having difficulty regulating their emotions, what do we do?
Here are a few simple tips for supporting our children in regulating their emotions:
Acknowledge and Validate:
If you notice that your child is upset, take a moment to consider what the contributing factors might be in that situation. Are they tired, hungry, disappointed, responding to a change, dealing with an unmet expectation, feeling frustrated with an assignment? If you have an idea of what might be happening, then acknowledge their experience and validate it.
– Try statements like “It is really annoying doing schoolwork at home while your little brother gets to play. I know I would find it hard to focus on my work right now too.” It can be easy to brush past things, try to keep moving forward, or gloss over feelings, but often this leads to kids feeling isolated and unsupported.
Empathize and Identify Emotions:
Once you acknowledge what your child might be experience, provide them with empathy and understanding and try offering some emotions words that might fit with how they are feeling. This process helps increase your child’s ability to recognize and identify their emotions and build up their emotional language to use in future challenging situations. – –
– Saying things like “It sounds like you’re feeling disappointed that we aren’t getting to go to Grandma’s for a visit today. I know I feel sad when we don’t get to do fun things or see the people we love.” We want children to feel and express all their emotions, even the more challenging ones, and empathy and emotional based statements help create safety for them to do that.
Adjust your Expectations:
Before you put any big plans in place for how many tasks your child is going to get done while learning home, how much cleaning they will help with, or many hours they are going to spend reading that day, figure out if your expectations are realistic. Go through this checklist to determine if you’re expectations are realistic for your child’s:
Give Yourself (and your kids) a Little Grace
Let’s be honest the last week at school before Christmas and the first week back after the break, aren’t exactly prime time for getting a ton of work done, even when kids are in the classroom at school. There are usually movies, Christmas concerts, baking and cards, and spending time doing fun things. So don’t stress too much if you and your child are not getting every single task or assignment done. Same thing goes for the first week back in January. Children need time to transition back in their schedules, routines, and sleep habits, so use that week to do that. And cut yourself and your child(ren) a little slack.
Seize the opportunities
If we were not in the midst of a pandemic right now, our children would be in school and their normal routines. Which means, that on any other given year, you, your other family members, or caregivers in the home wouldn’t normally get this extra time to spend with your children. So take advantage of it…it may not ever happen again (if we’re lucky)! Use these extra days to really connect with your child(ren). Work on your relationship and interactions, build in quality time, play, fun, laughter, silliness, baking, movies, and love! Capitalize on this time when you can enjoy just being in the moment with your child.
A final word of advice- Parenting is rarely an emergency. You might not know how to handle each situation as it arises, but you don’t have to. Take things one day, one hour, one moment at a time, you don’t expect your kids to get everything right, so don’t expect that of yourself.
Looking for extra resources? Check out: @drbeckyathome on Instagram for more parenting, behaviour management, and emotional tips and tricks this holiday season!
Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!
Written by Registered Psychologist with Wildflowers, Megan Adams Lebell