Written by Allison Chen
Edited by Steven Gowin and J Cameron
Childcare is challenging at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic. The close quarters, constant need for entertainment, and flubbed schedules are enough to frustrate anyone. Maintaining a smile isn’t easy, especially when you feel like screaming.
Oh how we all long for the luxury of burning through our Netflix subscriptions in bed. Now, though, in the middle of this pandemic, is a great time to practise understanding and dealing with our emotions — with our kids on the witness stand.
I’ve heard time and time again that ‘parenthood is the greatest acting job of your life,’ and I couldn’t agree more. I never intended to go into the entertainment industry, but here we are — Oscars, here I come! This is all just so unexpected. In all honesty, though, we as parents frequently mask our emotions, whether we intend to or not.
This really hit me the other day and, in a sense, I was as defensive about this fact as I was disappointed about it. How can I expect my kids to be honest about their feelings when I can’t even be honest with myself about mine? Especially given our current global situation, I want my kids to be able to communicate their concerns. And whether I like it or not, I have to first.
In this post, I describe a couple of thoughts I’ve had on this topic since my revelation. I hope they can give you as much insight on children and emotions as they did for me.
‘I don’t even need a mirror anymore, now that I’ve got a kid!’
Children mimic our actions. Want your kid to eat their vegetables? Eat yours. Want your kid to be respectful? Respect others. The youth in our lives watch us like hawks, especially when they’re young. Home is the first and only world to young children, and we as parents set the standard by which they live.
Practise expressing your emotional state in a way that is predictable to those around you. I’m not suggesting that you go through life with a perpetually placid expression on your face; rather, express your emotions in a level and mature way. When the news frustrates you, resist the urge to criticize the anchor; instead, take a deep breath and change the channel. When the knife slips at 8 PM while you’re cutting yams for a late dinner, resist the urge to yell “F***!” at your flailing kid, calmly drop the knife, and tend to your bleeding finger. Use your actions to show your kids how to maturely identify and solve their problems and they will learn to do the same.
‘When kids cry it feels normal, but when parents cry…’
Admit it: it’s a little weird to see your parents cry. We’ve all been there before, though. And while the previous section was all about dealing with our emotions, this section is about letting them out, calmly. There’s a huge difference between expressing your emotions and yelling out of anger. When you have a bad day, be honest with your kids about why you’re upset.
Normalise expressing emotion. It’s definitely okay to cry in front of your kids, but be open and vulnerable with them. Explain to your children that we all have hard days and that crying can actually help to release some of our built-up tension. Remember to tell them (and yourself) that crying is a natural reaction to life’s curveballs and not a sign of weakness.
‘When will my reflection show who I am, inside’
Reflect openly and regularly about your emotions, especially when it’s uncomfortable to do so. Practise this skill often; emotional intelligence is a muscle we must exercise to maintain.
The first step is to identify what you’re feeling. Close your eyes and mentally scan your body. Do you feel scared? Overwhelmed? Sad? Angry? Hungry?
Next, work with your child to identify their feelings. If you ask ‘what feelings are coming up for you right now?’ and they struggle to find a label, lead by example. Hold their hands, take a deep breath, identify how you’re feeling, and communicate it.
You don’t need to go into detail; it can be as simple as ‘I am feeling [tired/frustrated/stressed]’. Just by evaluating and communicating your emotional state, you provide a road map for your child to do the same. Reiterate the question ‘what are you feeling?’ and you’re likely to get a response.
The next step is to work together to find out what’s controlling your emotions. Be honest with yourself; reflect on why you’re feeling this way and what factors are influencing your emotional state. To start, ‘Why am I feeling this way?’ and ‘What is causing me to feel sad (or happy)?’ are both excellent questions.
When you’re helping your children to reflect on their emotions, understand that imposing these questions on your children may be uncomfortable for both parties, so remind them that you love them and are open to conversation.
No reference sheet or rule book can explain what we’re going through right now; it’s an unpredictable world. Who knows what will happen next? Maybe we’ll experience another pandemic soon. So, write in emotional awareness as a chapter in your book, and don’t forget to revise it often. Show your children how to develop and maintain emotional resilience as a family.