Over the past few months, as our world has navigated COVID-19, we have all endured much loss and grief. In addition to the loss of life and health, we have lost our sense of safety within structure, routine and ritual.

The ambiguous loss of identity so many have experienced through job loss or change also applies to children, as they have lost being a traditional student, the social context of school, playdates and organized sport. The outlets and hobbies that support and maintain connections to others and self have been tested, and we have all been stretched to take on new roles, attitudes and actions.

Our lives changed basically overnight, with little planning or preparation. The uncertainty and unknowns in this time, which has recently been described as a triple pandemic (COVID-19, social injustice, and economic hardships) have triggered us all into states of fear. Fear for safety in all its forms; physical, psychological, social, emotional, spiritual, and economic. The trigger is even greater for those that have had previous traumas and are in even greater need for order and predictability.

It is a time for us to pull from Trauma Theory and begin with the ABCs of self-care.

  • A – Acknowledge what you are feeling, label your emotion, this will help to speak to it and externalize in order to begin to manage.
  • B – Be with the emotion, allow yourself to feel all the feels. Every feeling has a beginning, middle and end.
  • C – Compassion, be with the emotion and the thoughts driving the feelings. We must acknowledge what is present, prior to looking to shift the emotion.

If you think back to air travel, we are advised to “put your mask on first before helping others,” the same applies here, both physically and emotionally. Even if you are not in need of oxygen, you are in need of protection. We all must look to protect our mental health in order to navigate these new waters while staying afloat. The Four Ms of Mental Health shared by Dr. Sue Varma (Movement, Mindfulness, Meaningful engagement, and Mastery), can be a context in which to support the process of being present to what our experience is, what may be needed, and that which already exists and can be built upon. They are all aspects of life that are within our control and with control we build upon a sense of safety, order and self-efficacy.

  • Movement – strengthens our bodies and minds, allows for clarity and consistency.
  • Mindfulness – promotes reflection, reflection allows for growth and learning.
  • Meaningful engagement – we are practicing physical distance and at same time need to remain socially connected. The way to combat depression is to find moments of joy and build upon them. Make sure you create moments for this; there are various platforms to allow for virtual togetherness, game play, and connection.
  • Mastery – is the practice of something new or getting back to something you’ve wanted to do; we don’t have to become black belts or Julia Childs yet we need to be focusing our creativity and engaging our minds in something which builds skill.

Crisis is an opportunity for growth and learning. The growth and learning does not occur without vulnerability, fear, and angst; so, allow for it and be patient with yourself and practice the ABCs and 4 Ms daily as prescriptive measure for the various challenging and opposing emotions we are all experiencing.

And Your Child(ren)’s Mask, Cooperation Tips….

When it comes to supporting the requirement to wear masks in public, try focusing on the C’s to gain cooperation from your child(ren).

  • Consistency: This is a new ritual of sorts; we need to remain consistent with expectation and align with the other adults in the home to create a consistent and clear message. We need to model the desired behavior and reinforce adherence.
  • Collaboration: Children at most developmental levels are collective by nature, think cooperative play. We are in this together, a team need for the greater good. Focus on the larger lens, the social circle. We wear masks for our potential safety and that of others (friends, teachers, and of course family members). Join your children in the challenges and discomfort of making changes and creating new rituals. Incorporate these new behaviors into daily routines, much the same way we have to wear seatbelts before moving a car.
  • Creativity: Let your children be creative within the structure of mask wearing. Let them choose the fabric (many have tactile sensitivity), design, and even smell. Children can draw on some masks and pick which soap to wash it with. Some children have also benefited from using essential oils on masks; allowing for choice in smell and varied benefits of certain scents (like calming a child with lavender, who may feel confined by a mask). Perhaps pair with a certain pair of fun sunglasses, similar to the way many now wear head helmets that are playful while protective. The gaiter style neck masks have also supported comfort and accessibility for many children.
  • Collectiveness: Let children be collective with peers. For example; pick the same mask, color, or print, etc. For younger children let it be a family affair, decide together.
  • Compassion: Be compassionate to your child(ren)’s needs to change behavior and encourage them based on their strengths. Although the circumstances are different, children have adapted before and will succeed again. We also have previously created rituals and can and will succeed here too (sometimes just not as quickly as we would all like)!

For more information and for a free phone consultation, please contact Kimberly Andron, LCSW-R. Kimberly is a former teacher of early childhood, special education, and a trained and seasoned family therapist; specializing in life transitions, grief and loss, anxiety, depression, and relational issues. In this time of distancing we can all use connection and a place to process and grieve this “new normal.” Zoom sessions now available.

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