Six months ago, a canceled birthday party would have been enough to send my kids over the edge. These days, our children have lived through the cancellation of MOST social events, including but not limited to: Dance recitals, vacations, summer camps, sleepovers, swim days, and good old fashioned hang out with your friends time. To add salt to injury, they are NOW feeling uncertainty about the upcoming school year.
As children often do, they adjust to the situation, and life goes on. But that doesn't mean that they're not feeling all the effects of uncertainty and being socially isolated.
It's a lot to handle, even for us adults. These are the few things I've found have helped our children process their emotions.
1. We read aloud
I have four daughters, ages 11, 9, and a set of almost-5-year-old twins. My husband and I take turns choosing a book to read out loud with them. When we read together, it transports us to a different time and a different place. We are reminded that other people have struggles and difficulties, and it establishes empathy for each other. It reminds us that no matter how dark it gets, there is a way through and we are not alone. It fills our imagination with hope and allows us to feel the sadness that is lurking inside. Some of my favorite authors who handle emotions beautifully are Kate DiCamillo, Patricia Polacco, A. A. Milne, and if your kids are old enough, J. K. Rowling.
2. We use both structure and spontaneity
My kids know what's coming each day. We have a morning routine, a chore chart, and we take an hour of quiet time in the afternoon. That being said, I am constantly looking for ways to surprise them with out-of-the-ordinary events. It could be as simple as a fun snack in the middle of the day, or it might be making a call to a friend to see if we can use their pool for a few hours. Yesterday, I stopped by a store and picked up a couple packs of Play-Doh. They played from 9am-2pm with that $5 purchase. A few weeks ago, we made soft pretzels that turned out horribly. But we had fun doing it!
If you're looking for ideas around town, I recommend checking out the Lebanon Macaroni Kid website. They are constantly updating with new ideas for families in Lebanon county.
3. My husband and I keep our stress to ourselves
There are some really big decisions looming. Most notably, what are we going to do about schools re-opening? Will we home school, go forward with public school, or go a different route? Some of the options may have a huge impact on me as a lifestyle photographer being able to continue my work.
It's not that we never discuss these things with our children. I absolutely let them talk as much as they want to about their thoughts on school, how they miss their teachers and their friends, and what they would like to do in the fall. But I do not put weight on them to make that decision.
I learned early on in my journey of mothering that there are burdens we bear on behalf of our children, and whatever sacrifices I have needed to make in my life for them, I have kept that to myself. It is not their responsibility to take on my stress.
Practically, this means that I am careful to keep conversations about school plans with other parents and teachers out of their earshot while we are trying to make the best decision.
4. Exercise and Art
We have found exercise and art to be essential to our sanity at home. Summer is the perfect time to get outside, and the library is sponsoring a program called Go Lebanon that leads you on a sort of scavenger hunt around Lebanon county. You might discover some places you never knew about!
If it's a rainy day, or a 93 degree day like today and you'd rather stay inside, look up The Little Gym at Home on YouTube for some really fun exercises that kids can do with ordinary household items. Or if you want to stay off of screens, put some 80's music on and have a dance party!
Our favorite art to do at home is rock painting, which we discovered when my daughter received this book for Christmas some years ago. Also, the Boyer kids recommend anything on the Wild Free and Crafty YouTube channel. She teaches basic technique and uses materials that most people already have on hand. Always a win in our house.
5. Sit and breathe
Once in a while, the emotions come to the surface and you can see what's been hiding in there. I've sat and held my very social firstborn while she cries gut-wrenching tears over the loss of her friends, and I've broken up many a fight over here.
Teaching my daughters how to express (instead of suppress) their emotions in a positive way is a priority for me. It's taken me the better part of my adult life to shake off the idea that I just need to put on a happy face all the time, and conversely, that I can't just explode at people. There is a better way of handling emotion. Passing this on to my daughters, however, has been challenging.
Sometimes, when the emotions seem too wild and scary, it helps to have a plan.
A close friend sent this 3 minute video to me to share with my kids, and I thought it was good enough to pass along. It's all about calming your physical body through breathing so that when those emotions do come, you have a plan to let your mind and emotions settle "like glitter in a jar." I hope you and your kids find it helpful.