Parenting in Anxious Times with Susan Stiffelman, MFT


Parent says I have an inquisitive sensitive four year old daughter with the recent corona virus outbreaks around the world and us. I have remained informed but not shared this information with her. Unfortunately and very rapidly. My Home State has begun taking precautions due to infections in the area closing all K. Through twelve schools we are anticipating childcare to follow as licensed providers and several surrounding counties have been mandated to close. I work in childcare and she attends so closure would drastically impact. Our daily lives even without that local museums children's programs etc in our area that we regularly frequent have announced closures due to an abundance of caution. My question is what is the best way for me to explain this information to a four year old? Of course I want to use language that is appropriate and that she can understand but also have it in the back of my mind. She tends to be anxious and worried about things additionally she asked tons of questions and I want to be able to fill those appropriately. Thank you for any guidance. You can provide. That's such a great question and I think it's universal right now whether the child's four or eight or twelve our kids WanNa know what the heck is going on? You know the world is not the way it was yesterday and we're not doing things the same way we were so Kudos to that parent writing into you Janet. Yes and it sounds like she's been able to kind of keep the status quo for a while but it seems like she's noticing that there are some impending changes. I'll try to get this outta soon as possible. And at least we can help her to answer some of the questions and explain the situation to her. Do you have any thoughts on that? Yeah let's start with the good news and might surprise people. What's the good news? It seems like all the news is worrisome. But the good news about a young child in the situation is that we have a lot of power or ability to quell their anxieties by regulating ourselves and by managing our own fears and worries in an appropriate way with other adults getting support in ways. That help us finding good sources of guidance online or within our communities and friendships so this four year old is not browsing the Internet for information. They're going to be primarily looking in one direction. That is the mom who can first and foremost address her own concerns and fears till I always suggest that parents before talking with their children have a conversation with a trusted friend or some support group. That will help her address some of her greatest worries around the virus in the upheaval in disruption in daily life. That seems to be up ahead for so many of us so that her four year old doesn't pick up on that because the other good news is that four year olds really are focused on mostly one thing and that one thing is am I gonNa be okay and his mommy or daddy or grandma going to be okay. Their Ego centric and so the primary concern of this child is going to be about the immediate world that she lives in. And that's easier in one sense to address by first of all holding a place as you do. Begin the conversation or have these conversations you're energetically reassuring that there's a place you have managed to land on where you're not spinning in your head with all the what if all the things that might happen. I was Doing something for parents earlier today to offer support in one of the things that I reminded someone when they asked the question. How are we going to get through this day after day after day? Homeschooling and all these other things and I said well remember in the twelve step programs. It's one day at a time. And even though we have to plan for what this is GonNa look like all we have to do is get through today and so I think it will start with remembering that for ourselves and then being in a when we begin the conversation you and I can talk about what that might sound like where. We're not subtly transmitting our own fears and worries because we've appropriately vented those with an adult that we trust. Yes that's so important. Children are always taking their tone from us and were the first point of safety for them and if we're not there then yeah it is much harder for them to feel comfortable so we would start with that. That's wonderful framing really important and remember that this is a neutral event. Even though it's a disruptive event for a young child there isn't the same kind of cataloging of where does this rank in the realm of awful things? They watch us so carefully to decide how they should feel about something like this something. That happens unexpected or difficult. I've seen this with kids so many times and I saw this when my own son was young that we might be facing something that to me was sort of. Oh my gosh. I can't believe we're dealing with this. And his focus was not on the situation but on me like to kind of read me to see whether he should be worried or whether this was sort of a funny thing or even a good thing so again holding place when she does begin to speak with her little girl that allows her to communicate in the non verbal part of the messaging. You know this is it change and this is different and there are things that we haven't figured out yet but I'm solid and we'll get through this and it's just one day at a time so that's kind of reiterating what I said before. But it's important that we remember that we can strongly influence how our kids digest this information in the way that we come across exactly. I've noticed that children always surprise me in their ability to be okay with a very unusual or even tragic situations when we are okay with it. We're not happy about it but they know again. They're looking to us as my. Are My parents going to be okay? That's all I care about. That's my world. And then they surprise us with their ability to understand things. I would recommend being very honest and simple using frames of reference that our child has saying things like you know how we get colds and we get stuffy noses sometimes we get a fever and we have to lie down that comes from a virus and right now there's a virus that's new and for a lot of people it ends up feeling like a cold or the flu but for some people. It's very dangerous so we're all being careful not to pass this around and we're not gonNA have daycare for a while and we are going to keep our lives to ourselves a little more and things like that. I think children can understand that and even embrace it as okay. Well we'll do this interesting new thing again because my parent seems confident that it's going to be all right. Yeah you know I like using very concrete ways of describing situations two young kids who are in that concrete stage so for instance you could take out your puppets and you know. Show the puppets playing catch with little balled up piece of tissue or you could just play catch and be maybe a foot apart and then get a little bit further apart and then eventually to the other end of the room and deliberately throw the tissue where it doesn't reach and help her understand that in a way the tissue represents the germs that carry this virus. And so if you're really close and you throw the tissue back and forth. It's not very hard to catch it. If your child isn't good at catching by the way you can just sit on the floor and push it back and forth away. We used to play hot potato but if you get really far on the other side of the room where one of you goes down the hall then eventually you just can't reach and you could sort of explain you know this tissue represents the germs that carry this bug this virus this flu that we are really all working hard not to pass to each other and we're close together then it's easier for to pass from one friend to another friend but if we're far apart or we stay in our houses and you could even played a game where you go outside if you goes outside and closes the door then you can obviously see that the tissue the little germ can't reach the other person so anything that comes to mind that would allow you to make it visible and practical for the child to understand. Why this distancing is a really good idea can be helpful and of course. We're all talking about washing hands for twenty seconds singing twinkle twinkle little star or two verses of happy birthday and this can become a game. It can become something that you do were. You're being a little bit silly. Maybe so you reinforce this habit of being germ buster were you. You make it really hard for the germ to pass from one friend to another and that that's the way everybody's GonNa stay. Well I love that. And then this parent. She's anticipating that. Her daughter will have questions and she wants to make sure that she's GonNa feel those appropriately. That's the wonderful thing about children. They let you know what's on their mind and they ask the questions. We don't have to assume that they're worried about certain things they will let us know. That may not even be worried about may just be. This is what I'm curious about. This is what I'm interested in. This is what I need to know to feel more on top of this situation for

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