“Appa and Thatha are so lucky, they get to watch a lot of TV. Only I have restricted TV. time”, she said the day after she had watched her favourite movie on the laptop. “You never make anything I like. I hate this Tiffin!”, she said after having her favourite aloo paratha for the previous meal!
There have been several moments like these during the lockdown, when my daughter was having big feelings. Her melt downs were leaving my husband and me very irritable! Does this sound familiar to you?
Have you had such moments in your family as well? Feeling furious, I wanted to lash out and tell her to stop complaining. As children, we didn’t have access to computers, television or even children’s books easily. Desserts and sweets were made only on special occasions. She ought to be grateful for the privileges she has and not take them for granted. My husband and I were stressed too, trying to keep things going in the house in these uncertain times of COVID-19, all by ourselves (meals, cleaning of house, utensils, etc). In this state of mind, I found it difficult to not react to our daughter’s meltdowns with blame and comparison.
But I knew that doing so would leave all of us angry and disconnected with one another. It is the responsibility of every parent to help their child cope with this difficult period. To have the mind space for that, I needed to work on regulating my own feelings. I acknowledged feeling stressed due to the Corona situation and feeling regretful for not being able to make my daughter’s birthday special. It was a week away bang in the middle of the lockdown. I gave myself empathy by reminding myself that I am doing the best I can, took some deep breaths, had quiet time with a hot cup of tea.
Feeling calmer, I took a pause to observe what was happening with our daughter. This is called mapping the backstory wherein a parent reflects on what has happened or may be happening in a child’s life that could be impacting their current behaviour.
There was a lot happening in my daughter’s life! Firstly, the birthday plans she had made to celebrate with friends got cancelled. The birthday dress we had ordered online too got stuck in transit. This situation might sound trivial to us adults, but for an 8-year-old, it meant a lot of heartache. Secondly, her routine was disrupted. She could neither go to school nor go out to play, nor meet her friends nor attend her football and music classes.
Thirdly, we were aware that she was getting anxious seeing news on TV and overhearing conversations about COVID-19 between adults at home.
These were enough reasons for a child to feel unsettled! I decided to apply a tool that I had learnt of at my parenting class called S.A.L.T, to empathise and connect with my daughter’s feelings. S.A.L.T is an acronym for Show interest, Acknowledge and Listen, Trust.
We made sure we were attentive and curious when she was upset and crying, taking a break from whatever, we were doing.
In the moments of overwhelm, we gave her hugs or took her in our lap to help her feel supported. We reminded ourselves that her complaining was an expression of big feelings of frustration and that she didn’t have the vocabulary to express herself.
ACKNOWLEDGE and LISTEN:
We consciously acknowledged her feelings by naming them and listened attentively to help her cope with her emotions. Research shows that when someone listens to us with empathy, we are able to calm down and access our thinking brain.
“Looks like you feel bored when we are all busy with our chores.” “We had to cancel your birthday plans … that must be so disappointing.” “You really wish we had magical powers like Harry Potter. We would get your birthday dress delivered right now.”
“I can imagine how much you want to play with your friends. You are missing them!”
Once, the child is calm, we need to trust their capability to come up with creative solutions for themselves. In a few days of receiving empathy, our daughter began to think of what could be done under the circumstances. She said, “Amma, I want to celebrate my birthday with you, Appa and Thatha.” With our help, she decided the menu for the meals on her birthday.
Together we made a cake too, with the limited supplies which we had. She made origami crafts and corated her room with them.
This doesn’t mean the meltdowns disappeared immediately. Empathy is not a magic tool that makes big feelings disappear. Rather it helps children recognise and manage their feelings. This helps build resilience and emotional intelligence. Helping children manage emotions is an ongoing journey. These imperfectly perfect moments during the lockdown are opportunities for us to learn and grow as parents.
H. Subha is with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connections in families. To know more, look us up www.parentingmatters.in or write to us at parentingmatter email@example.com