How do we make connections with others when half of our faces are covered, and we are six feet apart? It’s not easy. “We are starting to burn out from that stress,” says Cary Hamilton, owner and director of Olympia Therapy. The situation is exacerbated because it’s both parents and children whose emotional states are dealing with the blurred lines of connection and disconnection. “We live in an individualistic society,” says Cary, “but humans are hard-wired for connections.” The pandemic is taking its toll on our well-being.
“It’s very confusing,” says Cary. We don’t know which way the future is going to unfold. There is the desire to be with others, but there are barriers. Most people do not want to repeat a year of all schooling and working from home. Now there are more rules to follow. Our stress hormone cortisol is working overtime, which is taxing both physically and mentally. Generally, humans don’t do well in isolation. It’s called failure to thrive.
We are glad kids are back in the school building with teachers and friends. Nevertheless, days can be challenging with academic struggles, making friends, navigating the social scene and getting used to new routines. Your child probably holds it together all day at school, only to get home and collapse. Parents may be seeing tantrums, arguing and other disconnecting activities. “We feel safest to express truest emotions at home,” explains Cary, but that doesn’t make it easier to deal with it.
A common tactic parents use, because it’s not easy to see your child unhappy, is to ask a lot of questions. Parents want to talk about it. That might be the opposite of what to do. “Stop talking,” suggests Cary. “It gets us in trouble and fuels the fire like gasoline,” she warns. Instead, take a deep breath and gently lean into the situation by letting it be. “Don’t even talk. Just sit by, give a hug if allowed and wait for a natural connection,” says Cary. It’s true that we all are hurting, but it’s up to the parent to be uncomfortable in the moment by allowing and creating a safe place. That means stay close and be with them.
Cary also suggests that parents engage with curiosity that’s not in the form of a question. When we are stressed, we lose language and feel flustered. Instead of asking a question, you could say, “Tell me what you need.” Then wait and listen.
Another interesting behavior you can easily do to calm the stressed primitive brain (both yours and your child’s) is to engage in rhythmic and repetitive motions such as rocking or tapping. You could be humming and moving your weight from one foot to the other, gently rocking. You could tap your hand on your arm or thigh. Patting the back of your child, if they are willing, can be calming as well. These comforting motions and our desires for connection create resonance with you and your child. It innately happens, and we calm each other.
Other calming and reconnecting ideas include taking a walk outside together. You don’t need to talk at all. The fresh air and the moving of arm and legs is good both physically and mentally for everyone. Maybe your children want to ride bikes or simply play. Identify which activities interest your child. If that is screen time, do it together. It is another way to unwind and relax. Learning to self-sooth is important for everyone. Maybe you could make a snack and watch a show together. Then prepare to move on to your evening schedule.
“Parents can’t fix everything. You can’t fix their emotional state,” says Cary, but you can be there as support and to be present to them. “Kids will talk when they are ready,” she adds.
We are in time of continual transitions. Some people are still holding expectations that we are going back to how things were. “You are setting yourself up for disappointment,” cautions Cary. We can’t go back. What was normal has shifted, and kids have adjusted, more readily than adults. Focusing on the past increases anxiety. Together, you and your children can look at the now and where you are headed in the future.
If you need assistance navigating these times with your children, you can contact Olympia Therapy via the website where you will also find a great deal of helpful information. Additionally, you can call 360.357.2370 or write firstname.lastname@example.org.
1534 Bishop Rd. SW, Tumwater