News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Your kids are looking to you for leadership

Observations from a counselor:

The stress your children are experiencing isn’t just coming from online learning or lack of contact with friends. Please remember that your kids hear everything. They hear your stress over finances. They hear your anger over schools opening — or not. They hear your frustration with your employers. They hear your anguish over the inconvenience of not going out to eat or living a “normal” life. They hear your fear — or disdain — over COVID.

They love you and want you to be happy. A great deal of their stress is generated from feeling responsible for your happiness, while also feeling helpless around being able to do anything about it. They don’t know how to take care of you, or how to “fix it.” As a result, they may distract, act out, or fall into depression. As one little girl in my practice put it, “I don’t know how to make mommy not sad, and it makes me feel sad, too. Then I get mad and be bad.”

I know that parents are handling a LOT these days: scary finances and world outlook, juggling job and kids, facing loneliness with the quarantine, and missing your friends and family among other things — but, somehow, some way, you’ve got to make current life OK for your kids, no matter what that looks like. This doesn’t mean buying them things or figuring out playdates — your kids are looking to you for leadership on how to feel and how to learn that “normal” can be a fluid paradigm.

So...what to do. Top of the list: making “it” (whatever “it” is) OK for yourself will, in turn, make “it” OK for your kids. Online learning is OK. Going to school is okay. Staying home is OK. Everything, no matter what it is, is OK – no matter how you feel about it. Naturally, you’ll want to let them talk to you about their frustrations over whatever situation they are facing; the point is that it’s important to protect them from your projections. Give them the space to be happy with whatever they are experiencing without having to worry about how you feel about it.

Re-word/redirect/reduce your anger. I see my clients and friends digging deep in the trenches with anger and militant attitudes, not allowing for any kind of pleasure in their lives. Children don’t know how to navigate this. Adopting anger as a way of life with the current state of affairs can be both emotionally and physically addicting — not a good lesson for your kidlets. One remedy? It takes work, but a shift in semantics can make all the difference in the world. Teach yourself (and your kids) to say things like “this is just a weird year,” or “this is only temporary.”

Changing your wording changes your wiring.

Leave unnecessary drama behind as you create your new normal. I see folks gaining a lot of energy and traction from complaining. Look instead to the secondary gains created by staying close to home. How many times in your life will you have this opportunity to explore family in this manner? If you do have to complain, do it outside of your kids’ earshot. Walk to a park or sit in your car to phone a friend. Email with a family member. Do what you need to do to keep the airspace clear of complaints in your children’s lives.

Show appreciation for the thoughtful things your kids do. Most importantly, do it without a “but” statement after. Example: “I appreciate it when you are kind to your teachers,” or “I appreciate it when you do the dishes.” Studies have shown that appreciative statements help to positively rewire the thoughts of both the sender and the receiver.

Create adventure. Thanksgiving is the perfect example this year. I see two choices: either to suffer from the lack of family and normalcy, or to create cool memories for your children. Do something a little wicked that feels outside the rules. Eat pie for breakfast. Let everyone choose a movie and watch them one after another. Wear pajamas all day. Have popcorn for dinner. Do whatever you can that feels a little naughty or conspiratorial, something only your family will understand.

Again, I know how stressful this is for all of you — my daily job is to listen to the stories. This message is about your kids. Do what you can to make this OK for them. This is a wonderful opportunity to help them develop resilience.


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