I often find myself watching the news and then catching the eye of my 16-month old toddler. While I have been furrowing my brow at the news she is smiling and laughing, unaware of what is going on. I find my myself wondering: how do I ensure that she isn’t picking up my anxiety and worry?
I want to normalize that although I am a counsellor it does not mean I am immune to anxiety, especially during a time when there are so many unknowns, Not knowing when I will get to hug my mum again, or take my daughter on a playdate – these are just some of the things I worry about.
We are all adjusting in the ways we can. Sweat pants, Instagram live workout classes, working from home, Zoom hangouts with friends.. but the question remains – how do we parent confidently during these times?
As parents, our little ones often look to us to gauge how to react or act in situations. That is why the practice of being present and in the moment is more important then ever. Allowing your baby, toddler, child, or even teen, to see you engaged in the moment, is key in supporting their emotional journey.
I often use the mantra “right now we are okay” because the truth is usually, we are. Being present in the moment takes the power away from anxiety. Why? Because without an immediate threat, anxiety dies.
One powerful way to be present as parents is to put our phones away. I must admit, I am guilty of it as a millennial parent; I want quick access to the news and the latest updates – but nothing takes me out of playing with my daughter as quickly as a negative headline does. All this to say – I encourage you to keep your phone use to a minimum and turn off the news alerts. This will allow you the freedom to take a photo of your child or facetime with Grandma without seeing the latest statistic pop up.
Another way to stay grounded and “in the moment” is to get outside. Of course, this will look different for all of us. As long as we follow physical distancing guidelines, there is no reason why we can’t take our kids outside. Nature and fresh air have a way of grounding us and putting things into perspective. They allow us to interact with mother nature and feel the glory of the vitamin D coursing through our veins. Even if it’s just a walk around the block, it’s a chance to clear our heads and get a change of scenery; both incredibly important when we’re working from home with a little one around. Our children are mirrors and a lot more perceptive then they get credit for; if we are grounded and enjoying ourselves, chances are they will be to as well.
Now you may be thinking: what do we do if despite our best efforts, we still can’t ground ourselves?
This is the beauty in parenting – there is no “right” answer (even if your mother in law thinks there is). In fact, this is where you get to talk to your little ones about being human. Acknowledging that things are up in the air, and that it’s a little bit hard for mom/ dad to process, is allowed. Our children need to know that we are not perfect and that anxiety is a normal part of life. Depending on the age of your child, how you talk to them about this will vary.
For little ones, validating that it’s okay to have unpleasant emotions can be very helpful. If they see that it’s okay for mom/ dad to worry, they will be more likely to come to you when they are worried (even if it’s just about their lost toy). For children who are school aged, validation may mean letting them know you’re aware it sucks they can’t see their friends, and that you miss your friends too. For parents of teens, validating their anger about missing out on the school dance or graduation, and just giving them a safe space to unpack their emotions, is powerful.
As parents we want to shield our children from unpleasant experiences and we often try to put on a happy face to make them feel secure. The reality is that children feel the most secure with a parent who is being honest and congruent with their feelings. Remember that you can reassure your child and at the same time communicate that you’re finding things a little hard also; it doesn’t have to be one or the other.
To me, a confident parent isn’t a parent who knows it all, but is a parent who is able to acknowledge their own emotions while still being present for their child. It is a parent that knows there is no such thing as a perfect parent and child, but there is such a thing as a secure and connected parent and child.