Tag Archives: Covid

Feb ’22 Q&A Hitting a Wall? (Revising a conversation from May ’20)
Emotional Exhaustion

Q. I’m utterly overwhelmed. I’m resentful of those who have support from a partner and grandparents and guilty for feeling resentful. Frustrated that there’s no end in sight. Exhausted, emotionally and physically. Sad. I miss my family and friends. Lonely. 3 kids 1, 4 and 8 entirely on my own. Working 60 hours a week. Trying to be grateful I’m employed but there is no balance possible when you have 3 kids in tow. I don’t bathe or sleep without them and if I try, they scream or immediately ‘need’ me for something which is their anxiety showing up. It’s endless. How do I stay sane?

A. We’re on year three of a global pandemic and all of us, especially parents with young unvaccinated children or families with unpredictable child education schedules due to positive COVID cases, are still very much in the throes of it. If we thought we were exhausted in May, 2020, it’s certainly not gotten better for a lot of people. Maybe we’ve become more accustomed to our reality, but emotional stress among our hardworking families is very real and present.   

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Jan ’22 Q&A – The Rise in Suicide Since COVID-19: Can strong boundaries make a difference? (Revising a conversation from Oct ‘19)

Young Teen in Despair

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A. Too many children all over the country seem to be feeling so forsaken that ending their lives is the only answer. How does anyone, much less a child, come to this conclusion? I cannot presume to have the answer. What we are left with is the question: How do we protect our children from such devastating despair?

According to U.S. News, over the last two years, there has been a steep increase in teen suicide attempts. From February 2020 to March 2021 “emergency rooms visits for suspected suicide attempts were over 50% higher among girls aged 12–17 than during the same period in 2019, according to the study” they referenced. 

Some of the mental health issues teens are experiencing have to do with increased drug use and the effects of social media. But the question must address more fundamental layers. Many young people can resist drug use or moderate it. All are subject to social media. Some have addictive tendencies that are more vulnerable to drug use and some are victims of cyber bullying. This is not the result of poor parenting.

Layer on the pandemic, and there are further elements at play. Since COVID-19’s arrival, there is even more reason to be concerned. Laura Kester, an adolescent medicine physician at UC Davis Health explains, “The challenges that children and teens normally face have been amplified by isolation and distancing during the pandemic.” In the full article, UC Davis shares signs of depression, what to do if someone you know is depressed, treatment options and additional resources for families trying to support struggling teens.

Stress and instability over the last two years have taken a toll, not only on children but adults as well. Children who suffer from poverty, racial injustice and mental disabilities are disproportionately affected. NPR’s “Short Wave” shared in January 2022 that pediatricians have seen a dramatic rise in children struggling with mental health issues. The 9-minute interview captures deeper insights and offers resources. 

While the pandemic has had adverse effects on mental health for nearly all, its impacts on children who are particularly sensitive may be more demonstrative. According to Dr. W. Thomas Boyce, a pediatrician, research scientist and author of “The Orchid and The Dandelion: Why Some Children Struggle and How All Can Thrive,” many children have extreme sensitivities to their environment. 

Boyce notes that Orchids account for 1 in 5 children. I use the name Integrity children to incorporate a little broader range of kids demonstrating these behaviors. In my experience, the Integrity child is born with an internal core of a sense of rightness and justice that drives his every mood and behavior. These kids try our very souls. And while we think they will never learn and we fear for their futures, what they are doing is demanding our personal responsibility and integrity. (This can be hard to see from the trenches of daily battles.)

At the same time, these children are so susceptible to their social settings—whether pernicious and threatening or nurturant and sustaining—that their outcomes are bound to their external environment. 

They have an inherent stress reactivity to their situations so much so that when the environment does not suit them, as with the orchid flower, they wither. But when the environment matches their specific needs, they blossom with magnificence. Dandelion children, which I refer to as Harmony kids, as you can imagine, are children who do well anywhere.

Due to the reactivity of Integrity children, they are more susceptible to despair. So what can parents do? Can we better learn the signs? What if we see “a sign”—spending more isolated time in their room, for instance? Is that a symptom of depression or a teen’s desire for separation? Going into protective mode can risk connection with a teen fighting over-protection. How much do we do? How much do we not do?

The closest I can come to finding an answer to how to protect our children from despair is to understand that we parents are not responsible for our children’s happiness. Seem paradoxical?

When my daughter (an Integrity child) was very young, she had a lot of fear and struggled mightily with many aspects of daily life. After using up my bag of tools, I engaged a therapist. The first session was with me. I told her about my daughter’s pain with tears streaming down my cheeks. She said to me one of the most important things I’ve ever heard: =&1=&

Once I was able to step outside my daughter’s pain, anger, sadness, and fear, and allow her to have it, I was better able to support her and hold her. It was no longer about me—what I had to do to make her happy, what was wrong with me that I couldn’t, why wasn’t she getting over it? That thinking meant I was taking responsibility for her emotions. So, when I tried to take it all away, but couldn’t, it became my fault—I had failed her. Then I would try harder. Then she had both her upset and mine to deal with. =&2=&

Our children’s journeys are theirs. We cannot presume to dictate what that journey should entail—though we try. What our children need most is the confidence that we are always there to help if they need it, to advise if they ask for it, and to offer a safety net no matter what. That is our responsibility. =&3=& When we yell at them for not listening, they do not make us yell. When we feel distraught because they make choices we wouldn’t, they are not making us distraught. =&4=&

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So what do we mean when we’re talking about connection? What does it look like day to day?

It means solving problems together; it means working on your relationship rather than threatening and punishing your child to do what you say; it means focusing more on what is right rather than wrong; it means letting go of control all along the way as your child’s needs change; it means understanding what those needs are instead of assuming you know best; it means having compassion instead of fury when his behavior signals he is having a problem.

These are best parenting practices whether your child is an Integrity Child or a Harmony Child. But with Integrity Children, these best practices are essential.

  • When your child feels down, be there as a sounding board without advice.
  • Don’t blame yourself.
  • Let go of control by allowing your child responsibility over herself as she is able.
  • Be there when he needs you without feeling unappreciated when he doesn’t.
  • Make sure your kids learn family responsibilities early. Expect resistance. That’s okay.
  • Trust your teen to have a good head on her shoulders rather than distrusting the world she lives in and her choices. Focus on the positive in order to problem-solve the negative.
  • Never take privileges away—you may be taking away their life-lines.
  • Maintain your integrity and focus on what you want and don’t want rather than dictating what they should do.
  • Don’t interrogate your child with questions or tell him what to do. Make connection first, “I’m concerned when I see…so I am afraid that…I wonder if” Question later, “What is your plan? What do you think? Does that help? What else would you like to try?”
  • Share your personal experiences to demonstrate you get it, you believe him, you’ve been there and you’ve made it out of the problem. 
  • Watch for major changes in behavior patterns in a short period of time. And of course intervene when you know there is a problem.

=&7=&Your children need to know they are gotten by you. When they distrust your reactions, worry that you don’t understand, fear your retribution when they make mistakes, your connection will be lost. =&8=& read more

3 Ways to Set the Emotional Tone for the New School Year

Masked school kids

I know I’m not alone in thinking this school year would be sort of back to normal. But it’s not over yet and many believe it won’t ever be. We are in a new reality that we first believed temporary. Our kids are going back to school but this year with no option for remote learning. In some parts of the country that may seem fine, but in other parts parents feel like they’re throwing their kids to the wolves.

What kids care about is their own experience. Navigating masks and relationships back at school can be tricky for kids wondering where they stand. Friendships are likely shifting leaving hurt and unhappiness for many. Some kids are fine with masks and forget they are wearing them. Some are hypervigilant and feel unsafe if others are unmasked. And some are sensitive to masks or are simply resistant. Some worry about getting exposed. Does that mean quarantine, missing school, bringing Covid home, getting sick, ending up remote?

While they have their own physical and emotional responses to the situation, children are highly influenced by their parents’ reactions and responses to this year’s new and changing protocols. All of which affects how they manage their experiences.

While we are not living in ‘normal’ times—or are we?—your children will do better the more you normalize the situation. In other words, your anger, worry, and fear about Covid, vaccines, masks, and school policies will have a major effect on how your children experience their world. Your emotions and behaviors inform your children what to think and feel. I don’t mean don’t have opinions. Have them, share them, encourage your children’s opinions. Talk, talk, talk. But when your fears drive your behavior, and perhaps keep you silent, you can pass your fears on to your children in ways you don’t intend.

Here are some tips on how to support your children’s experience:

  • Don’t ask questions. Questions like, “Are you nervous about getting back to school and seeing your friends?” might be met with a shrug, a roll of the eyes, or a response that may be far from the truth. Kids feel set up with questions—there’s an expectation at play and they feel on the spot to meet it. So you might get a simple ‘no’. Where do you go from there? Try making a statement that doesn’t require an answer. “I sure never had a situation growing up like you have. I was thinking about what it might feel like to get back into school nowadays. I can imagine that it might be rather tricky, and I might feel a bit insecure about how to handle myself.”

When you simply wonder out loud, no answer is required, so you are more likely to get a response and a truthful one. Even a “Yeah it is kind of tricky” gives you room to grow. Your response, “I wonder if I would feel awkward or just fine.” Then questions can work. “Are you more in the awkward or just fine end of the spectrum?” “Where do you think Sam and Ben are between nervous and perfectly okay?” “How do you think the school mask policy is working? Do kids take it seriously or are some resisting?” “Do you feel okay around kids not wearing masks?” Of course, your questions may differ. The important piece is to stay away from questions until you have connection.

  • You may hear dramatic emotions about friendships. Resist coming on with your opinion about what your child should do. Trust her and her feelings even when you think she’s being ridiculous! “It’s got to be so hard to think your best friend doesn’t like you. I bet you feel very alone.” Connect first. Let all those ugly but necessary emotions come out. Then you can move into problem solving. “What would you like to do about it?” “What do you wish you could say to her?” “How do you think she would respond?” “What is it you want her to know about how you feel?”

It’s your guidance rather than your direction that will help your children feel capable of handling tough situations. Your job is to be there to listen, hold and comfort, and have trust in your child’s capability.

  • If your child is struggling and resisting or refusing to go to school, use his behavior as your cue to how he is feeling and don’t react to his resistance. Instead of pushing or trying to make him see it your way, listen to his complaints. “I’m not going. Nobody likes me. I hate it there and you can’t make me go.” He’s got to use drama to make sure he gets your attention. Give it. Let him vent. But interpret his words. Don’t take them personally or at face value. Connect with emotion beneath that is causing the words. “Sounds to me like things aren’t going too well. I imagine it doesn’t feel the same as it used to.” Period. That kind of emotional reflection of what he has said tells him you get it and you’re listening. Then he will continue and may even break down in tears. At this point you will hear the problem. It may have nothing to do with school.

The older your child the more likely she will hold her emotions close. Be patient, give her time. She may take her frustrations out on you. Try not to take it personally. It means you are her safe space. Look for those windows of opportunity—perhaps in a car or on a walk. Definitely without eye contact. Maybe texting works best.

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Just Being

Father and son relaxing in front of a colorful house

This summer, especially following this Covid-fraught school year, I want to revisit my Be more, teach less philosophy. Kids love summer. It’s a time to be laid back and let go of all the tension around schoolwork and grades. And this year especially, after the stress of remote learning, very little socializing, everyone home on each other’s back, a good deal of simply being is called for. read more

Being a Better Pandemic Parent: Lighten Up

High angle view of father and son wearing sunglasses

This year has brought us all to our personal edges. I’m guessing you are exhausted and done with it. You want your kids back in school with a schedule you can count on, and you want your life back to normal. You’re also probably juggling guilt about not being a good enough parent during these times and fear that your children are glued to screens and falling behind in school. read more