Updated: May 26
No tribe was considered to have warriors more fearsome or more intelligent than the mighty Maasai, one of the most accomplished and fabled tribes of Africa. It is perhaps surprising to learn then, the traditional greeting passed between Maasai warriors happens to be: "Kasserian Ingera." It means,
"And, how are the children?"
At a time when most of us are experiencing uncertainty and stress, it is easy to forget to consider the young ears (and hearts and minds) around us. When feeling overwhelmed, it is normal to become stuck, feel chained to a cell phone, continue a constant check of the news, and hold numerous conversations with friends and family to discuss all that is happening in the world (and how we feel about it!). When catching news updates, you may find yourself sighing, gasping, lamenting, complaining… at least these are a few words that describe my behavior lately!
The reality is, during an uncertain situation, children look to us to figure out how they should think, feel, and act.
So, rewind your mental video tape... what messages have you been sending the young children in your life lately?
When we get stressed, worried, and anxious, children start to feel anxious and out of control too. Children can easily fill full of worry, helplessness, sadness, fear, and anxiety when they hear statements such as...
"This just feels so out of control!"
"I just worry about my Dad who has a heart condition."
"I hope my family lives through this."
"I wonder what's going to happen, it's so bad."
Or, when they see adults upset, and maybe even after catching some terrifying news that's on in the background. This is, of course, in addition to the wide range of difficult feelings they are already experiencing.
As adults, we do need to stay informed, make safety plans, and take steps to increase the chance we will be healthy and safe. But we also need breaks from it all and to help children (and ourselves) maintain a sense of hope and purpose. Anxiety and depression in children appears to already be on the rise. We must take steps to help children feel safe (mentally and physically).
Yes, there's a lot of change right now and most of us haven't had to deal with something like this in our lifetime. And, we are human and we are resilient. We will get through this!
This "Coronavirus" bonus nugget gives six easy-to-apply methods to help young children cope and keep up hope during these difficult times. Prefer reading? You are also welcome to just read the list of tips below!
Things to do to help children during these tense times (AND they just might help you at the same time too)!
*Provide a structure and routine and stick to it. Many adults who have children at home have started to institute structure into the day, including chore time. This is absolutely an amazing idea! Kids thrive on routine and also having something to do! Getting lost in media can make us can make kids crabby and despondent. Getting something accomplished can reenergize us all and help pass the time in a productive way. Can the child help with a meaningful task each day? You cannot possibly attend to them all day. But, can you build in a connection time and follow through with it each and every day? If you would like to explore this tip in depth, check out the blog post "From Helpless to Helpful" at https://www.thriving-together.com/post/from-helpless-to-helpful Also, subscribe to this blog - a new post on building in positive routines is coming soon!
*Take breaks. I mean break-breaks! Turn off all technology and media and just connect in the present moment. Do a puzzle, play a card game, or create a "spa day at home". Adults and children could take turns giving hand or foot rubs, painting each other's toes or nails, or reading to each other. In early childhood settings, you can create a shoulder rub chain between children who want to. Check out this wonderful video from Conscious Discipline that has "I love you rituals". These can make everyone feel just a little bit (or A LOT BIT) better! https://consciousdiscipline.com/videos/i-love-you-rituals-your-guide-for-meaningful-connections/ Baking is another great math/science/fun activity, and who doesn't like cookies! Or, bread, soup, or granola... yes, you can make it from scratch!
*Get outside! It is good for everyone's soul, we need to get outside in nature. Getting outdoors for 10 minutes can make everyone feel better emotionally, contribute to physical well-being, and reduce stress hormones in the body (and the negative behaviors that go with them)!
*Start a gratitude jar together. According to Dr. Amit Sood's, Mayo Clinic's Book on Stress-free Living and the latest neuroscience research, we have two modes of thinking: the default network and the focus mode. Our default is when we're planning, problem-solving, worrying, and trying to improve things. The focus mode is when we're truly present in the moment, thinking, feeling, and experiencing right now. There are things that can help you be more in this focus mode, a healthy and important area to grow in order to find peace and calm. There are some tools to help and you could do them as a family and a gratitude jar is one of them!
To start, put little things on slips of paper next to a jar or shoe box. Throughout the day, have adults and youngsters write things they appreciate (help the younger ones to do this also). Watch the jar start to fill! And, feel your brain rewiring! This is a great time to practice thinking about all the advantages we have, even in this current situation. When our next paychecks are unknown for many of us, stress can take over.
However, when take time to notice the things we appreciate, we train our brain to see them. We are alive and breathing. Imagine, for a moment, you did succumb to this awful virus. What if this was your last week being able to breathe well and have these moments with your family? Try to find moments to just enjoy those around you.
*Use Mindfulness Tools! Children need to learn to calm their mind, just as we do. These methods can help! Here are some favs:
Cosmic Kids Yoga: breathing app
Stop and Think Kids:
Calm – "Breathe along":
A 10-minute Calm and Re-Energize for adults:
*Talk about real feelings followed by a helpful mantra. Children are very adept at reading our nonverbal messages. They see and feel when you are upset. For our youngest, feelings are not good or bad - they just are. However, it can be very unsettling to see adults appear sad and worried yet not want to talk about it or insist "I am fine". Even our youngest toddlers can sense when adults are stressed! The incongruous message "Everything is all right" paired with a crumpled brow, heavy sighs, and maybe even tears can actually increase children's anxiety.
Instead of trying to ignore your feelings,
1) Give the feeling a name and short reason
2) Follow with an encouraging statement or mantra that brings anxiety back down
I have what I need to get through this...
I'm stronger than I think...
I can handle feeling uncomfortable...
All I can do is my best...
"I feel really anxious right now, a lot is happening in the world. But, I know I have what I need to get through this."
"It feels difficult for me to deal with all these changes - sometimes it makes me angry! But you know what? I am stronger than I think!"
"I am so frustrated and sad I can't have my friends over! I miss just getting to just hang out. AND, I can handle feeling sad right now." You can add a problem-solving statement, if it fits for you, such as, "I can give them a video call to say hi!".
"OOOFTA, I have been hearing things about people getting sick, and that makes me feel anxious and worried inside. And, I know what to do and can only do my best to stay safe."
Take the time to establish helpful mantras for yourself and then repeat, repeat, repeat. As the famous Ted Talk Queen Rita Pearson said, "If you say something long enough, it starts to become a part of you."
Thankfully, when things get tough, we do not have to pretend we are happy all the time. When children see and hear the expression of our true feelings and see productive ways to handle that feeling, they get a confident dose of "We've got this!". When this message becomes internalized, they will start to believe it and their anxiety will begin to dissipate. When you take the time to label and model strong feelings and your positive mantra, you will help build up the mental fortitude children need to feel less overwhelmed and to learn that difficult feelings do pass over time.
Want to increase children's resilience? Keep sending the powerful message:
"We've got this!"
And children will do better.
It is still the traditional greeting among the Maasai, acknowledging the high value that the Maasai always place on their children's well-being. Even warriors with no children of their own would always give the traditional answer,
"All the children are well."
Let’s work together to ensure our children stay well- and are able to find calm and thrive (physically and mentally) during this difficult time.