04th Apr 2020

Mummy, I wish this virus thing wasn’t happening

Melissa Hood, co-founder of The Parent Practice, gives her tips on talking to children about Coronavirus. 

That was Charlie, aged 5, on finding out that his friend’s party had been cancelled. Of course he was disappointed and at age 5 it is hard to understand why you can no longer do the things you want to do. Many adults share that feeling of disappointment as birthdays, weddings and holidays have been cancelled. We all wish ‘this virus thing’ wasn’t happening. But we’re the grownups and we have to deal with what is happening and we’d like our children to see us dealing with it in a calm way. Will we be able to look back on this time and feel proud of how we responded?

I racked my brains this week to think of tips that I could share with you all for making SHWK (Staying Home With Kids) easier. And I definitely will share the life tips I think of and can pass on from other parents doing the same thing. But my experience is that parents are extraordinarily creative individuals. They know their children best and are able to come up with amazing solutions to quite complex and challenging situations…if they’ve got the headspace. And that means freeing up brain bandwidth for rational thought by allowing ourselves to process how we feel about it.

Every single one of us is dealing with a really challenging situation. Even if we stay well we will be impacted. At one end of the scale we may not be able to get toilet paper and at the other end we may have to close a business and lay off loyal staff. We may have to work from home and look after children at the same time. We may have to juggle care of elderly relatives as well. We may be health workers who are exposed to a much higher degree. All of that will bring with it anxieties and disappointments and frustrations, and perhaps feeling not up to the task.

If we’re going to find creative solutions to our problems we need to first address the feelings. This is what we need to teach our children to do and we have to model it ourselves too.

We know from research using fMRI scans that when people try to suppress feelings their emotions still occupy space in the brain. That research showed that naming the feeling helped it to dissipate. We also know that our brain needs to satisfy basic feelings of safety before it can even move on to higher order emotions, let alone rational thought and our sense of security is threatened at the moment.

Discuss how you are all going to deal with your feelings. So what are you or your children disappointed about this week? What have you had to miss out on – seeing friends at school or your usual yoga class? What has frustrated you or them? Not being able to get cereal or tissues or….? Your neighbours being even noisier now they’re all at home? What’s making you anxious? Worries about your finances or whether your child will fall behind in school?

Sit down and talk to them about some of these feelings. This is not a negative moan-fest but it is a necessary airing of emotions to allow you to move through them. It will also give your children permission to express how they are feeling, which will in fact help the feeling to dissipate. See our blog on Talking to kids about Coronavirus and listen to our podcast for how to temper your anxiety so that you don’t make them more worried. One way to keep anxiety in check is to mention the good things that are going on too. One mum undertook to report one item of good news everyday for her son. eg cleaner canals in Venice and special hospitals in China closing because life is returning to normal there.

  • Talk about them.
  • Journal them or draw them.
  • Take exercise –run, dance, jump on a trampoline.
  • Listen to calming music.
  • Get out in nature.
  • Do some sorting out/cleaning/building Lego.
  • Meditate/listen to mindfulness apps.
  • Play with/care for an animal.

You may come up with other ideas.

Let everyone choose their favourite stress-buster and revisit this strategy frequently. Talk about it when you are choosing to deal with your feelings constructively. Yes, you will feel a bit strange. “I’m feeling a bit frustrated that Papa and Nana’s 40th anniversary party has had to be cancelled. I’m so disappointed because we’ve been planning it for so long. I’m going to let off steam by hoovering the living room. Can everyone give me a bit of space?”

Involve the children in coming up with solutions even if it’s not directly their problem. They are very creative and will feel a bit more in control if they can contribute to answers. “I’m disappointed we can’t go to Manchester to see Bella in her play. She’s been rehearsing for so long and I was looking forward to it. I wonder if Uncle Ben will be able to get a recording of it?” Child: “Shall we face time them after it’s finished? We could even send her flowers like we did when Auntie Jo was sick. Bella will feel like a proper actor then!”

You may have to let go of some expectations as these thoughts about what should happen, how things should be or how children (and adults) should behave are the source of the feelings that then cause us to respond poorly. Don’t expect the first week of SHWK to be smooth…or even the second. Don’t expect to be your children’s teacher. As one school principal in the US put it: This is not home-schooling. This is an unprecedented emergency situation impacting the whole world. Home –schooling is a choice that you consider and plan for where you are your child’s school teacher. This is at best distance learning.

You may have seen the video that went viral of the mum ranting about her child’s e-learning burden and her feeling of inadequacy in keeping her children on top of the workload. Well ditch those expectations of yourself and your children and the in fact the school. They’re finding their feet in this new situation too.

Most of all ditch the expectation of being perfect. These are very imperfect times so we imperfect humans are just right for the job. We have shown ourselves over millennia to be adaptable so we will rise to the task…next week.

Melissa Hood is co-founder of The Parent Practice 

The Parent Practice and FLiP run regular Parenting After Parting workshops to help parents to place their children at the heart of the decision making process when divorcing or separating. Learn more about our Parenting After Parting workshops here.