There is light at the end of the tunnel. As more people become vaccinated and things are able to open safely, we will reemerge in the world. Parents scheduling more playdates, more time at the playground, kids going back to school in person and (hopefully) the reopening of the Chick-fil-a indoor play-place. However, as these events become the norm after over a year away from constant socialization, we will notice a difference in our children.
They have been isolated from their peers and some small children, like my toddlers, haven’t been around other children on a constant basis since that fated March 2020 lockdown. How can we deal with this fall out, with these unsocialized children that no longer know how to manage peers invading their space? Any progress in sharing that my oldest made in Mother’s Day Out last year seems to have evaporated. Today, there was an epic meltdown because someone else was playing with a toy he wanted at church. Did he ask to share? No. Was the kid antagonizing? No. Were those the only toys? No. However, big emotions come with change. As parents, what do we do?
It helps to set expectations before going somewhere. “We are going to Lina’s house and we are going to share” or “Malachi is coming here and he is going to play with your toys and you will share with him.” It is important to clearly state the expected behavior. State it in a positive manner, more what you want them to do than what you don’t want them to do.
This can be other expectations, such as, “remember when you share, they take a turn and then you get it back” or “when you want to play with something, ask; and if they aren’t done playing with it, be patient.” It explains what may happen and then sets the expectations of how they can respond. Once the language has been stated, you can remind them throughout the event. “Remember how we talk about how you might need to be patient? Lets find something else to play with.” Once you leave, you can use that same language to praise them for their behavior. “You did a wonderful job sharing and being patient. I am proud of you.” It is important to recognize when they achieve the expectation.
Kids have big emotions. Just like adults. However, as adults we have the ability to understand and rationally explore our feelings. Kids don’t. They actually cannot. Their frontal lobe isn’t fully developed. The frontal lobe helps regulate impulses and consider long term consequences. This part of the brain isn’t fully developed until we are twenty-five years old on average. YALL. That’s around the age some of us started having kids! I digress.
Kids take their cue about the world from you. Their world is changing and in chaos right now. Validate their emotions. I repeat, validate their emotions. Their behavior may be wrong, but their feelings are not. “I know you are frustrated right now, and that’s okay.””I know that hurt your feelings.” One way for children to deal with their emotions is to know that it is okay to feel them. Help them not only know that they are okay, but help them identify their feelings.
When we name how they are expressing themselves as “jealous” or “hurt” or “disappointed,” it begins to build their vocabulary. They are learning from us, their parents. We need to allow them to feel how they feel. Sometimes their intensity may not seem to match the situation. That’s okay. It can mean that they are becoming overwhelmed by their feelings. That leads to the next point:
REPEAT COPING SKILLS TOGETHER
We have written about this idea often. It is so important to teach our kids coping skills and practice them frequently. Kids forget. Heck, I forget why I walked into the kitchen. Why expect kids to remember how to calm themselves down when their feelings are running out of control? When they are in the middle of a tantrum, model taking deep breaths, and sometimes coach them to do it along with you.
It can help to talk about coping skills while setting expectations. “When you don’t want to share when we are at Emma’s house, what can you do?” List different ways of coping, then let them list some too. It is teaching them that coping is part of the social conversation.
A common phrase at our house is, “It’s okay to cry, it is not okay to whine.” It validates the crying, that it is okay to express emotion, and it calls attention to the negative behavior. Then, I remind my child of a coping skill, sometimes in a directive after providing comfort when a tantrum continues. “Go to your room and read one book and then come back.” “Run from here to that tree and then come back.” These ideas teach different ways of coping and give them space to feel how they feel.
Kids will always struggle with social skills. They are learning. Reemerging into the world after this massive pandemic is going to be hardest for our children. They have some catching up to do. Do not expect them to do things perfectly. Tantrums are expected. They are kids.
We also need to have patience with ourselves. Sometimes, our kids’ behaviors do not reflect our awesome parenting. Ha! But seriously, just because our kid doesn’t want to share or throws a toy, doesn’t mean we are failing at this parenting thing. But it can feel like it (speaking from experience). Getting back to how things were won’t feel like normal anymore, and that’s okay.
It can also help to encourage each other as parents when the meltdowns occur. The next time you see a Mom or Dad or Grandparent with a kid that has lost their ever loving mind in the grocery store? Give them a smile. Maybe tell them they’re doing a great job as they try to speak to their kid in a calm voice. Encouragement helps.
We can do this. Our kids can do this too.
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