Managing Emotions in the Era of COVID-19

During times of uncertainty and especially times that are out of our control, what we can control is critical. Right now, what we can control are our emotions and how we handle them.

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Source: IKO Studio
Source: IKO Studio

Anxiety, frustration, boredom, and anger, all before noon. How do we support kids’ emotions in this trying time? 

Are your teeth clenched? Your shoulders hunched and tight? Your hands balled into fists? 

What are you feeling right now? Do you know?

For millions of Americans and their families, we are experiencing a change in our everyday lives that is more than what we have experienced in the past. Sure, we’ve been home for a snowstorm or a hurricane. We’ve had illnesses that have kept us from family. We’ve experienced an unexpected school shutdown and a need to keep the kids home.

But they have never come together, unexpectedly, and without a known end date in sight.

What are you feeling right now? Do you know?

More than any time in recent years, this is the time to know. 

During times of uncertainty and especially times that are out of our control, what we can control is critical. Right now, what we can control are our emotions and how we handle them.

Let’s be explicit about how this can work for adults and kids alike: 

1. What are the events, situations and times that can elicit challenging emotions? Think about those for yourself and then help your children identify for themselves. 

Make a list. In schools we ask teachers to help their students to do this during morning meeting. This same process can happen at home. Schedules for everyone are more important than ever. While making your schedule with your family, identify the times that might be challenging. For example, an online meeting for a parent might be a difficult time for a child. A video game time might be difficult for a parent because of the game volume. Talk together and make your list. Knowing in advance is the best way to prepare for difficult times.

2. Identify the emotions that might come from the events you’ve listed. Think about how your emotions will be “driven” by the different events you have listed. 

Ask your children how waiting for a parent to get off the phone makes them feel. What emotions do they experience? If they can’t come up with them on their own, make some suggestions. Are they bored? Tired? Angry? Frustrated? How does a parent feel trying to get work accomplished with a loud video game in the background? Annoyed? Overwhelmed? Name it, list it, and share it. 

3. Make a plan to tackle the emotions before they get the best of you. 

Our emotions aren’t the problem. The problems arise when we aren’t able to manage them. Unmanaged emotions can cause unmanageable and less desirable behaviors in all of us. It can lead to stress, clenched teeth, tight shoulders, and many other behaviors that won’t really help us to move ourselves forward and to get things done. 

Connect the events to the emotions and then plan how to manage them ahead of time. 

What is the plan for a child feeling bored or lonely while a parent is on a conference call?  Can they have a special game to play? Watch a special video or movie? Decide ahead of time and stick to it. 

We are all managing different situations and challenges during this very new time. But we can control how we do it. Take the time to acknowledge how you feel. Take the time to help your children to do the same. Then make sure you are making a plan to manage those emotions. You’re teaching the critical skills for life when using this very simple approach. Sure it will help now, but guaranteed these skills will be used in the future. 

This article was originally published as part of the “Connecting with Kids” column on edCircuit. It is co-authored with Steve Peck, co-founder of The Connections Model and a special educator with over 15 years of experience working with students who have multiple and severe disabilities.

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