Parents, teens, preteens, and youth may be spending more time together than ever before in this mandated “Stay at home” lockdown directive given over a month ago (in some areas more than two months ago). As COVID-19 continues to remain an active concern across the world, decision makers keep schools, offices, cafes, and stores closed to limit traffic and the potential ways for the virus to spread. As a result, new ways to resume business, connect with classmates and colleagues, create and submit assignments, and maintain communication all reside online. Flooded in our inboxes, social media platforms, and “support” online groups we are bombarded with efficient, effective, creative ways to connect.
How are you doing shifting through that continual deluge of information while maintaining support, routine, and healthy coping mechanisms within the home? As I’m not a parent, I don’t want to come across as an authority speaker in this message. The last thing I want someone to say to me is, “don’t tell me how to raise my child.” As a Third Culture Kid mentor and coach, I often frame my sessions with parents as “I don’t tell parents how to parent. I tell them what Third Culture Kids need.”
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had organizations, parents, and Third Culture Kids themselves I’ve worked with in the past reach out to me to request some of my input about how to navigate this season with intentionality. Here are some of my thoughts about what families can do to match reality and perception across ages within the household:
You need each other.
Yes you, parents/caretakers and you teens, preteens, and children. You need to remove yourself from behind the screen and gently remove others in your home from behind theirs. You may not articulate this need or desire, but it is there. You need the physical connection, the communal time, the space and the grace to sit together: both in silence and in dialoguing. Creating that safe space will look differently depending on your familial cultural norms, but the baseline across families needs to be the opportunity and consistency and verbal invitation to come together and/or separately one-on-one to play witness to one another during this time.
You need a Feelings Chart.
Prioritize feelings. For the youngers, this could be an emoji looking sheet with different cartoon faces. For the olders, it could be a feelings wheel that parses out primary and secondary emotions. Post it on a wall, let it lay on the coffee table, bring it up in discussion. Sometimes when children don’t have the vocabulary of feelings, it’s difficult for them to pinpoint the exact emotion attributed to why they acted a certain way. A feelings chart can be an interesting tool to help you and your children and/or teen to express themselves and to learn how to manage their emotions.
You Need Time to Grieve.
Emotions like anger and sadness can emerge in roller coaster fashion during this season as children and teens realize and come to terms with new and acknowledged losses they continue to experience. Maybe this month it’s the football championship, the prom, the homeroom lock-in, the science fair, or the best friend’s epic birthday party sleepover, graduation parties, etc. that have all been cancelled. Some of these are significant milestones in your child’s life. Ask the child how they feel about these losses. Listen and don’t lecture. Don’t say placating words like, “it’s ok or there will be another time in the future…” Time can be difficult for youngsters to grasp. Heck, it’s hard for us adults to grasp right now, too.
You Need Humor.
Joy and happiness are emotions your child can appreciate from you and from one another. The reality is your children are observing and absorbing how you are handling and negotiating this time more than you know. Your coping skills are patterns that your children and teens will internalize and adopt as their own. One healthy coping mechanism is to incorporate humor into situations; not to minimize or mock feelings but rather to bring a lightheartedness after processing heavy emotions. Sharing memes, stories, jokes, and engaging in games are all important ways to incorporate joy into the home.
You Need Creative Outlets.
Now more than ever encourage your children to engage in creative outlets. Whether it’s art, music, theater, dance, writing, coding, their time and their talents can be nurtured, validated, and celebrated during this time. Encourage your children to share their creations with trusted mentors, community members, and family to build and shape their confidence in these areas. Finding platforms that will host or showcase their creations can also be meaningful ways you’re demonstrating your advocacy and support for their creativity.
You Need to Continue with Routine. Not Recess.
While it’s important to have the space for unstructured time to feel all the feels and also to engage in creative outlets, this is also a season for learning discipline, routine, and healthy habits. It’s not a 60 day recess from work life or school life. It’s a time for give and take in terms of the routine in incorporating exercise, healthy eating, and no-screen time activities into everyone’s daily schedules. Holding one another accountable in gentle ways can often be an encouragement. #playhard #workhard
You Need Relationship. Not Rules.
Full circle here. You need each other. You need each other to play witness to each other’s grief of the loss of milestones. You need each other to model healthy coping skills. You need each other to validate feelings of anger and frustration and to join in celebrating new discoveries, creations, and connections. You need each other’s hugs. You need to acknowledge your needs in and through this. Your point of view creates your reality. What are your words to your children? And what are your actions? Your point of view is shaping theirs. And vice versa. Take time to have that relationship. And really, we’re all clueless about the rules in this unprecedented time in terms of adulting, parenting, and living. So, keep others informed about what’s working for you in your cultural context and reality.