If your child seems to be having more tantrums, melting down more often over seemingly simple things, or are having tantrums that are escalating in severity, you need to know that you are not alone. The disruption to our daily lives by the COVID-19 virus is unprecedented. As a result, your child may be acting out from the tension they stress and the disruption to a routine that they have come to expect. We are all trying to adapt to this new normal. Children who thrive on normalcy a
nd predictive routines are now, without warning, out of school, out of day care, and at home without a true understanding of why. We can try to explain to them what is happening, but they lack the life experiences to fully comprehend what is happening. Their whole lives have been disrupted.
As adults, we often experience many of these same stressors. We have the ability to channel some of our anxiety by talking about how we are feeling. We can talk to our significant other, text or call friends, or just be comforted by the knowledge we are all in this together. There are actions we can take to alleviate some of our stress such as exercise, eating healthy, limiting how often we check the news, having a hobby, or taking a hot bath.
Children, however, cannot always identify how they are feeling. Children become upset and dysregulated and have nowhere for that energy and those feelings to go, which may result in crying, tantrums, or disruptions in sleep patterns. It is our jobs as parents and educators to help them learn the skills they need to handle these feelings in a healthy way. Here are some tips for helping your child develop successful coping skills.
Let them help you make a safe space for them for when they are upset. This might be a blanket fort with stuffed animals for this special use. In the classroom we have a quiet corner with a comfy chair, books, stuffed animals, and sensory toys. Use whatever you have that works for you.
Practice using the space when your child is not upset so it becomes part of the routine. This is critical. Talk about it. Practice taking deep breaths while they are calm (you could have them blow bubbles to practice), hug a stuffed animal, or put their arms on their belly to feel it move while belly breathing.
When children are upset, take them to the safe space, and show the child how to deep breathe by doing it yourself. Exaggerate this step and repeat it ("Deep breath in. Breathe out). Often, if you practice breathing for the child, they will find themselves mirroring your behavior.
Help your children recognize how their bodies feel when they are angry or upset. Describe what you see. “I see you are stomping your feet and are very angry right now. Practice deep breaths.” Let them know it is ok to feel these confusing and upsetting feelings, just help channel those feelings into appropriate outlet. Tell them, “I know you are angry, but I am here. I am going to help you through it.” They need to hear that you are there for them and their feelings are okay.
Remember to try to remain calm when your child is having a tantrum. If you become upset, that will just escalate their behavior. That being said, give yourself some grace here. We are all feeling more stressed and may not always have the patience we would generally have. Just remember to take a breath and step back from the situation. This is a difficult time for all of us. As always please reach out to your child’s teacher if you have concerns, questions, or need support. We are all in this together. Be well, everyone.