Karen Beveridge is a Neuro-Developmental and Sound Therapist specialist. She has been running sessions for ESMS on various aspects of Health and Well-Being, including the way we talk to children about their emotions.
As the ESMS community is thrown into a second period of distance learning, the timing of these sessions could not have been more appropriate. Periods of change and uncertainty can trigger huge swings in mood, from anger and frustration to withdrawal, lethargy, anxiety or feeling upset.
Thankfully, Karen has some insightful advice to help us all understand these feelings, as well as tips for handling these emotions in children of all ages.
Why is feeling safe so important?
Feeling safe is fundamental to well-being. It is primal. When safe, there is a deep sense of calm and irrespective of the challenges and chaos we face, everything feels possible.
Anxiety is simply the fear of not knowing. To counteract this, you can try to focus on what is known to you and what is manageable. For example, you can suggest to your child that they can Facetime a friend, or plan a bike ride on Saturday, or help you to make their favourite pizza. Focus on what you can do rather than what you cannot do, while being honest and realistic.
When you or your child are finding it difficult to manage emotions, I suggest thinking: stop!
You may be trying hard to get your child to join their school lesson or to practise their music or do something else you have asked. They might now feel upset while you feel exhausted constantly juggling things. In that moment, try and stop. It will help you understand that your focus might be misplaced on an outcome rather than yourself or your child. If you can stop it will help you to realise that no-one feels connected at this moment and you can then try to reconnect with yourself and your child. Recognise your feelings by following the next step.
You might have experienced a situation recently where you have asked: 'What is wrong with you?'
Replies can often resemble one of the following: 'I don’t know'; 'Nothing!'; 'I hate you!'; 'I hate Maths!'; 'My brother is a pain.' But remember, these responses are all externalisation.
When an exchange like this occurs, I suggest noting how you are feeling. Take a moment to be still and tune in, firstly to yourself, which will in turn help your child. By acknowledging that maybe you feel angry or frustrated, your head might hurt or you feel lonely and sad, it will help you to avoid using phrases that so often spill out when in an emotional state: 'You make me angry'; 'You are so frustrating'; 'You are not doing what you are told.'
These phrases are all similar to your child's emotional responses. While you may be frustrated that your child is not doing as they are told and that in turn is taking you from your work or other plans for that time, these are your feelings to own, tune in to and recognise. Likewise, you must then help your child to own and recognise their feelings and support them to understand this for themselves.
As I mentioned, during times of change and uncertainty feeling safe is crucial. I would like to introduce PACE as a way of thinking, feeling, communicating and behaving that aims to make a child feel safe. PACE stands for Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity, Empathy.
Playfulness: Ask your child to pick a game you can play now or later, or suggest getting outside for ten minutes and do some skipping, football passes or put on some music to have a quick kitchen dance.
Acceptance: Verbalise that you know things have been tricky for your child and that they may feel worried or upset, and that you understand this.
Curiosity: Ask some questions to open up a dialogue (‘did you feel lonely when you spoke to Sam yesterday?’).
Empathy: Let them know that you understand that they may be missing certain things just now, or feeling a certain way (‘I know you might be missing your playtimes and activities with friends.’)
While using the PACE way of communicating, try to listen with acuity - add nothing, take nothing away. Try repeating their own words, which can help a child know that you are really listening which offers comfort (‘I heard you say you are lonely.’)
Remember that acceptance of emotions is important. Rather than judge, help them to unpick what they are thinking and what might be activating their emotions. Avoid any blame and instead feel what is real for them in that moment.
Pass the Baton
If you still feel you are repeating instructions and not being listened to on a frequent basis, I suggest becoming selective.
Write down the five key instructions that you would like your child to take responsibility for that day, within their capabilities. Stick it on the fridge door or on their desk, but remember to introduce a level of leeway in the order in which they can choose to do things. You may have certain patterns as to how you like things done – but try and let go of that.
If your child does not follow through with any task, hold the tension. Remind them this is their responsibility and that although you are there to help, you cannot do their tasks for them.
Young people will remember experiences by the connections and support given to them, which helps them navigate through uncertainty. By knowing what is expected of them in each day, they should be able to manage the tasks better.
With thanks to Karen Beveridge for her insight into managing and understanding the wide range of emotions we are all dealing with at the moment.