Helping Your Kids Face Their Uncertainty
Daily insights on life in the face of uncertainty, by psychiatrist and habit change specialist Dr. Jud Brewer
Stress, anxiety, and other emotions are running high for many of us right now. But if you’re a parent with kids at home trying to juggle work, homeschooling, and overall uncertainty, your house may feel like an emotional minefield. Your kids are also trying to make sense of everything, and may not be reacting to life in “normal” ways. And even if you don’t have kids at home, your inner child probably isn’t feeling very safe or secure right now. In one way or another, we’re all on the verge of melting down.
Let me tell you about my good friend Josh, his wife Julie, and their 12-year-old son, Ben. When Ben first found out that his school was closed, he was excited. It felt like vacation. But pretty quickly, Josh and Julie noticed Ben getting angry and starting to withdraw.
Like a lot of uncertain and stressed parents, Josh and Julie first responded to Josh with a typical parenting approach: consequences. After some time passed and the parents reflected a bit more, it became apparent that Ben was just as worried and anxious as his parents.
Children don’t always express emotions in the same way that adults do. Fear and anxiety may come out as anger, combativeness, or withdrawal.
Ben couldn’t see his friends, or go to the park to play basketball. He had no way of understanding or controlling the situation, which made him feel unsafe, and the only way he could regain some sense of control was to react with anger and obstinance. Once they realized this, Josh and Julie validated Ben’s emotions, found opportunities to give him control over his world (like helping select dinners for the family), and added a short mindful breathing exercise to their pre-dinner family time. Together, those practices helped Ben understand more of what was going on, build his sense of safety, and connect him to his family.
Here’s some of the psychological science that explains what’s going on inside of kids when they feel stress, and…