Let them see you struggle...
Updated: Nov 23, 2020
Sometimes, we think we are doing our children a service by being brave and telling them everything will be alright. Truth be told, we're not always sure what the outcome will be. Especially now, when we are in an unprecedented crisis, we don't know what the ending is going to look like, or when it will come.
Our kids look to us for guidance and wisdom, but it's ok to be honest with them.
If they see you trying to hide tears, their imaginations will get the best of them. Children are very perceptive, and may assume the worst if they see you wiping away tears and faking a smile. Instead, explain to them that you are feeling sad right now, but that you are going to be ok. It is very important to label your feelings. They will learn from that, and begin to label theirs, which will make it much easier later when they are having strong feelings. Then, model healthy behaviors. Take a walk to calm down, or excuse yourself for a little while to take a bath, meditate, or just sit alone and have a good cry. Perhaps you could invite your child to help you feel better by playing a game with you. They will not only learn how to turn sadness around, they will feel important for having helped you. If we stuff our feelings away to protect them, they will think they have to be strong all the time, and that they cannot show emotions. Amy Morin, LCSW, says, "Kids who don't know how to deal with their feelings are also more likey to turn to unhealthy coping strategies as they grow older, such as alcohol or food."
"Adolescents who lack healthy coping skills may turn to avoidance."(Morin) Just as we can often see through our teens' attempts to pull the wool over on us, we aren't very good at pulling the wool over on them either. They know when we are upset, and it is far healthier to have a candid conversation with them. Today's climate provides a valuable opportunity for them to open up to us. If your daughter thinks you are rock solid, she may feel badly opening up to you. But, if she sees you as real and vulnerable, she may share her concerns with you, and you suddenly have the opportunity for a great conversation.
The bottom line is this... you are real, and your feelings are valid. Rather than surpressing them to protect your children, use them as an opportunity to strengthen your bond with them, and teach them how to deal with, rather than surpress, their emotions.
No one knows how to deal with the rapidly-changing information overload and authentic fear that we are all feeling right now. That's ok. We can lean on eachother. That's what families do.