What to say to your frightened children, when you’re frightened yourself
The opposite of panic is perspective.
Panic is “the sky is falling” and perspective is “this too shall pass.”
The more perspective you and I have, the less likely we are to panic and the better able we are to manage our fear and anxiety and help our children manage theirs.
Is there a way to help our children, especially our young children, develop perspective so that they too, can stay calm through the coronavirus crisis?
I am a great believer that sometimes what you enable people to tell you that helps them get their fears and anxieties off their chest and into your full receptive understanding (vs. having your anxiety push it back at them), the more they are able to calm down.
And of course, the younger and more frightened your children are, the more they look to you to communicate that they are safe and that you and they and everyone will get through this.
One way to help with this is to practice something I call the real bedtime story.
You do it just before you read your child a bedtime story (which might be ones about characters making it through adversity, so your child can identify with the story and those characters).
What you do is have this conversation with your child (feel free to modify to what fits for you):
- “What was the worst thing that happened to you today?” When they answer, have them go one level deeper by selecting any emotional words (like awful, scary, terrible) and say to them, “Tell me more about the ‘awful’ (or ‘scary’ or ‘terrible’).
- When they finish, ask them: “What did you think and feel when that happened?” “What did you do?” “How did that work out?” “What might have been a better thing to do?” (See: “Talk me down” De-stressor Tool)
- Then say, “I’ll bet that felt awful (or whatever word they use). You know it’s amazing that awful things can happen that we sometimes think we won’t get through and then we always do.”
- Then say, “What was the best thing that happened to you today?” When they answer, have them go two or more levels deeper by selecting emotional words like (amazing, unbelievable, exciting, fun) and say to them, “Tell me more about the amazing (or ‘unbelievable’ or ‘exciting’).” And then when they finish, repeat it with another word they bring up saying to them, “Say more about (that word).”
- Then say, “Wow, that really was amazing (or unbelievable), I’m so glad that happened.”
- Next say, “What are you most nervous about and most excited about tomorrow?” Then repeat the same process you used in steps 1-5 above.
- Finish up by saying, “Wow, I can’t wait to talk to you tomorrow at bedtime or before about what happens tomorrow. You have no idea how much I love you.”
- Then follow up with the bedtime story to seal the above perspective teaching conversation (that good and bad times always happen, but we manage to make it through both) into their minds.
The above conversation followed by a bedtime story may be a helpful way to teach your children perspective and you’re doing it, might also calm you down.
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