How To Help Your Spirited Kids Handle Quarantine

by Lindsay Wolf
Originally Published: 
How to Help Kids Manage Their Big Feelings During Quarantine
Scary Mommy, Herlanzer Tenhue/EyeEm/Getty and lee junda/Unsplash

I don’t know about you, but I am so damn over my current locked down, 24/7 mom life. My eyeballs are tired of staring at my kids as they beg to walk around the block for the millionth time. My head hurts from juggling multi-tasking duties that an entire team of people probably couldn’t handle. My arms are exhausted from the sheer amount of housework that has exponentially multiplied while my family hunkers down at home. And my hair is begging me to finally take a goddamn shower.

As if all of this weren’t enough, I am also navigating the delicate task of handling my four-year-old’s increasingly raw emotions. While she rationally understands the basics of what coronavirus is and why it’s so important to stay home, she easily forgets the reasons for our obsessive dialing down of everything we used to do. More often than not, she shows me in explosive ways that she’s overwhelmingly fed up with our self-quarantine. And she’s navigating some big feels in our home as a result.

I can’t imagine I’m the only parent on planet Earth whose dealing with a strong-willed, spirited, and emotional child, not to mention a kid who fucking hates missing out on school, quality time with her friends, weekly trips to the park, and licking the floor whenever she feels like it. No matter their disposition, the children in our world are struggling big time right now. And I can’t blame them. I can barely keep my shit together, and I’m a grown ass adult. Why would I ever expect my kids to do that, especially during a chaotic, scary, and challenging moment like this?

San Diego-based psychologist and parenting expert Reena B. Patel completely empathizes with my current plight. Not only has she spent the past twenty years working with families and children, but she’s a dedicated mom to three kids who are putting her through the emotional wringer as well. Patel totally gets that COVID-19 has changed life as we know it for every family, and that our little ones are feeling it in big ways. She wants us to understand how important it is to recognize that stress and anxiety can present itself differently in kids than adults. Doing this can make all the difference for any child who is currently suffering.

“Children may regress, have behavioral outbursts, or experience changes emotionally,” she told Scary Mommy. “Regression is a common defense mechanism when young children experience stress. Although you might see baby talk, toileting challenges, and more tantrums, they haven’t lost their skill set.”

Cue the immediate tears of relief and feeling so fucking seen as I recount my daughter doing all three of these things in the past 24 hours.

Patel encourages us to validate our children’s feelings whenever they boil up, and check in with them regularly about how they’re doing. When we move through tough moments together, making eye contact and really focusing on being in the moment can go a long way (easier said than done, I know). Our kids are desperately looking for any safe space to feel some really big shit right now, so shutting down their emotions with phrases like “don’t cry” or “calm down” will only backfire. “Lean in and let your child know what they are feeling is okay. Reassure your child that this will pass,” Patel says.

Have a child like mine whose experiencing some serious cabin fever? Give them enough outdoor time during the day to get their sweat on, and they just might enjoy a better night’s sleep. “Embed opportunities throughout their day to be outside and move. There are also great online programs to help your child have fun with movement. GoNoodle is one I like,” she shares.

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For parents of teens and college students, making sure that your older kids have a healthy level of privacy is key. But also keep an eye on just how much social media use and screen time they’re wrapped up in, and encourage them to be collaborative about ways to put the phone down and get moving. “Create a schedule that has input from your teen,” Patel advises. “It is important to [not only] allow for socialization opportunities, but to encourage getting outdoors and participating in family activities. Some examples are family board game nights, creating family music videos on TikTok, family scavenger hunts, family yoga, and family gratitude projects.”

For those of you who bravely go the route of making a family TikTok video, please spread that shit all over the internet. I think the rest of us have burnt through all of Netflix and would thoroughly enjoy watching your crew drop it while it’s hot.

Our kids can also sense our fear and stress (it’s like they can smell it — so damn annoying, I know!), which is why it’s important to make sure we are taking care of ourselves as we take care of them. Give yourself permission to lower expectations and get less shit done, and you just might find that your children simmer down too. “These are not normal times, so do not try to run a normal schedule,” Patel says. “As parents, we feel that we must do everything we were doing prior to this pandemic. You have to adjust your expectations and understand where we are today.”

And for the love of hand sanitizer, please give yourself a fucking break if the demands of managing your child’s remote learning experience are too much to deal with right now. The last thing we want to be do is create overly-anxious kids who feel endless pressure from us to achieve highly at home no matter the cost. Rather than forcing them to check every homework assignment off their list, we want them to feel safe enough to explore their natural curiosity and innate desire to learn. This may result in two “school” days that that just don’t look the same. And that is so very okay.

“Our goal as parents is to do what works for our family,” says Patel. “Learning does not only take place online – children are learning to empathize, demonstrate creativity, and [how] to be flexible. These are life skills that they are practicing during this time. Maintain what they know and don’t feel like you have to push or discipline your child to stay engaged in their remote learning routine. You want to continue the love of learning.”

Since many of us (ahem, all of us) will have plenty of moments when we lose our shit while safely stuck at home, Patel is a big fan of conscious parenting. We always have the ability to repair what feels broken between us and our kids. It just takes a willingness on our part to be authentic and vulnerable with them after we screw up. “Showing children that we lose our temper sometimes lets them know that we make mistakes,” she shares. “If you feel like you overreacted to a situation, apologize and use the word ‘sometimes.’ For example, ‘Sometimes we raise our voices when we get upset. Next time I am going to use calm words.’”

This mama bear will definitely be repeating this helpful phrase a lot over the next month while I also chug wine and obsessively scroll through Instagram. If you need me for a Zoom meeting, I’ll be huddled over my phone in some remote corner of my house where my children (hopefully) can’t find me. Just for good measure, I’ll make sure to occasionally turn my quarantine pajama pants inside out for maximum usage. And finally, Patel’s extensive tips for parents are certainly awesome, but under no circumstances will I be introducing my pop-loving four-year-old daughter to TikTok. I’ve already seen what she does to the Frozen 2 soundtrack, and I don’t want to up the stakes with internet acclaim.

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