The latest research on brain development shows us that adult presence literally impacts how a child’s brain gets wired. During these uncertain and destabilizing times, our presence can help our children feel safe and secure. It can help build the resilience they will need to get through this crisis. Research shows that one of the best predictors for how happy and successful a child will be is whether that child had an adult who consistently showed up for them. Right now, parents are juggling working, homeschooling and parenting. Being present may feel like another exhausting ask. Showing up does not have to take a lot of time or energy.
Being together is not the same as being present. Despite our physical closeness now, there are times when we may feel distant or disconnected. All of our responsibilities have been brought to the center of our minds and the center of our living rooms and creates endless distractions. We can still find a way to connect with our children to make them feel seen, understood, safe and secure.
Make It Fun
Set aside time where you can ditch the cell phone and laptop and connect with your children through meaningful and fun interactions. Play helps our children process what they are going through so it can serve as a stress reliever as well as an opportunity for bonding. Get on the floor, get outside or even get on the other end of the video game controller to connect with your child through play. Think about things you like to do to relieve stress and use that as a means to connect. If you like to exercise, put on some music and dance with your child. If you enjoy cooking, invite your child into the kitchen to cook with you. If we can find time to allow children to fill up on our positive attention, we may find that they are more secure and less anxious.
Negative emotions are often expressed through negative behavior. Approach your child with calmness and empathy. Your empathetic response allows your child’s brain to feel safe and gives him the ability to calm down and reason. Discipline is going to look different during quarantine and that is OK. When your children are under the weather, you most likely adjust your responses because you know they need a little more TLC and understanding. This crisis is not much different. Validate feelings.
“I imagine you are feeling really angry” or “it looks like you’re having a really hard time.” Children need understanding and compassion now more than ever before to help them through this very difficult time. Respond with empathy first, and then remind your child what the rules and expectations are. After they are calm, you can discuss why their behavior was inappropriate or hurtful.
Listen With Full Attention
Are you communicating with our children through closed doors, from different rooms or with your back turned and attention on something else? Our body language matters in making our children feel heard and understood. When possible, put down what you are doing and physically turn your body and attention towards your child. Repeat back what you heard so you know you understand correctly. When it isn’t possible to listen with full attention, let your child know when would be a better time to talk. Focusing on connection and presence is not a permissive way to parent. Rules and boundaries can and should still exist. The power of presence helps your child co-regulate and feel safe.
Graziella Simonetti is a parenting coach with Parenting Pals (firstname.lastname@example.org) and works as an early childhood social worker for the New York City Department of Education. She holds an advanced certificate in parent education from Adelphi University and is a NYSPEP credentialed Parenting Educator.