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Riding “THE CORONA-COASTER”: What’s your Emotional Style?

Most families are going through the full gamut of emotions right now. Gratitude, worry, fear, love, compassion, frustration, restlessness, and so on are a fragile kaleidoscope of emotions—a fluctuating pattern of colours that radically changes with the slightest nudge. Dr. Lea Waters, The Guardian 29.04.2020

Navigating the ups and downs of the current reality is proving to be confronting for many people. The Coronavirus has turned our lives upside down with students continuing with remote learning and parents continuing to juggle the home environment. This has become known as “Riding the Corona Coaster.”

As life in lockdown continues, it is essential that as an adult carer, to look after your well-being, reduce stress levels at home, and make life seem more manageable. In other words, “put your oxygen mask on first” before helping others.

On a practical level, make time to de-escalate your nervous system and maintain your sleep routine, healthy eating habits, regular exercise, and reaching out virtually to friends and family. This kind of self-care role modelling cannot be underestimated as a positive influence on our child’s well-being. 

Perhaps the more significant challenge is, how do we help our children deal with the emotions of something that we can’t wrap our heads around ourselves? As Dr. Waters writes, 

Helping children express, understand and grow from their emotions during COVID-19 is a skill that will last into their adult lives.

In nearly every review or study of resilience in the last 50 years, the most significant determinant of resilience is influenced not only by the adversity itself but also by the quality of our close personal relationships & the emotional responses, especially parents and primary caregivers. 

Some of us were raised by parents who saw talking about emotions as a waste of time, self-indulgence, a sign of weakness, or shameful. Dr. Waters refers to this as the emotionally dismissive response. Others had parents who understood the importance of expressing one’s emotions for good mental health, bonding, learning, and building resilience – these are emotional coaches. Regardless of what you inherited, your emotional style is something that can be changed.

Here are four simple strategies suggested by Dr. Waters, you can incorporate into your daily family routine during the lockdown.

1. CREATE INTENTIONAL CORONAVIRUS CONVERSATIONS

Be open to speaking with your kids about what’s going on – respond to their questions and fears. Don’t feel it is best to shelter them entirely, but be wise about what and how you share them. Balance your conversation between “facts and feelings” – talk about the facts of what you know and ask them about their feelings. Finish the discussion by reminding them about the things they have control over – washing their hands, social-distancing, trying their best during home-learning – as this will reduce their feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. Reassure them all emotions are reasonable, and they can always talk to you about their feelings.

2. FEEL THE FEELS

Here’s the thing about emotions: they are fleeting. Biologically speaking, emotions are a little burst of brain chemistry that alter our mood. The healthy brain has evolved so that it does not get stuck in one chemical state for an extended period of time, and this is what makes us human. When our kids know that “emotions have motion” and fear moves on, it is easier for them to experience the fear, sit with it and then watch it give way to laughter and an increased sense of optimism.

3. MAKE EMOTIONS CONCRETE 

There’s a truism in psychology, “you’ve got to name it to tame it.” A crucial part of building emotional intelligence can name one’s emotions. You can encourage your child to explore their feelings using the metaphors of weather. Have them a name if they are cloudy, stormy, rainy, clear or sunny. Let them know that it is OK to have many seasons in one day. They won’t get stuck in a storm forever; the sun will shine again.

4. USE THE POWER OF MUSIC

Music is a great way to help connect children with their emotions. Music taps into our emotions in a way that words alone cannot. Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin’s research shows that when we listen to music, almost every region and neural subsystem in our brain is activated. Music helps with emotion and brain development, too, which is a bonus while we are all remote learning/ working.

During the family lockdown, why not create a positive playlist of songs that boost your mood. Include songs about resilience, triumph, and overcoming adverse events. You can then use the playlist to create a new positive family ritual by pumping the music and dancing like crazy each night before dinner. It will release the pent-up energy of you and your kids and boost everyone’s endorphins and dopamine – all while introducing a technique they can use for the rest of their lives to manage their emotions. The bonus is you are creating a positive memory for the kids, and when they look back on this challenging time, they’ll remember the “family dance-offs” that occurred each night.

The most resilient among us are people who generally don’t dwell on the negative, who look for opportunities that might exist even in the darkest times. Indeed, there is much we can’t control right now, but one thing we can turn our attention to is the emotions of our family and how to help our kids cope and grow stronger through this experience. Playing to our strengths and helping your kids express, understand, and grow from their emotions during COVID-19 is a skill that will last into their adult lives. Chances are they will teach us more about our emotional health along the way.

Acknowledgements & further reading

DONNA NAIRN
Director of Counselling