Young children are so capable of understanding complex ideas and feelings if you communicate and interact on their level. Parents who haven’t taken the time or effort to properly introduce their children to the realities of the family business inadvertently sow the seeds for later problems. Many of the tragic situations I run into in the world of family businesses could have been managed and even prevented with some thoughtful parenting.
One of my favorite speaking, writing, and coaching topics is how best to raise kids in the context of a family business. My background in my family’s commercial printing business dovetails nicely with my training as a family therapist/psychoanalyst with specialized training working clinically with very young children.
Many of the methods for enlightened family business parenting with young children are useful to help kids through this coronavirus pandemic and the related changes we are all experiencing. It comes down to five things:
- Communicating on their level
- Helping them express their thoughts and feelings as they struggle with complex ideas
- Educating and supporting
- Setting expectations and providing structure for them while being open to their input
- Providing lots of love and hugs.
This post is longer than usual but that’s because we’re going through the most unusual times imaginable, and I hope you find this timely and helpful.
Focusing on Feelings Is Essential
Ask children what they are feeling. Give them some basic choices, especially for very young kids (under 5), e.g., “Happy, sad, angry, scared?” Be accepting of whatever feelings they express and let them know it is normal to have all kinds of feelings. If children say they are scared, and you feel that too, share that you feel scared sometimes as well. “Sometimes” indicates it is not what you feel all the time and that is important. If children are angry because life is so different and they miss their friends and can’t visit grandma or grandpa, let them know it’s understandable to feel angry. Ask if they may feel sad about it as well – this helps to broaden their array of emotional responses – which is healthy over time.
Teach and Support
After validating feelings, you can teach and support children. Be careful not to make feelings “bad” or something to be pushed aside – it’s all about managing feelings and getting support when needed. For example, “We all feel scared sometimes, especially when there is a lot of change and we see things we do not understand.”
Ask the child what they understand about what is going on. Any school-aged child will likely have some understanding this is about a virus. You might say to them when scared, “you know, young children like you are very strong against this virus. The virus is more of a problem for people who are older and less healthy. You can protect older people by making sure you do not breathe on them and you wash your hands a lot. Soap and water kills this virus. Let’s go kill the virus together!” While washing hands you might say together, “bad germs go away, you will not hurt my family!” Teach about how face masks prevent spreading of the virus and draw funny faces or angry, germ-attacking faces on your masks.
A great follow-up would be, “Are there also things you feel happy about with all that is going on?” This encourages the ability to experience and juggle multiple feelings: you can be happy and scared (balance of emotional response). Some positives might be more family time, parents are home most or all of the day, less running around from place to place, etc.
More Complex Feelings and Questions with Older Kids
Pre-teens and teens are capable of more complexity in their thoughts and feelings. Asking about feelings and allowing their expression is still the key. Also, ask them what kind of support they need, if any.
(The “if any” is a must; suggesting to teens that they need your support is often a great way to get your head handed to you. The “if any” MAY help you keep your head attached to your neck.)
During a time like this, do not be surprised if independent teens whose usual communication with parents is to point out their lameness and incompetence, now want to cuddle, hang out, and watch TV together. Even if they can’t put their request for support into words, their behavior can be very telling. They may realize, dare I say it, they still need you.
Some teens may want to learn more about the virus, how it is transmitted and what to expect if they get it. Reading articles together, especially if previewed by a parent, grandparent or other trusted adult, can offer facts and be calming. Particularly with Coronavirus, the stats offer comfort that the overwhelming majority of people infected have very mild, even unnoticeable, symptoms. Being young is a powerful defense. Teens can learn about how social distancing and staying home help prevent more widespread occurrences of the disease and keep case counts low enough for hospitals and healthcare providers to manage. If you know someone who had a mild case of Covid-19, they might be willing to speak to frightened kids and explain that it was not so bad.
Teens may feel depressed or empty. Social media is now their only way to stay connected and they likely miss human touch – from hugs to fist bumps. Validate these feelings and sense of loss. Human touch calms the nervous system – encourage hugs, cuddling, back-scratching and foot rubs in your home.
Unfortunately, kids in your life may know of someone (or several) people who have died from Covid-19. While I do not recommend a strong focus on the names and numbers of folks you know who have died, don’t duck the subject if kids bring it up. Acknowledge what has happened. Ask for feelings and offer hugs, support and discuss ways the family is staying safe – like staying home and avoiding social contact. Not having to go to school, work, etc. allows for the virtually unhindered and powerful support of family life.
Structure, Structure, Structure
In general, structure is good in times of helplessness and uncertainty. Sure, it is possible to go overboard with anything – moderation and balance are a must, as well as input from all family members.
Control what you can. Get together as a family and decide on all that is important – exercise/play, reading, cooking, screen time, schoolwork, free time, connection to others, naps, etc. Come to an agreement on how to plan out each day and how these elements will be included, how often and for how long.
Listen to and/or play music together, sing, take on a Netflix series, read the same book together aloud, if you have a yard – make a campfire, dance, clean the house together, call or video chat with people you miss. Try a new game, invent a game: have everyone take a big mouthful of water and one person tries to make the others laugh and spit out their water (OK – that is one of my favorites from growing up as a brother to an older and younger sister).
There are many free resources online, some typically require a fee and are temporarily free – tour a museum, take a course together on something cool.
This is tough and we will get through it together. The strength of family will be an important foundation and parents can help children survive and thrive. Getting through tough challenges has always been a meaningful aspect of developing grit and resilience.
Online story book explaining the virus for young children as young as 3 (depending on developmental level): Click Here
Sesame Street Resources Including Elmo’s Playdate Preview (Aired April 14, 2020): Click Here
Self-isolating choirs and orchestras joining through online video – several beautiful examples and many more online (all ages – search the web for more): Click Here
NY Times article explaining how children use objects at bedtime to manage emotions (not coronavirus-specific but helpful to understand how young children might manage feelings): Click Here