Now I lay me down to sleep…
It was the same prayer we’ve said every night since before she could speak. Now, 10 years old, my daughter still insists on that prayer every night. As I tucked her in, she grabbed my wrist and said, “wait, I’m scared and I can’t sleep”. I reassured her and tried to coax her into reading a book, but she persisted. “Why are you so scared”, I asked truly concerned. “I feel like I’m going to die”.
I think back to my first born. She had just started her 7th day of first grade when the 9/11 attacks shattered our lives. The schools went on lockdown. Cars were driving down medians. Cell phones stopped working. Rumors of other planes circulated as parents tried desperately to get to their children. It was beyond pandemonium.
The moment I was finally able to hug my little girl was a moment I will never forget. Holding her hands and stroking her hair, I found her eyes looking back at me. It was a look of confusion and panic. Over the course of the next days, weeks, and months, her questions became less frequent. Her anxiety faded. And all seemed right with the world.
A year later my confident second grader found herself in the midst of terror. In the beautiful, autumn days of October, the DC sniper terrorized us. The shootings were completely random. A man pumping gas at a Sunoco. A babysitter sitting on a bench reading a book. Even a 13 year old arriving to school.
Our world turned upside down. Parents walked their children to and from school. We were instructed to to walk around our cars while pumping gas. Authorities even recommended we walk in a zigzag pattern so we would be a harder target to hit. That was weird. And it was definitely something I couldn’t avoid discussing with my daughter.
We actually talked about this a couple of days ago. She said she felt her life was literally in her hands. It was her responsibility to zig and zag her best so she wouldn’t get shot. We considered what impact it had on her life. That’s not clear. But I can tell you, she is the most cautious person I have ever known.
Mental Health For Everyone
I was lucky my 10 year old spoke up and shared her fear. I’m sad to admit, I overlooked her. I was busy making sure we had our “just in case” quarantine necessities. Then after getting through that surreal chaos, I checked in on friends and family to hear how they were handling “social distancing”.
I also had my daily mental health checks, “Is this real life?”. On repeat. All. Day. Long. My kids just seemed happy. I mean, school was cancelled! Every kid’s dream! But I had completely overlooked the impact the pandemic was having on my children. They too, needed a check on their mental health.
If I leave you with anything, let it be this. To help your children, you need to help yourself first. Your children will pick up on every little emotion, especially when you try to hide it. They will model you.
Stick To The Facts
Stick to the fact-base information and limit the constant stream on social media. Those news alerts are not good for your mental health. Pay attention to the important stuff and stay away from the rest as much as you can. Stay up to date with the guidelines to protect you and your family and keep up with notices from your child’s school and local government.
Start The Conversation
Ask your child if they have any questions about coronavirus. Ask how this new way of life makes them feel. By opening the lines of communication, you’ll at least know where to start.
Be honest with them. If they ask if you’re scared, tell them. Explain you are worried but the virus is preventable and you are taking the steps make sure no one in the family gets sick.
Validate Their Feelings
Their feeling may seem over-exaggerated, in fact I guarantee they will be. Let them feel and believe you understand their perspective. Get down on their level and relate to how they feel. Then reassure them, that together, you are taking actions to keep your family safe.
Looking back at the extreme life altering events we have been through, I realize this one is different. I have to be honest, this pandemic has sent me into a realm of unreality. It’s intangible, invisible and incomprehensible. The reality is hard to grasp, but we need to settle into this new norm. It is what it is. All we can do is our part. We have no choice, stressing about it will not change the outcome.
Your children are following your lead.
Always assure them you are their safe place to fall.