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March 26, 2020
In Times of Change, Remember Who We’ve Always Been
Joshua Sparrow, MD, Brazelton Touchpoints Center, Boston Children’s Hospital
Children are having big feelings about the ways the coronavirus is changing their lives. They know that the parents and others who care for them are having big feelings too, all kinds of feelings—fear, anxiety, sadness, and loneliness. They may not understand the worried look on our faces, but even babies can tell that something has changed. Children just a few years older may feel scared when we’re scared, and anxious when we are. They may even feel that they need to make us feel better. That is our job—not theirs.
Right now, taking care of our own feelings may seem like too big a job even for us grownups. There are so many changes in what we can do, where we can go, and who we can be with. And so many unknowns —about when it will be safe to go to the playground again, where we’ll get the food and supplies we need, whether we and our loved ones will stay healthy or recover, how we will care for our children if they must be at home, what will happen to our jobs if we still have them, and how we will get by until we’re past this.
This time in our lives may be different in some ways, but we’ve all been through hard times before. These are some of the things that have gotten us through.
Honor our strengths: We can remind ourselves of the hard times we’ve gotten our families through before and how we did it. We can take stock of all of the important things we do every day for our families, and all the ways we are exactly the parent or caregiver our children need us to be.
Own what we’re feeling: Sometimes it really helps to cry.
Stay connected: If there are people who have helped us through hard times before, or to whom we can turn now, we can reach out now—with a phone call, a text message, or on Facebook. We need to know they are there. We can share our fears and worries, and also, information, ideas, and solutions.
Be practical: Focus on what we do know and on what we can do.
Simple routines, small pleasures: We can hold onto whatever personal family routines and rituals we still can do with children at home, despite all the handwashing and social distancing.
What always works: We can open up some space in our worries for whatever moves us to a better feeling place—our songs, prayers, family meals, family hugs, and faith.
Look to the future: This won’t last forever. We will get through this.
Let our mission guide us: We know we will do everything we can to protect and nurture our children and families. To do that, we need to remember that they’ll need us to take care of ourselves.
We can’t help having all of the feelings we need to have in these difficult times. It’s natural for us to feel scared, worried and sad. There’s no way we can hide our feelings from our children, and we don’t need to—as long as we don’t leave them all alone with theirs. We can let them know that they don’t need to worry about us. It’s our job to handle our feelings, and to help them handle theirs.