We spoke to psychotherapist and author Joanna Fortune about how we can help ease the transition back to "normal life" for our children.
As restrictions begin to ease in Ireland we are starting to recognise elements of a life we new several months ago. Our "new normal" has experiences and connections that we will never again take for granted. Perhaps that is one positive to take from a time that has otherwise been difficult for a lot of people. As parents we now have the challenge of helping reintegrate our children back in to a world they are no longer familiar with. A new normal for our children and a world which very well may trigger fear and anxiety in them.
Joanna Fortune is an author and psychotherapist. She's also a mother. According to Joanna
" The thing to remember is that our children will use their behaviour as a way of communicating how and what they are feeling so rather than simply reacting to their overt behaviour we must try to reflect on what is underpinning it"
In the coming days and weeks many families will be partaking in social experiences and activities that will possibly feel surreal. We have spent months living in a very different world. Under the roof of our home we have educated, socialised, laughed and cried all in the one day. The "new normal" that we are being eased back in to is therefore bound to be scary for our children.
" They have only had us, their parents to depend upon and this may have caused some children to become clingy and they may well struggle to move away from us. "
We have been telling them to stay away from other people to help keep their family safe. Now we find ourselves trying to convince them to unlearn that to a certain degree. It is suddenly OK for them to be nearby a friend or family member. For some children this may be met with resistance and confusion. As parents our job is to help them feel safe. According to Joanna
"Children thrive on calm, clear, consistent messaging. What will help now is structure and routine because that will bring predictability and allow our children to feel that all-important inner-state felt safety and emotional security"
Joanna Fortune is passionate about play and how it can help us navigate parenting in so many different ways. Her books "The Language Of Play Series" explores this in a really comprehensive way. So how can we use play to help our children feel the level of safety and emotional security that will help them with all the changes and transitions that are looming?
Practice Independent Play
Independent play is a great way to help your children practice doing things without you being right beside them. Joanna's advice is to set them fifteen minute activities or tasks (longer if they are 8+) in a room on their own.
Encourage Sensory Play
Did you know that sensory play can help children with anxiety? According to Joanna it is an excellent activity
" as it takes us all (not just the children) out of our heads and down into our bodies, into the right-here-right-now moments."
Normalize Through Play
While your child may not have to wear a face mask they are going to notice a lot of adults wearing them. This may seem frightening at first. Why not draw some face masks on the character in their colouring book or put the odd-sock bag to good use and make face masks for their stuffed animals?Joanna suggests the following activity
" Play Feeling Eyes by covering up the lower end of your face and have them guess what you are feeling by just looking in your eyes. This will help redirect their attention to the part of the face they can see rather than the covered part"
Use Positive Language
When talking about plans and changes in the future try to use positive language. It's been a team effort to keep everyone safe (remember how important it was and is to wash our hands properly) and now we can all come together and begin spending some time together once again. When the topic of school, social distancing or anything that resembles change pops up try to take a positive slant for their sake.
Joanna suggests that we should
" talk about the ways we can greet each other such as elbow bumps or toe bumps; big waves; smiles; having a special greeting for a special friend; looking at each other"
Play Games To Help Them Regulate
"Playing games like match and regulate play: Mirrors (they are your mirror and must copy non-verbally everything you do); Jelly & Icecream (every time you say jelly they say icecream <don't worry about accuracy if they say wrong word> but they have to say it the same way that you do so if you yell JELLY they yell ICECREAM and if you whisper jelly they whisper ice-cream and so on; sing songs together and include actions as rhythym and synchrony trigger the parts of the brain for emotional regulation. This type of play allows you to be your child's emotional thermostat by setting the heat of the situation as opposed to the thermometer who just measures it. They will co-regulate their feelings with and against yours"
For this reason it is also incredibly important that we as parents check in with ourselves too.
Joanna Fortune is a psychotherapist and author of 15 Minute Parenting and The Language Of Play Series which are available on pre-order at a special kindle price.