Behaviour & Emotions Health & Well-being

Keeping calm when everything keeps changing

Keeping calm in the face of change

Oh. Hi Change. You are still here. First it was alert levels, then traffic lights, now management phases. If there’s one thing that’s remained pretty constant in our response to Covid, it’s been change. In fact, change has become like that person who comes around to your house and just does not pick up on the hints that you would like them to leave. But it looks as if change is not going to change, so it might be better to offer it a blanket and get used to it sleeping on your couch for the next wee while.

Most of us can’t help but wonder about how our kids are coping with this state of flux. It’s unsettling for us grown-ups, so it will be no surprise if our tamariki are feeling unsettled too. However, kids don’t always display their frustrations and anxieties in the same way as grown-ups.

Most of us can’t help but wonder about how our kids are coping with this state of flux

Here’s one thing we know though – calm breeds calm. Even in unsettling times we can lend our kids our confidence. They’re watching us handle stress and challenges, and will be influenced by how we appear to be coping. Alas, and sorry – cliché alert, actions speak louder than words. So, there’s not much use pretending to be calm while simultaneously panic buying and googling how many masks is too many masks.

Here’s another thing we want to say up-front – it’s totally understandable to feel a bit average at the moment. We were all hoping for 2022 to be awesome, but let’s be honest – it’s still kinda average.

First things first – just breathe

So, back to calming everyone down. You can only genuinely model calm if you genuinely feel calm. Which is why self-care is so important. It’s okay to prioritise your own well-being as you care for your family, in fact it’s imperative. So even if the world seems to be imploding (I’m pretty sure it isn’t, but I get how it can all feel a bit out of whack at the moment), take time for the things that are good for you – getting enough sleep, good nutrition and exercise, reading a thought-provoking book, watching a beautiful sunset…

Supporting our kids in the regulation of their emotions is hugely empowering for them. And the best place to practise this skill is on ourselves. Pause, Reflect, Engage is a handy tool to check in with your feelings. Whenever the pressure’s mounting, take some deep breaths to calm your anxious brain, reflect on your feelings and why you may be feeling the way you are, and then engage – responding to the situation accordingly. This tool is helpful for all sorts of stressy situations – big or small. From burnt toast to a close-contact notification.

When we’ve calmed our worried brain with some oxygen, and taken a moment to check in with how we’re actually feeling and why, we’re better positioned to make good choices, see a situation for what it really is and respond well to what is being asked of us.

This tool is helpful for all sorts of stressy situations – big or small. From burnt toast to a close-contact notification.

Find the constant and reliable

When life feels uncertain, maintaining a routine and returning to the things that are predictable can help calm our unsettled nerves. A colleague recently commented that as news of Stage 2 unfolded, she started re-evaluating her daily schedule, looking for places to reinforce routines and leap into new habits. 6am daily runs were even on the table for a moment, before she realised that her new-found intensity around scheduling was perhaps her way of looking for something she could hold onto in a season where control is as hard to come by as brown sugar and multiple packs of toilet paper.

Moral of the story – shift your focus from the things that you can’t control, to the things that you can. And look for ways to support your kids with predictable routines too. Friday evening pizza and movie night, for example, or pancake breakfasts every Sunday. A consistent morning routine and 10 minutes sitting on your child’s bed each evening talking about the day (or anything they feel like). Simple rhythms can speak volumes into the unsettled state of our hearts and minds. There’s a lot of noise out there. A bit like playing white noise for an unsettled baby needing a nap, having some things on repeat can be surprisingly peaceful.

Stay curious

When our kids are anxious, it’s so tempting to say “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.” We may want to brush off their concerns and just jolly them along to feeling okay again. But often feeling listened to – like someone deeply cares about how you feel and that those feelings matter – can go a long way to making you feel better. We don’t actually need to fix our kids problems, but it’s really great if stop to hear their problems.

Curiosity is an important parenting tool. If your child is not a big talker, you could try lines like:

“I’m wondering if you worried about getting sick?”

“I’m wondering if you’re feeling a bit worried about Grandad…”

“I’m wondering if you’re a bit nervous about what would happen if I couldn’t go to work?”

Something in the atmosphere

We can’t predict the future, and for now at least, it seems like our daily lives will continue to feature a measure of uncertainty. (After all, that uninvited houseguest ‘Change’ is still sleeping on the couch.) However, we can be confident (because smart people have done compelling research) that there are things we can do as parents that lead to great outcomes for our kids.

Things like:

  • Secure attachment – kids knowing the adults in their world are consistently there for them, that we’re their safe base to explore the world from and safe haven to return to.

  • Time to play and time to rest

  • A warm family atmosphere

  • Parents caring for themselves

  • Lots of positive reinforcement

We know this stuff isn't always easy, but the truth is that while we can't control Omicron, we can actually have a massive influence on the atmosphere in our homes, and kids who have a warm, safe, secure family atmosphere can actually handle a whole bunch of adversity.

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam is a passionate communicator, especially on topics relating to families. After 20 years in Auckland working mainly in publishing, Ellie now lives in Northland, with her husband and their three daughters, where she works from home as content editor for Parenting Place. Ellie writes with hope and humour, inspired by the goal of encouraging parents everywhere in the vital work they are doing raising our precious tamariki.

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