To say this year has been tumultuous and ever-changing is an understatement. From this year’s U.S. Presidential Election to developing safe protocols for leaving the house and interacting with others to working and learning from home, 2020 has been a new and emotional experience for everyone.
Our children, of course, have felt this too. They watch us as we painstakingly follow every news update, have tough conversations with our friends and family about our current climate, play teacher and parent during virtual school hours, and grapple with the impact of the pandemic on our daily lives and futures. With the holidays and winter months quickly approaching too, our kids know that they won’t necessarily look like years’ past.
They see us process emotional stress and, while they may not tell us explicitly, they need help processing theirs too. Depending on their age, they likely haven’t realized how important self-reflection is for their own wellbeing, as these emotions that come up affect their interactions with the world around them. These could be happy and excited feelings, or sad and upset feelings, but either way, we need to give them an outlet to express how they feel in a productive way.
To parents looking to help their children navigate their feelings during this uncertain time, I’d like to share a few tips and activities that can help kids unlock those emotions and develop a greater understanding of their world view.
Create a Daily Moment of Reflection
We’ve found that kids (as well as parents!) are able to better connect with themselves and the world around them when they take the time to process their feelings each day. As parents, we need to provide opportunities for our kids to create time in their day to process how they’re feeling and express it in a way that’s productive, whether that’s through sitting down to write or draw, meditate, move physically, or have a one-on-one discussion with us or another peer. By dedicating time to sit down and process their emotions, our kids will better understand their emotions and how they impact their daily lives, in addition to how their viewpoints and opinions impact their interactions with others.
Daily reflection doesn’t have to be a big moment in the day, but it should be an important one that helps our kids start their day on the right foot or go to bed feeling like they’ve had the opportunity to process their thoughts. These written and physical exercises can be as short as 10 minutes and be completed anywhere that makes your child most comfortable. I’ve also found that the best way to model this behavior in our children is to complete it ourselves, too.
When in Doubt, Draw It Out
Children need space to reflect on their emotions to better understand them, whether they are feeling happy, confused or anxious. It’s important to provide them with an outlet and space and to share their feelings. I personally love to ask kids to draw how they’re feeling because it makes them actively reflect. When drawing, they have to analyze their thoughts and synthesize them in a way that translates their vision into a picture.
I like to use one specific exercise from our social-emotional learning curriculum that asks students to draw a picture of themselves and of the United States. When we, as parents, examine the final product, we’re able to see a picture of how kids view themselves and how they view their country, and if the two images relate to each other at all. This activity gives students a healthy outlet to express their emotions and gives the adults in their lives an opportunity to foster a conversation that reflects on how they feel. This practice can help with anxiety because it allows kids to attach their feelings to something specific and gives them the space to share those feelings without a fear of being judged. I would encourage parents looking to talk with their children about any emotions around the election results, or how they identify with their community and country at large, to ask their child to try this exercise.
Get Physical – Indoors & Outdoors
When we feel like the world around us is out of control, we often look for the things we can control. To me, one of the best ways to regain a feeling of control is physical exercise. Feeling connected to yourself physically leads to renewed confidence, energy and the ability to listen and engage in what’s happening around you. This doesn’t mean that we need to send our child outside on a mile-long run or ask them to join us during our virtual workout classes, but we should help them find ways to move with intention. This free resource full of quick, equipment-free, workouts is a great starting point for parents who are looking for ways to introduce their kids to fostering a mind-body connection.
Another benefit of physical exercise is that it helps kids develop a growth mindset. A growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset, is about believing your abilities can grow through hard work, help and mentoring from others. When kids begin to think in a growth mindset, they don’t view setbacks and feedback as a negative reflection of their ability, but as information that can help them grow. This mindset is key for getting through times of uncertainty in the future.
With less than two months left in this year, we have an opportunity to set ourselves and our children up for success when it comes to processing difficult emotions and facing an uncertain future. It may seem daunting now – important things usually are! – but it’s well worth the journey to help our children better understand themselves and how they interact with one another.
Rupa Mehta is the founder of NaliniKIDS, a national social-emotional learning program. NaliniKIDS recently launched Subject of Self, a free K-12 curriculum that teaches social-emotional learning and self-reflection through physical and emotional workouts.