Ideas to secure a child's emotional world.
From my work this week, it is clear that children are struggling to cope with the devastation of the Manchester bomb and that adults are struggling to know how best to support their children with this. There have been some fantastic articles written about how to speak about the Manchester attack with your children. Professor Cary Cooper of Manchester University, an expert in dealing with stress says,
"Carers, parents and grandparents have a big role to play here, because over the coming week there will be a lot of this going on. They're going to be exposed to the media... and the kids need to be reassured and they need to be able to surface their fears.
You can't force it out of them, but you really need to find a safe space somewhere to talk."
I thought it may be helpful to share a few ideas about how to support your child when they are experiencing increased levels of anxiety. These are designed to be simple, gentle, fun ideas that are not language dependent; when a child is struggling with Worries it can be difficult for them to find the words to express these. Instead, what might be more possible is for them to have the adults who care for them step in and offer what I call ‘over-nurture’, an increased level of care focussed on securing a child’s emotional world. These activities may lead your child to share their thoughts but it isn’t the intention nor is there any pressure on them to do so, the intention is to increase the level of care and protection your child feels around them.
If your child has a favourite TV programme, ask if you can watch it together and grab a blanket so you can snuggle in next to each other. Being able to magic a hot chocolate to appear at some time during the programme and enjoying holding the warm mugs together can be a great addition.
If your child shares details they have heard about the attack that are worrying them, make the time and space to listen to their thoughts. When they have finished sharing, offer a story that demonstrates the beautiful examples of Community or Compassion that have been so present both during and since the attack; for example, the homeless man whose care for victims of the attack has lead people to support him to find accommodation and enabled him to begin to build a more comfortable life for himself.
In the middle of tidying, ask if there is a favourite song they would like to play in the background. Maybe take it in turns to choose the next piece. Singing at the top of your lungs releases lots of feel good hormones that rush around your body.
Grab some pillows and blankets and make a den, it doesn’t have to be a Grand Design. Invite your child to check it out. They may wish to make improvements. They may wish to simply enjoy it with you. Hopefully you’ve made it big enough for both of you!
Find a board game or jigsaw or paper and pen and say to your child, ‘I was hoping we could do [this] for a little bit together. I just wanted us to have some together time.’ It doesn’t matter which activity you choose as long as you know it is one your child enjoys. Life can be so busy and when a child receives the message that an adult, whom they care for, wants to spend time with them it is really precious.
Nighttime can be much more difficult than daytime. A child knows that their adult will leave them and they will be alone, possibly thinking through Worries. This can be difficult to manage. Nighttime though offers lots of opportunities for ‘over-nurture’.
The importance of laughter at bedtime is vital. I wonder if you have ever tried the ‘gorilla carry’ to bed at night, pretending to be a Silverback gorilla and carrying your child to their bed as a gorilla might! The accuracy of it isn’t overly important but pretending to be a gorilla offers lots of chuckles as you practise drumming on your chest with your hands and fists, striking the ground with your palms. There are so many animals in the animal kingdom, maybe you can think of another that could be perfect for an ‘animal carry’ to bed. It is the therapeutic message, ‘I’m right by your side’ that matters. And the importance of showing your child that laughter is allowed and possible, whatever happens, and that you will continue to share it, together.
Imagination is important at bedtime. Left alone with Worries and an imagination that has no direction, a child’s Worries can grow bigger very swiftly. Sometimes it is possible to guide an imagination by imagining together what your child will choose to dream about. It introduces the idea of being able to choose what you would like to think about and moves thoughts away from Worries to more enjoyable ideas such as adventures that you could share or lovely memories of adventures already had. If your child is struggling with Worries, their imagination may feel impossible to access. Rather they may rely on you to begin sharing dream ideas and, once you have grabbed their imagination, they may feel able to join in.
Different ideas work differently with each child but, if you find one you both enjoy, it becomes possible to say, “I know things are difficult right now and that is so tough for you. I want you to know that I am right by your side. I really enjoyed it when you and I [share activity that you both enjoyed]. I’m hoping we can do that together again later. Shall we plan it in?”