What is the pandemic wall and what can you do about it?
I can identify when I hit the pandemic wall. It was Dr Fauci’s press conference at the end of January that really got me involved. She was full of coverage about the possibility of widespread vaccination by midsummer leading (maybe!) To a “degree of normality“In autumn. I was grateful for his honesty, but the careful qualifications dashed any hope I had cultivated. I was gloomy for days.
Friends and other relatives shared similar feelings of renewed hopelessness. In some ways, nothing had really changed, but it all feels harsh and disheartening in a more visceral way. Perhaps I had finally come to accept that this was not an interruption of normal life – the pandemic has become normal life and will remain so for several months to come. We thought we were going to hit a wall in March 2020 and then again in September, but the holidays have come and gone, and it was in January that it really crashed.
In difficult and prolonged circumstances, we are asked to be the best of ourselves. For many of us, this is not going well.
Experts in communication and problem solving with children have a different way of framing this. They point to the build-up of chronic stress, which has made it more difficult for parents to cope with everything. “To state the obvious, the pandemic demands from all of us greater flexibility, tolerance for frustration and better problem-solving skills, so we are all taxed a bit by the demands placed on us. Said Stuart Ablon, who holds a doctorate. in clinical psychology. Ablon is a associate professor at Harvard Medical School and the founder and director of Think: children at Massachusetts General Hospital.
We thought we were going to hit a wall in March 2020 and then again in September, but the holidays have come and gone, and it was in January that it really crashed.
Before we talk about what parents can do – and there are techniques that can give everyone emotional wiggle room – it’s important to manage expectations around this time.
Ablon points out that, given that conditions during the pandemic are exceptionally harsh, children – and parents – may not be able to access much-needed coping strategies. “The demands have increased dramatically. And you have to improve your skills to get there, but unfortunately when the demands are so high that they are chronically stressful it is actually more difficult to access our skills, ”he explains. “So the gap between skills and demands has widened, not only because the demands have increased, but we have a harder time accessing our skills because we are chronically so stressed.”
Step 1: Recognize the difficulty of the situation.
“The first thing you can do is admit that expectations are impossible for parents and sometimes developmentally inappropriate for children,” says Joanna Faber. She is the author, with Julie King, of How to Talk to Keep Small Children Listening: A Survival Guide for Living with Children 2-7 Years.
Parents at King’s Virtual Parenting Workshops recounted the variety of ways their children are responding to the stress of the pandemic. There are regressions of potty training, additional moans, fights with siblings. Their attention span is shorter and they are more easily frustrated. There is also a lot of parental spin.
A lot of parents feel guilty, so it really helps them know that it’s actually unreasonable and you can’t do it all.
“A lot of parents feel guilty, so it really helps them know that it’s actually unreasonable and you can’t do it all,” King says. “I don’t have a quick fix to make everything work, but, that said, we do have tools that can help kids who are going through tough times, that can help them cooperate.”
Step 2: Feel your feelings first, then work on a solution.
Faber and King’s advice, like that of Ablon, revolves around certain common strategies. They all insist on keeping your cool, setting boundaries with your kids, and validating their feelings while limiting their actions.
Ablon teaches “collaborative problem solving” to parents, educators and clinicians. It is an approach to dealing with difficult children’s behavior that emphasizes avoiding power struggles, understanding children’s perspectives, and inspiring them to find mutually beneficial solutions to problems. He says kids (and adults) need to practice dealing with frustration, being flexible, and problem-solving.
But what does it look like in practice?
There are three steps to the process, says Ablon: Ask your child non-critically what their concern is. Share your concern. Invite them to brainstorm solutions with you. “Believe it or not, generally developing 3-year-olds have all the skills necessary to fully participate in this problem-solving process with us parents,” says Ablon.
Step 3: Stay Calm.
This problem-solving exercise should be done at a quiet time – it won’t work in the middle of a crisis. So why, if we know that responding with empathy and creativity to children is so effective, is it still so difficult to do? One of the reasons, says Ablon, is that “deregulation” is contagious: an exhausted child also bypasses his caregiver. This is partly why this moment is particularly difficult. Everyone scratches the bottom of their barrels of patience and optimism, and then we feed off each other’s distress.
“When we’re triggered, we lose our temper, we lose our ability to think properly,” says Ablon. “And we are not responding with the best skills.” Parents want to assert their power over a child who drives them crazy. If you think back to a child’s collapse, you can usually piece together what happened, both for him and for you.
I get inundated when my older child repeatedly asks for something, usually while I’m otherwise busy. I cannot complete the first task or draw my attention to its question. Finally, sometimes hours later, I snap with the force of the previous 30 interruptions, instead of just the one in front of me.
To support their creative problem-solving ability with their children, Ablon says parents need to do their best to take care of themselves, acknowledging that this will be different during the pandemic.
“You have to do whatever you can to manage the stress levels and stay what we like to call ‘regulated’,” says Ablon. “That’s why you hear just about every expert during the pandemic talking about the need to take care of yourself, whether it’s exercising, going out or staying in touch with family. Either way, it will be calming and regulating for you so that you can put yourself in a position to take on these challenges as best you can. “
Step 4: Be creative.
It’s easier not to yell when you have two or three other strategies to fall back on. It’s there that King and Faber’s communication styles repository between, many of which involve an element of simulation or fantasy. You may instinctively back off from a Mary-Poppins-style approach, but all three experts say it has its merits: you avoid a power struggle with your child and get the task done collaboratively.
“I always say to people, ‘Look, what kind of work do you want to do? “Says Ablon. “Do you want to clean up after a terrible crisis and feel bad about the relationship?” Or do you want to do some hard work to do something that will build the relationship, develop skills and ultimately pay off? “
“You’re going to get more cooperation” with these approaches, says Faber. You also teach them a valuable skill, which is more important in the long run than pure obedience.
Step 5: Be ready to pivot.
Routines and accommodations that were tenable for three or six months may no longer work. Unfortunately, you’ll likely come up with a workable solution to a problem, only to be presented with something new to deal with soon after. It’s like the dishes: you will wash them every day until you die. Fighting this fact only causes more pain. Children grow and change and you will have to find new solutions. The good news is, as Ablon says, it gets easier with practice.
It took years, but I saw it myself with my kindergarten: she will come up with a pretend strategy or send me back a slogan that I used with her. It’s a satisfying time to watch your kids use a tool to calm themselves down or empathize with a friend. These skills will stay with them through adversities big and small.
Right now, it’s harder than ever to be the parent you hope to be. The untenable situation families find themselves in is likely to endure, and the only thing many of us can control is ourselves – the precautions we take, the attitudes we cultivate and, yes, the parenting tools we use. We can’t fix this, but sometimes just recognizing the difficulty can help you get through the day.
“My hat is to anyone raising young children right now,” Faber says.