Talking about our concerns with another caring, present, attentive person is so powerful. In WarmLine, we learn to be fully present, to listen deeply and to put our story on the back burner as we hold space for the other person. Our children also need us to do this. It’s so tempting to interrupt their story, or jump too quickly to address their fears before we fully listen to them.
If your child is showing you he is worried, here’s what you can do.
First: Create safety. Create a safe place, a location where you won’t be interrupted by the cell phone, the TV or any other family members. Bring warm and cozy things into the environment; a big snuggly blanket; the child’s favorite stuffed animal, doll or book. Create a safe time. If you can’t attend fully to your child’s concerns at the moment you discover them, then acknowledge that you see your child is worried; validate and normalize his feelings – that a lot of other people are concerned about this too, and let him know you will spend time together soon. That sounds like a lot, but you can do this with very few words. Example: I see that you have some concerns about coronavirus, a lot of people do. Let’s talk about it right after dinner in my room. We’ll snuggle on my bed together and you can tell me what you’ve been thinking about.
Second: Make sure you come to the meeting ready to listen. Take care of your own immediate needs first: go to the bathroom, get a drink, ditch your cell phone. Situate the rest of the family so that you can have a few minutes alone with the concerned child. Make sure you have plenty of time to hold the space for your child’s feelings to come out. A reticent child might need a lot more time than a very open one.
Third: Resist the need to fix it. Remember that this is a time for your child’s feelings to come out. Those feelings each need to be heard, validated and normalized. Try to see the world through your child’s eyes as he explains it to you. Use your best listening skills. Lean in. Use eye contact. Provide physical contact if the child wants. Put yourself in ‘explorer’ mode – exploring how it feels to be your child. Enter into that space. Don’t make it your story. Say things like: That does sound scary; I can see why you are concerned about that. Use little utterances like, uh-huh, ohhh and hmmm; to let him know you are really listening, but not enough words to interrupt his flow of feelings. The key is connection. Addressing specific concerns will come later.
Fourth: Providing information. After connection is established, fears have been fully heard for now, and you can see some places in your child’s thinking that could be addressed, it’s time to provide some information. Frame this up as new information for him to think about – don’t let him feel like you are poking holes in his flawed theory. You might say: I have some information to share with you. I bet a lot of people felt the way you feel until they learned this information, too.
I remember when one of my kids was 5 and heard a snippet of something on TV that worried him. Fives are ‘global thinkers’ and are often concerned with enormous worldwide fears like bombs that destroy the planet, and this coronavirus certainly plays into that! My five year old had heard something about forest fires and wondered when a ‘fire ball would come down our street’. Thankfully, I caught myself before I announced that ‘no fireball was coming down our street’; and instead I said, “Boy! That sounds kind of scary! Can we talk about the fire ball after dinner? I want to know more about it. We can snuggle up on the couch with your blanket so we don’t get cold tonight before bedtime.” Delaying him a little bit also helped him know that the threat was not imminent. He knew I wanted to learn more about what he heard and more importantly, how he felt; and he knew from the invitation to snuggle up that I would keep him safe.
Written by WarmLine Member Patty Reis