by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJanuary 6, 2022 anxiety in children, Child Anxiety, child counseling, child psychologist, child therapy, children mental health, death, health anxiety, pandemic, parenting, Parenting and Families0 comments
In the last two years there has been a noticeable increase of school age children spending a lot of their time discussing and playing out themes of death. This can be very concerning to parents as they want to shield their children from anything that is scary and death is a heavy concept, even for adults.
With the pandemic, death has been a constant topic on the news, media, and at the dinner table. Children are more observant than adults often realize so even when they seem absorbed in their video games or pretend play, they are internalizing what is being said. The way that children explore and understand the world is different from adults. Children will process unsafe and/or new topics by playing them out with their toys. This allows them to take an unsafe topic into a safe space that they control and understand.
According to the Yale Child Study Center, “Between the ages of 5 and 7 years, children gradually begin to develop an understanding that death is permanent and irreversible and that the person who died will not return” (Child Bereavement UK, 2020, p. 2). This means that there is an entire group of children who are moving into this developmental stage of understanding death for the first time during a global pandemic. Looking at the behaviors from this lens gives an understanding to the increase in anxiety, play themes, and/or conversations around this topic for school age children.
Another important part of this developmental stage is that the child’s imagination and ‘magical thinking’ also needs to be considered and addressed when looking for ways to help children conceptualize death and decreasing the anxiety around this topic. The Yale Child Study Center goes on to say:
Children’s imagination and ‘magical thinking at this age can mean that some children may believe that their thoughts or actions caused the death, and they can feel guilt. Not being given sufficient information in age-appropriate language can lead them to ‘make- up’ and fill in the gaps of this knowledge. Children increasingly become aware that death is an inevitable part of life that happens to all living things. As a result, they become anxious about their own, and other’s, health, and safety.” (p. 2).
To summarize, children are taking on the weight of the world with this pandemic on their tiny shoulders. So it is the job of the adult to take this burden off of them. This is not to say that the adult needs to take the responsibility of a global pandemic either, because that is also an impossible task, but instead to free up the child to engage in their job of being a kid. As much as parents wish they could change the world for their child, what is in their control is making sure the child feels safe.
For example, if a young child was worried that if an acorn fell her entire family would die this would in line with magical thinking due to lack of information. Parents are then able to use this as an opportunity to use age-appropriate language to explain, without invalidating, the child’s fears. The parent is then able to say, “I can see this is something that you are very afraid of. Let’s take a deep breath together to help calm ourselves and talk about it. It’s Mommy’s/Daddy’s/Safe Grownup’s job to keep you safe. It’s your job to be a kid and play. It’s okay to be scared and sometimes scary things happen in the world, but I am here to help you with your big emotions, as well as help keep you safe.”
The world is a scary place, so it is important to create a safe space within the family unit for the child to express how they are feeling, as well as have their needs met through validation and allowing them to hear that they are safe to let the parent be in control.
Another way of reassuring children of the parent’s role of protector and sole adult is through play. Similar language can be used when the child is playing out these fears of the pandemic and death. Children will show you exactly what they are thinking and worrying about through play, even when they do not have the words to have a conversation around this. The parent can then utilize whatever scene the child is playing out to have characters deliver these important messages of safety.
It can be difficult for parents to take on this task, especially if they have their own fears of death and the pandemic. There are many resources available for guidance, such as the Association for Play Therapy’s Parent’s Corner. If you would like to work with a professional there are always many options for the family, such as parent consultation, individual play therapy, and dyadic play therapy with a play therapist. The Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh has licensed professionals who are here to help!
Child Bereavement UK. (2020). Children’s understanding of death at different ages. Yale Child Study Center. Retrieved from www.medicine.yale.edu/childstudyLearn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMarch 29, 2021 healthy relationships, parenting, Parenting and Families0 comments
Nothing can fill a parent with trepidation quite like watching their teenager enter the world of dating.
While you may feel some “mama bear” instincts to shut it down, your teen needs you to be there for them. And they’re probably craving to know (without telling you): what does a healthy relationship actually look like?
Instill these five teachable habits to help your teen build healthy relationships.
Relationships rest on emotions, words, and actions. Teach your teen that emotions can’t be controlled, but words and actions can – and they form the basis of a communication.
Actions communicate broad messages like “I want to be here” or “I like you”. But words are the real powerhouse of healthy communication.
Especially when swept away in the beginning, your teen may feel like they can read their partner’s mind. But at some point, this illusion will end. Hurt feelings often result.
Save your teen trouble by teaching them to air out issues before they happen. Remind them to speak gently when opening a conversation. It helps all parties feel like they can say what’s really on their mind.
If your teen and their girlfriend/boyfriend know where they stand on relationship status, sex, and expectations, to name some heavy-hitters, they can navigate from a thoughtful place.
Clear boundaries set a relationship free. They remove the guesswork. Teach your teen the nuts and bolts of boundary setting in a relationship.
Your sounding board can help them get in touch with their inner voice. Inquire in a helpful way. “Do you want him to text you that much?” “Do you feel ready to take your relationship with her to that level of commitment?” Encourage them to answer from their gut instinct.
Then let them know they can request a boundary directly, i.e. “I only want text a few times a day”. Make it clear that if the person involved with doesn’t respect that boundary, it’s a red flag.
Help your teen understand what constitutes physical and emotional safety in a relationship. Encourage them to take time away from the partner to reflect on how things are going. Remind them that any relationship worth keeping will be there when they return.
Highlight the difference between safe and unsafe. Safe should feel comfortable, open, trusting, unpressured, and generally easy. Unsafe situations will evoke feelings of pressure, hiding, secrets, shame, and general ickiness.
Vulnerability and Intimacy
Your teen may feel nervous about getting to know somebody they like. It can be scary to put yourself out there! Give them foundational talk skills to help get over that knot in the throat.
A powerful but underrated conversation skill is asking open-ended questions. Coach your teen to say “How do you feel about your biology class?” instead of “Do you like biology?” Questions like this can really get the conversation flowing. Your teen’s crush will feel their care and interest, and your teen will feel empowered to listen and share.
Enjoy the Fun
Provide gentle but realistic perspective for teenage relationships. The person they date in middle school and high school, in all likelihood, will not be who they marry. It might not even last a few weeks or months. And that’s okay.
Emphasize that relationships are about learning at this point – and fun! If they’re not having fun, encourage your teen to set a boundary to change or end the relationship. Support their discovery of what’s fun or not fun for them.
These building blocks will help them down the road. In the meantime, they’re building happy memories and growth-oriented relationships that uplift them in an often tumultuous season of life.
For more relationship support for you and your teen, consult the following resources:Learn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMarch 14, 2021 child counseling, child therapy, family counseling, family counseling during corona virus, parenting, Parenting and Families0 comments
Whether you’re a parent or caregiver, weathering the pandemic with children has probably felt like a pressure cooker at times. Boredom, turmoil, and anxiety arise when faced with remote school days or filling long afternoons sans extracurriculars.
Kids look to the adults in their lives to help them cope with this complex, global situation. How can we make strong mental health choices to protect them?
Start By Helping Yourself
It’s difficult to support others when you feel unsupported. Take some moments at the beginning of each day to center yourself. You could wake up a little early to do a 20-minute yoga class. Perhaps digest the headlines over a quiet cup of coffee. Even stopping to breathe deeply for one minute can make a difference.
Now that you are calm, transmit that to your children. Start with basic facts about COVID-19. Dispel any scary rumors that may be circulating. Especially be aware of internet and TV messages. Assure them that, although we do need to take it seriously, adults are working to keep everyone as safe as possible.
When your child has a question about the coronavirus or lockdown life, take the time to listen. Give them space to air out their concerns. It may help to provide multiple modes of expression, like drawing, playing, and talking.
Measures of Control
We all like to feel some control of our lives, however small. The same goes for young people. Fortunately, the safety guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 translate into simple activities. Guide kids to wash their hands, wear a mask in public, and stay at least 6 feet away from anyone outside their pod.
Lighten the mood when you can. Hand-washing can be made into a fun game with songs. Mask crafts add color and art to something obligatory.
Social distancing may especially distress kids who miss their friends. Take some extra time to emphasize why it’s important to keep distance. Explain that the infection spreads when people are in close contact with each other. Assure them that it’s temporary, and they will see their friends again. Meanwhile, engage in remote or outdoor socializing when possible.
Middle schoolers and high schoolers may benefit from graphics that demonstrate how “flattening the curve” works. This helps them understand the bigger picture and empower them to be part of the solution.
Come Up With Fun Distractions
On the bright side of lockdown, we have so many opportunities to spend quality time with our kids. When we’re safe at home, there’s no need to ruminate on pandemic worries. Have a family meeting where everyone lists a hobby or interest they want to grow during quarantine: puzzles, art, reading, writing, music, gymnastics, bird-watching… Maybe you all make a pact to work on doing the splits by the end of quarantine. Maybe you remodel a room and turn it into an art studio or sublime reading nook.
Most of us have some kind of dream home project that’s been sitting on the shelf. Time to get into it! The antidote to worry is action.
We Can Pull Through This
If the stress of the pandemic seems to be wearing on you and your children, make the wise choice: seek counseling. Zoom makes family therapy readily available, and it’s just as effective.
It’s true that we’re all in this together – if your family feels overwhelmed, you don’t have to tough it out alone.