I was honored to participate in an "Emotions Matter" conversation led by children's pastor Lindsey Bush. Lindsey and I share a passion for children and partnering with parents in supporting healthy spiritual and emotional homes. Lindsey interviewed myself and my colleague Denise Maxwell (a fellow play therapist!) in order to answer questions from parents about handling heightened emotions, screen time, and promoting play during quarantine. Here's a few excerpts of our conversation:
What can parents do to help kids process heightened emotions like anxiety, anger, sadness, or disappointment?
A big way parents can help children process heightened emotions is to first process their own emotions. Allow yourself to process, express, and move through your emotions in healthy ways. This not only models healthy emotional expression to your kids, but it also dissipates some of the emotional energy that they may be absorbing in your home.
Another important way to help kids process heightened emotions is to talk about emotions in a shame-free way. Give your child permission to feel whatever they feel, and empathetically listen and respond to their feelings. Kids don't necessarily need their feelings to be "fixed", rather just heard and witnessed. Listening and accepting your child's feelings is a powerful way to help them process emotions and move through them.
What are some healthy emotional habits that have helped you and/or the kids in your sphere of influence during this quarantined season?
Emotional self-care involves nurturing yourself through tough feelings and creating positive emotions by prioritizing the things that energize you and boost your mood. Not only do I make a habit of processing my own challenging feelings, but I make a habit of doing things that put me in a good mood-- having fun with my kids and husband, being grateful, enjoying the sunshine, laughing, going to the beach, riding bikes, connecting with my loved ones. The simplest stuff can turn your mood and day around. Prioritizing those simple things can be life-giving, especially during stressful times.
With screen time at an all time high, how can parents prioritize a culture of play in their homes?
Screen time is a big part of our lives right now. It no longer is just entertainment, but it's also education, work, church, connection, social time, and even health services. With that said, it's still important to turn it off and set limits. I believe it's critical to keep the news off around young children. The 24 hour news cycle can promote stress that children don't need to be exposed to and its best to keep off.
Parents can prioritize a culture of play by making time for it. Our lives have become so overscheduled and busy that sometimes play falls by the wayside, which is not beneficial to children. Playtime serves as learning and stress relief for kids -- it's not just fun and games! Limiting screen time sends a message that there are other things to do. If a parent relies solely on screen time to occupy their child, then the child may not know how to play. But play is natural to children, and given the space and time, children will begin to play on their own (read more about supporting independent play in your kid here).