How to help your children manage their emotions during COVID19

How to help your children manage their emotions during COVID19 - PEPA AND CO

Article by RUTH CASTILLO GUALDA Ph.D. Psychologist specialising in social and emotional learning. Ruth is a certified RULER trainer and coach, who has collaborated with the Yale Centre for Emotional Intelligence since 2010. Ruth is also the RULER Project Coordinator in Spain and mother of two boys, Diego 6, and Jaime 4.

What is RULER?

By acknowledging the value of emotions in our everyday effectiveness, RULER aims to infuse the principles of emotional intelligence into the immune system of each school, informing how leaders lead, teachers teach, students learn, and families support students.

Emotions Matter

Research shows that emotions influence:

  • Attention, memory, and learning
  • Decision making
  • Creativity
  • Mental and physical wellbeing
  • Ability to form and maintain positive relationships
  • Academic and workplace performance

What is the function of fear?

Fear can arise from two causes:

  • It can be an anxiety to a real fear
  • But it can also be based on a concern about the anticipation of something negative that is going to happen or could happen

Not only is fear useful to avoid risks, but it is necessary to activate certain precautions against events to which we may be exposed. Therefore, fear allows us to be alert, take precautions, be more cautious and careful.

An example in these unprecedented days, is when we can be exposed to the coronavirus. Fear of catching the virus makes us cautious to stay at home, cautious if we should go outside, protecting our faces, and makes us take certain measures such as washing our hands frequently.

It is not natural, nor positive, to pretend that fear goes away or disappears, we would be ignoring or destroying this mechanism that our body has to keep us safe or cautious.

It is true that these days of confinement, with the pandemic that we are all experiencing, with the constant news of the situation that our country and the whole world is experiencing, both adults and children can be afraid, anxious, nervous, uneasy and even scared.  But the purpose is not to make it disappear, but to alleviate its emotional charge and be able to regulate it.

For children, all of this is more difficult to understand, for this reason they will need an adult; mum, dad or sibling to give them a sounding board, that is, to put words to all that they carry inside and do not know how to manage.

Find words to explain what is happening to them:

  • Paraphrase what happens to them
  • Equip them with new words and vocabulary
  • Explain the reason for fear, its usefulness, its need, and above all, make sure that there is no bad emotion, not even those emotions that give us more or less energy, or those emotions that are somewhat more unpleasant

As adults, it is good to focus our attention on what we can control and what positive's fear brings us.  If we focus our energies on what is beyond our control, such as the spread of the virus itself, it will be useless and will only lead to fear without control.

For all this, it is important to follow these simple steps below when wanting to regulate an emotion with the RULER’s five skills of emotional intelligence:

Recognizing emotions in oneself and others
Understanding the causes and consequences of emotions
Labelling emotions with subtle vocabulary
Expressing emotions in accordance with cultural norms and social context
Regulating emotions with helpful strategies

Emotion is different from Behaviour

Talking to many families, they tell me that their children are more angry, disobedient, and more challenging than ever. And yes, it may be the result of the frustration and anger we feel when we see our daily routines blocked or when we get tired of always doing the same thing.

But the message I would like to convey is that many times we have to pay attention to what I call "iceberg behaviours".

If we look at socio-emotional development, during much of childhood (from 2 to 6 years particularly) almost all unpleasant emotions: anger, frustration, but also nerves or sadness are manifested with:

  • Aggressive behaviours
  • Disproportionate behaviours or tantrums
  • Challenging behaviours, when they are a little bit older

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Therefore, instead of assuming that your child feels angry, frustrated or resentful, because he/she has overreacted, discuss what may be behind that inappropriate behaviour.

Sometimes behind these reactions there are feelings of unease, restlessness or sadness, that they do not know how to manage or channel. It is undeniable that during these unprecedented days our children are suffering a lot of sadness and discouragement and his/her way of expressing this is through attention and outbursts.

How to help them?

  • Help him/her recognise and identify the key thoughts in their head and signals in their body language
  • Help him/her put a name to how they feel, with vocabulary they understand, so they become aware of these feelings
  • Help him/her understand that their response is disproportionate, and reason with them other ways to express how it feels
  • Create a safe space at home to share ways to manage those emotions

In short, be careful in drawing conclusions based only on what you see. If you detect the origin, it will be much easier to work with that behaviour.

Emotion Tickets 

I would like to propose these 'Emotion Tickets' to provide simple ideas to carry out this process and to provide small families with the approach to manage this historical situation.  It is stressful for many reasons, and since this pandemic virus can attack our health and that of our loved ones too, here are some tools to regulate this fear.


Superhero at home!

At a time like this, when the whole family feels: concern; unease; restlessness; nervousness; frustration; sadness, we must communicate to our 'little ones' that these feelings are normal and logical.

The first way to manage our emotions is to ACCEPT that the emotion is there and how it helps us.

  • Smart self-talking. Identify everything you tell yourself that doesn't help and question it
  • Consciously use your breathing to bring your attention elsewhere
  • Doing what we are good at, writing everything that comes to mind or drawing creatively
  • Visualise your life when everything returns to normal!

Let us strive and try to take advantage of this very chaotic situation and take the opportunity to control of all those 'pending' tasks for which we never find the moment in our hectic and fast lives to do.

All of us, children and adults, are coping as well as we know how to in the circumstances.  We are doing it to the best of our abilities, so that when this sad and chaotic time passes. 

Let us feel satisfied enough with:
The memories we build.
How we made our family feel.

These two aspects should guide you through these days of #stayathome, even when lack of positive energy!

Let's work at being parents that make less mistakes every day, not for being perfect all the time!

For further information about COVID19 and Ruler approach see here. 

  Ph.D. Psychologist
Certified RULER trainer and coach,
Working together with Teacher Ana Moreno

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