There is a lot of conversation lately about parents feeling frustrated with child behavior, but keep in mind that your kids have been experiencing the same kind of collective trauma that you’re experiencing. However, they don’t always have the tools or self-awareness to express what they are truly feeling inside, and these uncomfortable feelings can manifest as negative or undesirable behaviors.
Here are some common behaviors that might be heightened now due to the huge transition many children have experienced:
- Withdrawal: Your elementary child might easily retreat into books or electronics to pull away from the challenges of the outside world. While we all have our idealized practices, during a time of survival is not a time to enter into power struggles or force your child to talk. Keep the communication lines open on your end, reach out and make a bid for connection, talk about how you are feeling, tell a story about your day. Elementary children love stories and this can be an opening for them to share how they’re feeling.
- Fatigue: Children might be much more tired than usual. Between being at home all day, learning how to do school from a distance, and learning new life routines, that is a lot for children to process. Make sure children are getting enough rest. While it’s important to keep the same schedule for consistency, older elementary children may want to sleep in late. Again, we are not living in the same world we were living in even a month ago. Children are taking a lot in, and they may need the extra rest right now.
- Anger: It’s natural that your child might get overly upset about small things. A lot of time the anger is misplaced onto something trivial or something/someone that feels safer to be angry with. And with an abstract enemy such as an invisible virus, it’s hard to know where to channel the anger from the disruption. As the days and weeks march on and children are not able to see their friends, this anger is bound to build. Offering empathy and compassion while setting limits is key right now, as well as keeping it in perspective. The circumstances we are now living in are not ideal for anyone.
- Anxiety: Even children who don’t typically display anxious behavior will be prone to it right now. We are several weeks into this, and there are bills to pay. Elementary children are attuned to the hardships and struggles that their parents face. Minimizing a child’s anxious feelings in an attempt to make them feel better often has the opposite effect. Instead, you will want to acknowledge and affirm their feelings, even feelings that might activate your discomfort.
- Resistance: Children who are normally cooperative can become resistant during this time. Even the most innocuous suggestion from you can result in a wall of resistance from your child. Rather than getting into a mental game of tug-o-war, drop the rope. Say something like “I see that you don’t want to attend to the work that we agreed upon. Let’s talk about that.” Another important point to note about resistance is that sometimes children resist because they want you to respond in a way that will activate their pent-up feelings. Behind resistance we usually find deeper-rooted feelings, and often these feelings have nothing to do with whatever is being resisted. Helping children develop a language of feelings, as well as supporting them in feeling angry or crying when necessary, will allow children to identify the source of their pain and talk about it.
If some of these feelings or scenarios resonate, it may be because on some level we are all feeling withdrawn, tired, angry, anxious, and resistant. We are all cycling through a natural response to something dramatic that has happened to us collectively. We are all holding loved ones near and far who are also cycling through these feelings. The difficult part is finding the reserves to offer love in response. Yet the amazing part is to be so connected as we go through this crisis together.
Letty Rising is an international Montessori consultant, and Elizabeth Slade is a Montessori educator. This article is published on trilliummontessori.org website and may be distributed for educational purposes.