Oh, come on, kids know nothing….!
These, or similar, words we can hear from parents who perceive their children as some sort of the work in progress, with no knowledge, no wisdom, no ability to process information from their surroundings, and, generally, as a “tabula rasa”, who needs to do what it is told, without asking much, because parents are there to take care of their wellbeing. This is also one of the most frequent parental misconceptions.
In these challenging “corona” times, in which we found ourselves for almost a year now, it became very important how we deal with uncertainty, insecurity and lack of control. For adult human beings this is one of the greatest challenges, as it produces many difficulties on the psychological level of being, such as stress, anxiety, depression and even panic. Affected by many consequences of the pandemic, families with children are also facing an additional pressure: how to explain to a child what is going on? It is often hard to explain to child what is going on even when we know what it going on, let alone the situation in which we ourselves are not shore what will the next day bring, or how and why we found ourselves facing big changes in our lives, in such a short time.
Uncertainty, as an outside circumstance, and a characteristic of the atmosphere in which children are growing up affects children’s development on various ways. These effects will depend a lot on the personality traits of the child, temperament and earlier adopted strategies, how long does this situation lasts, ability of their parents and entire family to soften these influences and reduce the inner pressure that a child can feel. It will depend on other social elements playing a role in children’s lives too, its friends, information available, and its own support networks.
As for children in the preschool or early school age, dealing with the uncertainty crisis can be a difficult challenge for several reasons. They are still in the age range when most parents will not take too seriously their knowledge, dilemmas, questions, thoughts. This is exactly the period when we can often hear “Oh, come on, they’re just kids, they know nothing…!” Falling into this attitude, parents often miss a chance to recognize their children’s capacities, and while taking care to provide the best conditions for the entire family in the time of crisis, that forget to talk to their children and to respond to their child’s feeling of uncertainty, which is often followed by fear. In this developmental period of a child, the feeling of safety is very important. Uncertainty and lack of information can undermine their feeling of safety. This situation can also be negatively enhanced if a child senses that their parents are scared too. Therefore, it is important that we address this situation properly.
Children primarily FEEL this kind of crisis. They can sense changes in the mood of their closest, change of tone of their voice, daily routines, they hear new words and change in communication, and simply said, you cannot trick your child into believing that everything is all right and under control, no matter how hard you try, you cannot trick children’s emotional and energetic sensors, because they can unmistakably feel when something is not right. And this exact feeling will undermine their feeling of safety, bring out the fear, anxiety, worry, and even aggression with some children, all being a reaction to this situation. For this reason, it is important that we don’t treat small children as ignorant, unable to understand the situation, but rather to deal with it and overcome it together.
It is, maybe, in this children’s age that we will have the least troubles to overcome the feeling of uncertainty, as a dominant feeling in this global crisis. Their world is still small. Children in this age need, above all, to be acknowledged that their feeling is right, that there are new things that are happening. We need to present these things to them in a way they can understand. We need to take care that they have, and use, some sort of control available in the present situation, within their family group, and within the situation they are in, to be able to balance with things we cannot control. Let them choose their clothes, their breakfast, the movie you will watch together or a game you will play together. When talking with them, do not be afraid because you don’t have all the answers, because the bare fact that you are here, that you pay attention to them, and that within your little group there are things that they can manage and control, will make a huge difference for them and reduce the feeling of uncertainty and insecurity. In their little lives, you can be the certainty and safety, direct their attention to the sun that comes up every day, to the people and phenomena present here and now.
This is all it takes for a small child to feel relief, and to continue to discover and learn about life with, in all its complexity and uncertainty.
Author: Aleksandra Strbac, Psychologist