Mental Health and Covid-19: Tools for Parents and Caregivers
Back to School Mental Health and Covid-19 Webinar Series, Part 2
In our Mental Health and Covid-19 webinar series, episode 2 Tools for Parents and Caregivers , Clinical Counselor Veera Grewal, RCC, outlines steps that parents and caregivers can take to help regulate their children’s emotions, and find ways to spend quality time together. As Part 2 of her Mental Health and COVID series, she explores these 4 categories:
- Emotional Regulation
- Play Therapy
1. Emotional Regulation
This is the first step to developing an emotional vocabulary, which is very important for expressing and understanding emotions. You might want to try putting a list of emotion words on your fridge, or having a chart of emojis to express your children’s emotions. For yourself, you may consider putting a list by your mirror to self-monitor.
A. Name it to Tame it
This is a strategy coined by Dr. Daniel Siegel. It involves connecting an emotion to a place in the body where it can be felt. When we connect our emotions to our bodies, we are strengthening communication between the right part of our brains (where emotion resides) and the left part of our brains (where spatial and body awareness reside). This internal connection helps us regulate and calm ourselves, connecting the somatic (felt in the body) experience to the emotion.
B. Emotion Coaching
Emotion Coaching was co-developed by Dr. Adele Lafrance; she states that:
“Emotions go up like an elevator but the door to reason is on the ground floor. Emotion coaching can get you there.”
Emotion Coaching can help bring a person back down when emotions rise, to prevent an elevated emotional state. If an emotion is left unchecked and there is no intervention, the emotion will continue to rise and may manifest as illness.
How can you do this for your child?
1. Name the emotion for the child
Naming the emotion makes it identifiable, and allows for separation between the individual and the emotion.
2. Continue the discussion with the word “because”:
Examples of how to do this:
- “it makes sense that you’re feeling X because Y”
- “no wonder you’re feeling X because Y”
- “I can see why you’re feeling scared to go to school because you have been hearing a lot about the virus, you may be scared to get sick and your friends are staying home.”
3. Give 3 reasons/sentences for this
Give 3 “because” statements to help describe your discussion. It gives your child more explanation and an easier time understanding you.
4. Match their tone and volume
Matching your child’s tone and volume helps them feel more secure and able to connect with you.
Attachment is largely about presence and connection with your child. We are biologically programmed for a primary attachment bond with one or more adults in our lives based on our childhood experiences. This internal sense of security turns into self-reliance and empathy for others later in life. It is developed through caregiver emotional attunement and responsiveness, affecting our ability to self-regulate later in life.
PACE is a fun acronym that helps us remember how to do this effectively.
How can I encourage my child to cultivate a good sense of PACE?
Try engaging in reciprocal play and dialogue. Give them warm, unconditional love, and inquire about their inner world. It is always best to be curious instead of making assumptions, and to ask questions to clarify. Try to understand and validate your child’s emotions as best you can; this sets them up for emotional success later in life. (Hughes, 2009).
3. Play Therapy
Play Therapy is great for brain development and processing; play is beneficial for the child’s developmental level and helps build more brain connections, fostering healthy emotional expression. Play can help children develop new thoughts, behaviours, and practice problem-solving and coping skills. It also allows them to process stress and trauma in a safe way, allowing them a new understanding, acceptance, and integration of experience.
“Toys are children’s words and play is their language” – Garry Landreth
Timewise, try to aim for regular, weekly individual play with each child – 20 minutes per week per child is enough to start with.
Over time, this scheduled and regular one-on-one play facilitates attachment, new skill learning, the processing of experiences, and leads to emotional regulation. Let yourself be silly and have fun; this crucial time together can strengthen your parent-child relationship, and allow behavioural problems to disappear. Try your best to keep your commitments to your children.
How can I engage in play with my child?
- sit on the floor while your child is playing with toys
- participate when your child includes you in the play (ie “do you want some cookies?” “yes!”)
- blow bubbles
- play “I Spy”
- comment on the play and show your involvement
- older children may be more interested in technology; join in on their tablet time (ie. YouTube)
Safety is another important component of your child’s emotional world. To cultivate safety, consider creating schedules and routines to provide them with a foundation to work with. Provide transition warnings when there may be a shift from active to inactive time; for example, if your child is getting attached to their tablet, remind them when they are approaching their elapsed “technology time”. Communicate any unknowns to them, speak honestly and openly according to their developmental level and be consistent with setting limits and boundaries.
- Supporting Children During COVID – Crisis & Trauma Institute
- Feeling Words Child – WriteSteps
- Feeling Words (Adults) – Hoffman Institute
- Emotion Coaching – Mental Health Foundations
- 27 S’ of Attachment-Focused Parenting – Dr. Dan Hughes
- Play Activities – BC Ministry of Education
- Easing Transitions – Simplicity Learning
See other videos in the series
Visit our Mental Health and Covid-19 Series Page
Video 1 examines Fear and Anxiety during Covid-19
Video 3 focuses on Caring for Yourself and Building Resilience
Video 4 explores “What is Counselling Really Like & How Can It Benefit You?”