Resources that are beneficial to your family’s mental health.
The past year has been extremely traumatic. Whether you’ve been lonely and isolated or over-crowded and stressed, the pandemic has put a great deal of pressure on people of all ages and the family structure as a whole. For best mental health and healing, it’s important to talk about what you’ve all suffered.
Practice reaching out, not striking out
When a child is very small, they may strike out when frustrated because they simply can’t verbalize their feelings. However, getting them started early on the understanding of empathy can help them to reach out for support instead of striking out for attention. The powerful concepts of empathy and compassion can start early. For example, you might set out birdseed for wild birds in the wintertime, because otherwise, the birds will be hungry. Feeding the hungry is a simple, compassionate process that children can enjoy and take pride in.
Empathy is a bit more involved, but starting with a mirroring conversation about why a child struck out in grumpiness and frustration can be a good start. Hitting hurts. Is there a way for your child to understand any hurt they caused and apologize for it? What behaviors can they try before they strike out? Understanding the pain of others is a very good start to getting a handle on your own pain at any age.
Talk about trauma
The word “trauma” can refer to physical damage or the emotional damage left by a disturbing experience. When trying to determine why someone is behaving as they are, Dr. Ramani Durvasula recommends considering the experience of the person acting out. If a child has been neglected, they may not understand that just asking for something is enough. They may have learned to scream or hit to get the attention they need.
Trauma can show up in every person differently. Some act out, some give up. However, everyone has suffered some form of emotional trauma in their life. If a family member is acting out and causing problems among other family members, ask them what they fear instead of calling them out as a troublemaker.
Find a way to elevate together
Try to find ways to make the world better as a unit. Visit local walking paths and do a little cleanup. Volunteer at an animal shelter. Children require a lot of effort and care, and this process of caring can be extremely rewarding. Letting children know the joy of giving back turns kindness into a behavior to be sought, not something you do if you have the energy and resources left.
Baking something at home, wrapping it up, and giving it to a neighbor is a lovely step. Of course, you’ll need to mask up, but the simple act of smiling and waving through the window as you drop off the cookies or brownies will brighten their day and give you cheer. If your children can help you measure the flour and sugar while you talk about fractions, all the better.
Finally, if you’re in need of some cleanup and decluttering, let the children see the process as the adults get rolling. Create a donation box of linens for an animal shelter or clothing for a thrift store. As the energy of giving back pleases your child, they may find they need their own box.
Elevating your mindset as a family can also simply include exercise and fresh air. Take a kite to the park and do some running around. As Anne Lamott says, “Look up! The secret of life.” There are a lot of negatives to notice if that’s what we’re seeking. Finding the positives as a family will take time and work together.