Excavation Therapy

The holidays were kind of rough for us this year.

I won’t print the details here, because I don’t want to make life any tougher for my kids than it already is. (This is the constant tension between writing with kids and living with them: balancing the desire to write honestly and in a way that is informative to readers against my kids’ privacy, a tension I wrote about here.) I’ll just tell you that we experienced some dramatic developments in our extended family that has led to a great deal of stress for everyone involved. None of it is pretty, none of it is anything my kids have ever seen before, and none of it is going away any time soon.

When the adults in a situation are nearly at wits’ end, how do you make things better for the kids?

Holidays or not, I know I’m hardly the only parent who’s had to guide my kids through a tough family situation. So here are a few of the ways my husband and I have been trying to help our kids cope. If you’ve got tips or ideas, please add them in the comments; I’d love to hear them.

  • Reassurances – We tell our kids all the time that we love them, that we’re here for them, and that our core family of four people is just fine. We tell them that everything will be okay. I’ve seen my kids’ facial features visibly relax at these reassurances, and I plan to keep them coming.
  • Relaxation of certain rules – I’m eating more chocolate than usual, so why can’t the kids have a few more cookies or pieces of candy? A little more screen time over the holidays was fine, too (though we’re reining it in again now). Total rudeness is still not okay, but we cut them–especially the tween–some slack on outbursts, bedtimes, etc.
  • More space and more togetherness – I made it clear to my twelve-year-old that I would understand completely if he wanted to spend more time alone in his room, away from the things that were upsetting everyone. But I also told him I wouldn’t allow him to become a hermit. His father and I would come in periodically and talk to him, and he would be expected to talk back. My husband and I have also looked for pockets of time and opportunities to do things together as a family. The movie, Frozen? I saw the movie, but uncharacteristically, I have no idea what I thought of the actual film. I do know that the four of us got out of the house, sat in a movie theater, ate popcorn and candy and watched a movie together. It was an awesome couple of hours.
  • Back to routines - Now that school and regular activities are back in session, we’re trying to emphasize those routines as much as possible. Homework is still important, let’s get to dance, soccer is still whenever they tell us it is, yes, you have to set the table, etc. (If you’re having an extraordinarily crappy bad day, I might give you a break and set the table for you. I’m not going to tell you that in advance, though.)
  • Honest answers to questions – The kids have asked some questions recently I wish they hadn’t. But just because the questions make me uncomfortable doesn’t mean the kids don’t deserve honest answers. So my husband and I have been as truthful as possible whenever one of the kids has inquired about some aspect of the situation, though we haven’t always revealed more details than were necessary.
  • Letting them know it’s okay to be upset – Sometimes kids are afraid of letting their parents down. I want my kids to know it’s all right to be upset, so I’ve told them so on several occasions. The tricky part is letting them know they can show their feelings without being rude. Of course, many adults haven’t mastered this skill, so it may be a lot to expect from twelve and eight-year-olds.
  • Hugs and kisses – Every single day.

Have you got any strategies for helping your kids through tough situations?

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