A very curious thing has happened to our six year old over the last six weeks. It happened pretty rapidly, and it’s stayed with us as we’ve forged deeper into our lockdown life: he’s started behaving the way he did when he was four.
The Threenager and Ferocious Four years were not a happy time for him. If anything didn’t go his way, he would scream, throw the most incandescent tantrums, and would dissolve into tears at the drop of a hat. His emotional maturity was my biggest concern when he started school, and his apparent inability to see reason beyond the dominant emotion he was experiencing really worried me.
School was his salvation. Over the last two and a half years, his self-confidence, self-awareness and ability to control his emotions have developed faster than anything else, and it’s made such a difference in how he interacts at home with all of us. Simple things like being able to play a board game without fear of it ending in a monsoon of tears and fury, or sending them both off to play in the garden without listening out for the inevitable screams only a few minutes later.
But since lockdown, he’s back – that fragile little boy whose resilience appears to be at rock-bottom, and whose confidence in his own ability to try new things is back on the floor. I initially put it down to the sudden changes, and assumed things would settle – but they haven’t.
So I was fascinated to read in some information sent out by his school that this is exactly the behaviour we should be expecting from him, and others of about 3-6 years old. The large-scale disruption to our children’s lives and routines is having a much more fundamental effect than we might imagine, and the way these littler ones cope is to regress – to go back to the attitudes and responses that we thought they’d outgrown. And not every child will be the same as our little boy; some may become incredibly clingy, some may go back to having trouble with using the toilet properly, and others may not want to sleep alone.
The guidance I read had more to say. Older children of about 7-10 may change too, feeling sad, angry and afraid about how their lives have been turned upside down; they may be anxious about the information they’ve heard in the media, or from friends; they may want to talk about it a lot, or not at all. They may have trouble concentrating on what they’re doing.
It’s tough for preteens and teenagers, too – acting out, doing reckless things, or refusing the leave the house are all possible reactions. The intense emotions can mean they want to shut down communication with family and even their friends, and any communication attempts may turn into conflicts. Then there’s all the worry about exams and the future, for those who were due to take them this year.
So what do we do to help our young people, who are even less equipped to deal with all of this than we are – and who are looking to us to guide them (even though it may not feel like that sometimes!)? Well, I know a fabulous lady called Chezzy Kennedy – an expert in understanding and managing the emotions of children. Her business, Confident Kids, helps families to identify and accept the cause of the behaviours they’re experiencing, and find ways to deal with it so that everyone ends up happier. She had this advice for me when I asked her this week:
“What a brilliant blog as ever. I am pleased to hear that your son’s school were proactive in letting you know that this kind of behaviour is absolutely normal for times of change. You are definitely not on your own; I have four teenagers and have noticed a few step backs in their behaviour although no way near what I was prepared for.
“The biggest thing to really understand is that all behaviour is communication, so as parents we need to try and work out what is really being said. The way we behave in situations can also give us an insight into our children’s behaviour.
“For example there are times as adults when life can feel so overwhelming we long to be young again and be able to curl up on our parents’ laps so they can protect us. Maybe this happens when we are scared or feeling particularly anxious. We want to be young again and be protected from the thoughts that are troubling us. The difference is we have the emotional maturity that comes with age to know that this won’t really help.
“Maybe if you really want something and you are trying to convince your partner to agree you will revert back to that baby voice. This could be just a bit of fun but its also a way of making yourself more vulnerable.
“The thing to remember is that what we are experiencing now is very new and there are no Pandemic coaches to guide us the right way through this. We have to do what feels right for us and our family. We are all in the same storm but each boat is different. If your child needs to sleep back with you and you are happy with this, go with it. You got them into their own bed before, and you can do it again when things calm.
“Try using visual ways to communicate with young children and adjust your expectations of them to the level that they are showing emotional behaviour for. This will reduce your stress and give them a chance to succeed and get their confidence back.”
Chezzy has a free group on Facebook which offers all sorts of useful tips and guidance for communicating – I highly recommend it: https://www.facebook.com/groups/calmadultsandconfidentkids/
If you’re weathering this storm in your little family boat, and there are more tempests to get through than you expected, please know: you’re not alone, and this too shall pass.