The Blessing of Bonus Littles
I’ve been blessed to be the auntie of two of the most loving, creative, kind, and unique kiddos (sure, I’m a little biased). My niece and nephew are amazing little humans. Sometimes I am in awe watching them learn how to navigate this big, beautiful, and sometimes chaotic world. They have big feelings, and it’s a big world.
We’ll call them Grace and Jay for the sake of anonymity. Hopefully they will read this 10 years or so from now and understand a bit more about their Aunt Jeanne as well.
Times Have Changed
Growing up, our parents didn’t notice our moods unless we acted out – mostly to our own detriment and grounding. I remember being a kid and thinking it wasn’t fair or that they were too mean. Our parents divorced when I was in grade school. The “growing” pains were both physical and emotional for me. I was learning who I was and becoming a teen, and feeling abandoned and damaged at the same time. I can remember the thoughts and arguments inside my head. I also remember the frustration of trying to express those thoughts to the adults in my life.
Now being an adult myself, I try to remember those feelings when I react to something Grace or Jay does that seems out of place or an over-reaction. Trying to head off the major blowouts before they happen if possible. Being the “non parent” in the situation helps quite a bit too. I can relate and talk with them in a way mom and dad may not. My own Aunts were that safe place I could go when I needed to talk about something I wasn’t sure how to talk with my mom or dad about. It didn’t even have to be anything serious, just a different sounding board. Kind of like the “kid whisperer” if you will.
2020 Was Rough
Spending time with them this past year during 2020 was a learning experience for everyone. Through lock downs, moving to another state, home school, and more challenges we all grew. Something I really started to notice with these little humans is that they have mood swings, they have down days, they get angry or frustrated for seemingly no reason – many issues even us adults have. What I noticed that was different is how they deal with (or don’t deal with) these feelings.
I never paid attention to HOW I learned to deal with mine, I just did somehow. What I didn’t know then was that I was developing my own construct of dealing with mental health issues, pretty much on my own. Not because help was not available, but because I wasn’t aware enough to seek out help. I had a feeling or thought, my little brain decided to react, and so on. As an adult now, I understand my own inner workings better, but the mind of a child is still fascinating to me.
Very Different, Much The Same
Jay for example, can have nerves of steel when it comes to standing up for his friends when playing a game online and will call out and scold the other kids. He is a natural protector, seemingly having no fear and keeps a level head. In the next moment he can throw his controller, scream at the TV, and storm off not wanting to speak to anyone. Impulse control is still developing. But he takes change in stride, adapts and overcomes with ease.
Grace takes everyone’s approval to heart and strives to make sure everyone is happy and cared for. She has the biggest heart, and feels everything. She’s an empath like me, it’s the ying and yang of blessing and burden. She gets frustrated when things don’t make sense, questions the “status quo” just because she can. Always ready for whatever comes next, but would rather know the plan ahead of time.
Maybe it’s just ’cause they are mine, but I think they are pretty well balanced little members of society. However, I know from experience, we don’t always express what is in our heads when we are young. We worry maybe we won’t make sense, or what we are worried about isn’t important. Even worse, what we feel is wrong or will upset our family.
The Little Things Matter
So I try to pay attention to the little signals they give, the outside of their “norm” actions. Jay is very exuberant on a normal day, Grace is more reserved. They are both relatively patient and kind. So if Jay is quiet and not showing me his favorite memes one day, or Grace is being obnoxious and rude – it gives me a clue. Many times, they may not know what exactly is bothering them – but something is off. So we start with a simple conversation, and see where it leads.
We had some big changes this past year, and we have been blessed that our whole family maneuvered and adapted smoothly. I hope your family has adapted to the changes and challenges in stride as well.
For some children, 2020 was very, very hard and unfortunately some did not have the supportive and capable home lives to deal with these stresses in a healthy way. This past year has seen dramatic increases in mental health issues for all ages. However, for kids, the biggest issues were anxiety, depression, and overall well-being (ie behavior, security, activity levels).
What Can We Do With These Feelings?
The first week of February is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week. So here are some tips to pass on for dealing with the top issues kids you know may be facing today.
Feelings of Anxiety
Most of us have had anxiety at one time or another, or deal with it more often. Much of the anxiety children face has a lot to do with the uncertainty around them and the inability to control their environment. The goal isn’t to eliminate anxiety, instead help the child manage it. Helping them learn to tolerate stress and function in the midst of chaos is a life long tool to master. Face your fears head on, don’t avoid them.
Learn to use healthy coping mechanisms and understand they cannot control the outside world, but they can control how they react to it. Empower them to choose to step into their fears, and conquer them.
More resources here: Children With Anxiety
Feelings of Depression
This is one I didn’t think would be something children faced. I always thought of it as one of those things that develops over time when we get older. The more I have learned about psychology and mental health however, has taught me there are levels of depression. Depression is not just a feeling of woefulness and not wanting to get out of bed. Sometimes it is subtle and goes unnoticed. If your child is starting to seem more aloof or disengaged, that may be a sign of depression creeping in.
First of all, it is OKAY to be sad and feel down. Let them have those feelings. Talk with them about what is causing the feelings. It may be something you can talk about and help them better understand, like the death of a loved one. They may just need a day to sit in that feeling, to understand themselves better.
Be aware that those dark and murky moods, if they don’t resolve naturally, may need further specialized assistance. Isolating kids away from friends and normal social interactions can be very detrimental. Not to scare you, just so you are aware and can better seek help if needed.
More resources here: My Child Was Diagnosed with Depression…Now What?
Feelings About Overall Well Being
This is probably the most common negative impact on mental health for children during the time of Covid and encompasses the overall behaviors and feelings of security. So many little things about life and how we go about day to day changed. Sometimes dramatically, some less apparent. Children do well with structure, habit, schedules, etc.
For many of us, there was no “normal” to our day to day or week to week of 2020. As adults, many of us have learned and conditioned ourselves to go with the flow and not miss things like brushing our teeth or making sure to get some exercise. Kids however were thrown a curve ball with school (their main source of structure and interaction) being eliminated, and being stuck at home with the same few people day in and day out for months.
Children may exhibit eating pattern changes, sleep interruptions, moodiness, outbursts, etc in part simply because their mental structure is also being turned upside down and they have not learned to self regulate those “normal” habits yet. Helping keep a routine, laying out expectations, acknowledging positive behavior, encouraging healthy activities – all these things can help the over all well being of children when in an otherwise chaotic world.
More resources here: How to Promote Your Child’s Overall Wellbeing
The most important thing you can do is LISTEN. They trust you, they need you, and they want to be able to communicate how they feel. If they know they are loved, safe, and significant – they can overcome anything they put their amazing little minds to the task of conquering. Teach them, walk along side them, and they will succeed. And who knows, you may learn more about yourself by listening and being that advocate for them.
Mental health is an issue for us all, remember to have grace with your neighbors. We are all dealing with life with the tools we know how to use. Help each other where you can. Reach out to others for help, this world is full of light workers waiting to assist in healing.