I read an interesting study the other day regarding mothers and their newborn babies (through 14 months old). The study looked at how the mothers responded to their baby and how their own mothers had responded to them when they were a baby. The study predicted that “mothers who recalled their own mothers as high on nonsupportive responses to their distress in childhood engaged in more self-focused and negative cry processing at 6 months, which in turn predicted less supportive responding to their toddlers in distressing situations.” The study supported their prediction and concluded that “remembered childhood emotion socialization experiences have longstanding consequences for subsequent social behavior, including parenting the next generation” (Source).
That’s a LOT of big words to say, how we, as parents and involved adults, respond to our children’s emotion, no matter how young, has a long-term impact on them and on our grandchildren. And that seems really important to remember in 2020.
Has there ever been such a highly emotional period in our lifetime? Certainly not in mine and, I suspect, not in the lifetime of many who read this blog. But definitely not in our children’s lifetime. We have been blessed in this country to have had a fairly quiet period that our children have been raised in. Of course, there have been ups and downs, but not the emotionally-gripping scenarios that we are currently facing.
COVID 19 has dramatically changed the face of our children’s environments and culture. School looks different. Home looks different. Hanging out with friends looks different. Milestones like graduating or getting a driver’s license or having a birthday party or advancing to a new grade or going to school for the first time looks different. Everything looks different.
Most kids are spending a lot more time in virtual environments like Zoom calls and Facetime and other spaces like online games, social media sites, and watching television. “Nearly half of American children spend more than six hours a day in front of a screen — a shocking 500 percent increase in usage prior to the contagion’s spread, according to a survey of 3,000 parents conducted by the advocacy group ParentsTogether” (Source).
And their emotions have followed suit. Mental health experts are warning us that these new environments wrought with worry and unknowns will have a lasting impact on our children’s mental and emotional health (Source).
But let’s go back to that first study. We are not without hope. In fact, we have a unique opportunity as parents, grandparents, other involved adults and ministers at this time to impact not only our children but the next generation of children through how we respond to our kids at this time. And when I say “our kids”, I mean collectively our kids, the generation of newborn to 18 yr olds that are looking to us right now to see their emotion, to embrace their actions and reactions, and to respond in ways that promote faith, grace, and health.
How can we do that?
There are many ways and I am not a mental health expert or a licensed counselor so I do not want to overstep my own space as a minister and a mom. I will provide a list of sites at the end of this post that I have found helpful. But as a minister and a mom who believes in the power of intergenerational community and the love of God, I offer a few ideas that might be helpful as we reflect on this holy call.
Surround your kids with positive influences
Now more than ever, we have the opportunity to create spaces for our children that we can have some control over. Connect with fellow adults you trust and invite them to build relationships with your children so that they have people to go to with their questions and fears besides you. Your faith community should be a place where your children know that they are loved and prayed for.
I often ask my kids to name five adults besides mom and dad that they know love them and pray for them; if they can’t, I start looking for people to fill that role so that they always know they are a part of a community that cares.
Plan your Action instead of Reaction
When emotions are high, it is easy to react instead of act. Something happens, words get said, tempers erupt, tears fall and everyone leaves feeling worse than when things started. It is always better to have an action plan than to fall prey to reacting.
Start with prayer, on our own, every day, and with a community praying with you if possible. If you are at a loss for words, I cannot recommend using the book of Psalms as a guide for prayer and for wisdom enough. As we ask God to go before us in meeting our children in their emotional needs, the Spirit will prepare our hearts for action and their hearts to receive.
Some ideas for an older child/teen could be saying things like, “I know you are feeling a lot of emotion right now and I want to respond well. Let’s talk in 15 minutes once we are both less emotional.” For a younger child, often a few minutes of snuggling or a distraction such as a book or toy or praying with them. A little bit of time can go a long way in mitigating emotional outbursts that later on we might regret.
Acknowledge the Unknown, Point to the Known
With so much uncertainty in our daily lives, it can feel like the unknown is looming around every turn. Will there be school or won’t there? Will we get to go to the church building or worship from home? When can I see my friends? What is vacation going to look like? Each day there are questions without answers and that can be emotionally draining for adults and children alike.
Pretending all of that doesn’t exist or ignoring the dilemmas raised by these questions doesn’t make the stress disappear. It is better for us to acknowledge that there is a lot we don’t know…but don’t leave it there. Take them time to remind your children what we do know!
We know that God loves us and that He will take care of us.
We know that we belong to a family that loves us and a bigger faith family who is praying with us.
We know that God promises to be with us always as Immanuel, God with us.
We know that God is big enough to handle our doubts, questions, and unbridled emotions and still love us unconditionally.
We know that laughter and joy still ring out across the world; that good things are happening, that people are still serving others and speaking up for the oppressed and ministering to the marginalized and we can be part of that – we can serve and share life and light with this world.
And as parents, grandparents, friends, and ministers, we can do all of that, starting in our own homes and our own congregation with the next generation who desperately need to know we are here for them.
Resources for Parents
- Helping Children Cope: Information from the CDC
- Tip Sheet from Wheaton College for “How to talk to Kids about Covid-19”
- HELP FOR FAMILIES DURING THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS from Focus on the Family.
- Parent/Caregiver Guide from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network
For more information about
- Kids in Worship
- Determining which Type of Family Ministry model works best for your church
- Discipleship in Intergenerational community
- Encouraging the continued conversation through Practical Discipleship at Home
- Seminars, Workshops, Coaching
About this Blog
Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. She also serves as the Minister of Generational Discipleship with the Great Lakes Conference of the Brethren in Christ.
With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed.