I'm Helping My Children Celebrate Their Way Out of Lock-Down Anxiety

Nini Mappo
Posted September 11, 2020 from Kenya
My 3 year-old-son has the boom gates of his toy rail down during play, to stop the virus entry into our home.

 

"It is easier to build stronger children than heal broken adults" is a deeply illuminating statement I read yesterday from our dear Karen's raw, heartbreaking account of the abuse she experienced in childhood. That motivated me to share this story on the often overlooked topic, of children's mental health. I hadn't shared it because it's an old story, and  I've been moving on from dwelling too much on Covid-19, but it might be relevant to someone here.

News of Melbourne’s second lock-down increased my children’s Covid-19 induced anxiety, requiring parenting creativity in how we dealt with it. With trembling lips, our 5-year-old put down his dinner spoon, stared teary eyed at his dad and said: “I don’t understand why there is no more school. There was no virus at school when we left”. It was hard to engage that sad, questioning face with its intense frustration, and not mirror its tears. That was the end of dinner. It would be the end to a lot of things, for what would seem like a long, long time.

When children are anxious, they don’t tell you. They show you.

 

Children have a life too

Imagine yourself a child,with school to go to, friends to play-date, cousins to visit, grandparents to bring unexpected treats, monkey bars to climb and aunties to read with. Perhaps you enjoy ballet or riding lessons, kicking a ball with friends, and visits to the aquarium, where the graceful strokes of swimming sea creatures mesmerise you.

If you were a child with plans, and life stopped without warning, would your mental health be affected?

 

 

Behavioural indicators of probable anxiety

The answers may vary depending on the child and their age.

For my two children under six, their anxiety came across as confusion, frustration, and irritability. They complained often, suffered poor sleep and experienced nightmares . They fought more over small things and big things too, like their parents’ attention. It is how they sought comfort, to bring an iota of reassurance to their unspoken anxieties.

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Since they were nursing an undercurrent of stress, they asked for treats more often, and cried with every denied request. Perhaps every ‘no’ reminded them of what had been denied them, by an invisible virus.

When I thought of it, my kids were acting like the rest of the population: fighting to control what they thought they still had control over. Sadly, many people may not consider children’s feelings. Some may not even consider that children feel much, because children don’t often express their feelings.

 

My kids were acting like the rest of the population, fighting to control what they thought they still had control over.

 

My children tried hard to fix this invisible problem.Every creature that scuttled past was the virus. There would be calls to squash it dead so that we could resume life. There would be boom gates on toy train tracks blocking the virus entry, so we could be safe. Observing their attempts at Covid-19 solutions made me realise that children want the same things adults want. Mine did.

The threat of the virus seemed greater in their mind than it was in the real world, because they didn’t understand. They felt vulnerable, and the adults they relied on for answers had none.

 

Observing their attempts at Covid-19 solutions, I realised that children want the same things adults want. Mine did.

 

When they discovered that the government could not see us, they suggested we disobey the government and visit family and friends. Although hearing this suggestion was heartbreaking, it opened my mind to the turmoil in my children’s young minds. Life is tough when you don’t understand.

It is very easy to ignore children’s mental health, because they seldom express their emotions verbally. But I find that failing to address theirs affects my mental health as well. We are interdependent; when they are happy, I am unflustered.

 

Why increased anxiety

Up until Covid 19’s disruption of social life, our home was a corridor. Frequent visitors gave the children much to anticipate. For our children, visitors were a platform for living and learning. Guests meant hugs. Play. Reading with. Interactive audience for new skills and tricks. Dinners and dessert. Love.

Having that snatched away without warning brought anxiety. Big conversations, explanations and reassurances ensued, leading to acceptance. But six weeks is a long time in the life of a child, and eventually called for lock-down problem-solving 5-year-old style; ‘let us disobey the government or find the virus and squash it!’

 

When young children are anxious, they may not express it. While adults may have a set of rituals to reclaim balance when we feeling overwhelmed, young children must rely on our sensitivity, and compassion.

 

For our family, the suddenness of the second Melbourne lock-down snatched with it a lineup of dinners with old friends, play-dates, and school. A few days in, the children’s unspoken anxieties would start to present in aforementioned behaviours.

On the same breath our five-year-old mourned the loss of school, he asked how far December was, to gauge if the virus would be gone. He feared having to forfeit the annual week-long get together with his cousins in December, if Covid-19 had not been contained. Looking at our son’s crumpling face made us brainstorm on ways we could keep life lively and unpredictable, during six weeks of severe stage four restrictions.

Here was a five-year-old counting his losses, anticipating more loss, grieving, hoping. Winter had just gotten longer.

About a week later, the solution came in an unlikely concept during a crisis; celebrate the goodness of God.

 

Why celebrate

In celebration mode, ours and the children’s job has been to scout for anything worth celebrating, gathered from online conversations with family and friends, and from our daily life. We discuss which of our findings are worth celebrating, vote, and plan our celebration.

In celebrating, we are pushing against the surge of negative psycho-emotional energy as is often the case during crises, and winning.

 

We celebrate any good news from people we know. We celebrate independence, leadership, and innovation in schoolwork. We celebrate exceptional resilience when hurt during play. When a child demonstrates responsibility in self-care or care of family members, we celebrate. We celebrate trees, flowers, clouds, rain. When we discover new creatures never seen before on our neighbourhood romps, we celebrate.

Celebrating affords us something positive to occupy our minds. It means treats, desserts and meal requests, joy. It means special activities and extra quality time. More importantly, celebrating disrupts lock-down monotony by giving us something to look forward to.

Building a culture of celebration compels us to continually analyse our lives for things we can be grateful for. While looking for gratitude, we spend less time finding fault with life, and complaining.

Celebrating does not take away all the anxiety. It does not bring visitors. But it detracts the children’s dwelling on their losses too much. Their restored excitement, improved sleep and emotional stability, and less requests for e-meetings are evidence.

In the coming week, two celebrations are lined up. A friend in South East Asia recently found a great job, after more than a year of unemployment. It will be big, with disco lights and music for a jig.

The second in line is very close to the family. Our 8-month-old-infant can finally tolerate bovine dairy, and I spy pizza and ice-cream a plenty for that celebration.

While we occupy our minds with our search for gratitude, we reduce time and emotional drain spent complaining.

Celebrating may not work for every family, but as parents and carers, we can deploy creativity to help our children navigate their Covid anxieties. This might be as simple as remembering that children want the same things that adults want, and for these, they rely on our insight and compassion.

I do not claim expertise in parenting, or parenting through this Covid-19 crisis. I am simply sharing what I have learnt as I observe my children, grieve for their confusion and try to distract them from their losses.

The Victorian battle against a worse second wave of Covid-19 is unabated, making return to ‘normal’ far out of view. We need good news to celebrate, and remember we’re in the centre of life.

For our children, if it comes in peals of thunder and raindrops dancing on the roof, we’ll celebrate.

Thank you, for reading. Stay sparkly, always:)

This story was submitted in response to Dispatches from the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Comments 13

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Jill Langhus
Sep 12
Sep 12

Hello Lovely Nini,

How are you doing, dear? Rumor has it on the street that you're been very busy, indeed:-)

What a great story, as all yours' are:-) I think it's great that you're stressing the importance of children's mental health. I think you're right that it's quite often overlooked, and I also think it's a great strategy, and coping mechanism, to focus on gratitude and celebration, too. Thanks so much for sharing.

Hope you have a good, rest of your weekend, and that you all stay safe and well:-)

XX

Nini Mappo
Sep 15
Sep 15

Thank you Jill :) I have three kids, of course I'm busy ha ha;-)
But yes, I feel very busy lately. On top of everything else, I was telling a friend that I am suffering from a creativity burn, where there are too many thoughts I want to write down but don't have the time. Unfortunately my mind (and consequently body) cannot rest with those thoughts running wild. I told Tim I need a day off to write down stuff!
Yes I was very surprised and thankful at how well celebrating worked. I do feel sorry for children. I think that they are the most misunderstood lot in the world. I have resolved that, God helping me, I will try to understand my children, let them know it's OK to talk about stuff, and even if they don't know what to say, I understand.
I thank God for wisdom to parent, really. The more I engage with my kids, the more I realise that we're all fumbling about, that our parents were just fumbling about as well.
Thank you for reading our exploits, and for the encouragement.
All the best for the rest of your week :)

Jill Langhus
Sep 16
Sep 16

You're welcome! Yeah, I bet. I don't know how you do it!

Oh, wow. Looking forward to seeing what you create, then.

Quite possibly:-(

You, too, dear.

XX

Andrace
Sep 13
Sep 13

That's true, Nini. We care about the kids, but their mental health is often overlooked. Truly, they have a life too. Remember how stuff played out when we were children...the disappointments, anxieties and all? Thank you for the insights.

I like the 'celebration' part most. How often we gloss over His little mercies. I tell you, waking up in the morning and being able to get out of bed in addition, is worth celebrating. Thank you for bringing these and more to the fore again.

Kisses and hugs to your bundles of joy.:)

'Love you,

Your Sis,
E. J.

Nini Mappo
Sep 15
Sep 15

Thank you for reading our stories E.J. Our experience proves that the old adage of 'count your blessings' is really a great cure for self pity and complaining. I thank God for the ideas. Thank you for the love sis, and for my babies too :-)

Cat80
Sep 15
Sep 15

Nini your children are very lucky to have such a lovely, intelligent mother. I can't imagine what life is like for little children right now. My children are older and in big school and although they have Anxiety too, I can talk to them and ease their fears (hopefully). Thank you so much for sharing.

Nini Mappo
Sep 22
Sep 22

Thank you, Cat. I hope that my children know how blessed they are to have me enough to listen to everything I tell them for a sweat-free parenting, ha ha ha :-D
Good on you for being emotionally aware and available to your children too. As long as they feel understood, and that you are accessible, then they can always talk when they need to.
All the best fellow mama :)

Kabahenda
Sep 18
Sep 18

Hello Nini,

Thank you very much for sharing your story with us. It clearly highlights what most children are going through and of course, their anxieties and stresses rub out on their parents who have to manage them for the children first and then for themselves.
I am glad that you are a parent who is aware and who is keeping a close eye on the mental health of your children.

Your children are blessed to have a wise mother who is also creative and who finds ways to keep them engaged.

The love and friendship that you share with your children is itself a healing tonic. Having a family as young as yours has its own stresses, but I am encouraged to see the positive way you are responding to the situation.

Five and three year olds are always busy and they have a way of keeping you entertained by bringing a smile or laughter in your life such that you can never get bored.

Keep celebrating. Keep smiling and enjoy the joy of parenting.

Nini Mappo
Sep 22
Sep 22

Hello dear Kabahenda,
I appreciate your continued encouragement. I was brought up with the harsh village parenting style, and then I taught early years before I had kids, which taught me a few things I should say.
But I always thank God for wisdom, and helping me speak the children's language, and admit when I am wrong. Plenty to keep me humble in parenting I would say ha ha .
And you are right, they are so much fun :)

Hello, Nini Love,

I was able to include this post on the COVID report. :) I love this post so much. Thank you for acknowledging my childhood story.

I am mindful of my children's mental health, too. After I have gone through, I made mental health a top priority for my little ones more than their achievements. That's one reason why I decided to be their caretaker. I wanted to connect with them, to listen to them, to let them feel it is safe to be who they are. I am doing my best to break the cycle of child abuse, by God's grace. I earnestly pray that they grow up to be strong adults with no mental health issues.

I love that you have established a culture of celebration at home. You are such a wonderful mother. I'm so amazed at how you are doing all of the things you do, dear. You excel in everything you do. What an inspiration you are! Keep on keeping on, dear Nini. Continue to be the light at home, and in the World.

Fun fact: In the Philippines, we call mothers, "Ilaw ng tahanan" (Loose translation will be "light at home" or "light inside the house"). May your light from your home be a shining light to the nations. As you always say, "Stay sparky!", Stay YOU!

Thank you for everything, dear. My eyes burst in tears every time I remember you. Salamat!

Nini Mappo
Sep 29
Sep 29

Hello dear Kaye :)
Oh wow, thank you! it made me wonder what you said in the report...mmmhh.
I have every faith in you as a mum Kaye, you understand others so well and are always reaching out to heal, to comfort, to redirect from discouragement, to infuse with hope, to nurture. And your children get to enjoy that everyday. They are blessed! God bless your motherhood, too :)
Ha ha, yes, celebration is such a hit, honestly, I don't know why it makes the little people so happy! We have decided to start celebrating their values too, as part of training them in godly character. The future is celebration (in heaven) anyway, so I guess we're starting early, or heaven on earth!
Aww that's so special that mums are light in the home. Lets' keep sparkling then, he hee :)

jomarieb.earth
Oct 20
Oct 20

Dearest Nini, I love this share of yours. I am not a parent. But I'm a product of parents. And I am the third of 7 children growing up, relying on each other.
We were taught daily survival skills that took "time" everyday to improve, be praised and perfect. We all started at the age of 5, a very young age.
There were/are so many things to learn. And as a result, so much to celebrate. At the age of 5 we were taught to make up our beds. Put our toys away neatly everyday. Now they can be wiped down as well. Sweep the floor. Set the table. Clean the kitchen sink. Whisk the eggs for scrambling. Stir the batter for pancakes. Whisk heavy cream into butter, add a dash of salt and spread it on crackers. Fold clothes and put them in the drawers. And change a #1 diaper of a sibling. Just to name a few. These are chores of survival, helping the family, creating participation in necessary tasks, and on a schedule. All something to celebrate. You might already be there, but the simple chores of everyday also provide structure, contribution and self worth. Adults need it, and so do kids. A schedule also creates anticipation, instead of trying to fill time, as well as accountability. I don't claim any expertise, but I've been in the world for a while. You don't have to be strict, like my parents were, but loving praise for a job well done is priceless. So here's my 2 cents worth. LOL!
Hugs...JoMarie

Nini Mappo
Oct 23
Oct 23

Hello JoMarie:)
Thank you for sharing your parent's wise approach to benefit my parenthood, and also my children's childhood. I like your reference to chores of survival, which unfortunately some parents miss sight of in the need to continuously serve their children and in so doing, inadvertently impoverish them socially.
Even though my children (3 going 4 and 5 going 6) already to a lot of their self care and house-chores, it is still encouraging to be affirmed by your experiences, so thank you. Haven't gotten to the diaper changing though.
The other day I was recounting the qualities of my three year old and seemed to miss a very important one : that according to him, he's very good at helping with cakes! Very important detail for a treat-wise kiddo. It's really impressive that you remember and appreciate so much of how you were raised. Good on you, for honouring them.
And by the way, there are no parenting experts, despite what the books said. Experts tend to be so only with other people's children, and fumble and flounder as much as everyone else with theirs. I think because character building it requires continuous presence and reinforcement, which works well in books but life is not that streamlined.
Anyway, I'm just saying no need to apologise, and thank you for your vulnerability in choosing to enrich my family with your experiences. Please feel free to share any time. Parenting tips are always in vogue!