I have, however, come out of self enforced silence for Mental Health Awareness Week. It's a topic I've posted about many times before. This time, however, I'm look at it from the perspective of children's mental health. It's been almost 2 months now that I have been at home with my two boys and it's given me pause for thought. Adults are struggling to make sense of the situation we find ourselves in and yet we are expecting children to accept it because we tell them to. How must it feel for them to be told that they can't go to school, see their friends or family ? Do we honestly expect them to be ok with not going to the park, or playing football or swimming ? We are fortunate to have a garden and lots of outdoor spaces within walking distance that are safe to visit during lockdown. They boys have explored woodlands, visited open spaces and played hide and seek in parks. They haven't been playing football, or going to McDonalds, or watching football as they would usually do on a Saturday, They haven't played with their friends and they can't go and see grandparents or aunties and uncles.
At the start of all this it was quite unnerving not knowing what would happen or how long it would go on for. Then we fell into a routine on 'school' days so the weekends still meant something. I prepare meals for my boys - and have got better at making chapatis for which we are all grateful. We spend time watching movies together. I put them to bed every night (with varying degrees of success) and we video call my parents most days so they get to see the kids. A few afternoons in the week I get a few hours to myself so I usually go to get food shopping or sometimes I will take the time to go for a walk. They've had ice cream a lot more than usual and are growing at a rate that is alarming (although perfectly natural of course).
On the surface this all appears to be ok, but so many small things make it obvious that things are not fine. They aren't at all tired like they would be if they went to school so they don't sleep as easily. Even if they do fall asleep it can be fitful and with upsetting dreams. The day to day communication can be fractured and grouchy at times - I mean being around each other pretty much all the time will do that to you won't it ? There has been one significant change for me, however, that has been incredible. The closeness that has developed between us. Ok, so the school stuff is mostly, "I don't want to do it." "Why can't we go back to school ?" "You're not my teacher." However, when we go for a walk there is often a moment when one or other of them will open up and talk to me about how they are feeling. It reminds me of the classic talking to a parent while in the car or washing up. If you don't have to look at them in the eye it makes it easier to say difficult things.
The movie Inside Out has helped my boys find names for their 'big' feelings and it's a useful tag to be able to refer to movie character when talking about feeling 'angry' 'afraid' 'sad' or 'confused.' Before we had all this time together I was at work full time and didn't see them for more than a few hours a day. The space for us to talk or for them to feel safe to open up to me wasn't there. We have built trust and a foundation which I hope means they will still talk to me when we do go back to school and work.
As a shared experience of parenting our children through a crisis so many friends have been talking about how they are struggling. Children acting out, being out of sorts or shutting down. We are all experiencing behaviours that are difficult to deal with on an almost daily basis. This might include anger, tantrums, refusal to listen or plain non co-operation. It's hardly surprising when the adults around them are tense and frightened too. A friend of mine who is a teaching assistant was talking to me about how they are preparing for children to return to school and she talked about dealing with their 'collective trauma.' That is the closest estimation to what I can imagine this is for them and how terrifying that must be for a child.
In the process of becoming an adopter I have attended courses to help support my sons and to enable me to deal with potential problems along the way. These have included training in attachment, early life trauma and a programme called 'non-violent resistance.' All skills that have been deployed in the weeks that we have been at home together. Once again I am so very grateful that I have had the experience of learning about childhood trauma and have considered the potential causes and some ways to support children with trauma. I don't profess to have any skill or expertise in any of these areas, I just have some tools in the bag that I can use when things happen that are difficult.
This is such an immensely strange time and it is hardly surprising that our children are struggling with making sense of it. Just for now though know this:
- you are enough
- it is no one else's business how you do this
- we all have bad days, don't punish yourself