Understanding your children's behaviour changes during Covid-19


1 May 2020|Child Development, Parenting Tips


Have you noticed that your children's behaviour has changed recently? Maybe they are a little more irritable, angry, frustrated or appear to be acting out to get more attention. They may seem slightly quieter or withdrawn or perhaps they appear to have regressed and have started sucking their thumb, being a little more clinging, not wanting to be alone or wanting to sleep in your bed at night. I would like to reassure you that these are all very normal reactions to times of uncertainty and crisis.

Just like us adults, our children have big feelings too, but they don't have the knowledge, understanding or language to be able to communicate their needs, wants and wishes, so they can easily become emotionally overwhelmed.  This is why we help make big feelings child-size, equipping parents/carers and professionals with the knowledge and understanding to become their children's Emotional Coach; whilst supporting children to become a Feelings Detective, learning how to N.A.M.E their feelings in healthy ways which stands for: Notice, Accept, Manage and Express.

Look behind the behaviour  All behaviour is communication of a big feeling or unmet need, try to look past the behaviour and see the smallness of your child experiencing something so big and overwhelming.  Anger can be the protector of more vulnerable feelings or the frustration of not being able to communicate something they don't understand like fear, sadness, sensory overload, tiredness, hunger, frustration, panic, embarrassment. The list can be endless but the way we approach every feeling is the same.

Try to keep your own feelings in check We help children learn from a young age that we all have a beautiful rainbow of feelings inside and every feeling is ok. If you can see the feelings first, rather than the behaviour, it can feel easier for you to be the much needed calm to their inner storm. Your frustration is not at your child's feelings but their behaviour and the way that they managed their feelings which is understandable. However, before children are able to manage their feelings, they first need to learn how to notice, label and accept every feeling as it comes. When we tell children off at this stage, we are teaching them that it's not ok to feel angry or any other feeling that may be present at the time. We start to perceive the feeling as being negative, it becomes really uncomfortable and so we tend to want to suppress it or push through it as quickly as possible. Viewing it in this way can also increase stress indicators which in turn can prompt the fight, flight or freeze response in our brain. The same is true for us as parents/carers and professionals. Our own discomfort with the feeling may lead us to try to suppress or rush through our children's feelings. Maybe to stop them crying, or try to calm them down as quickly as possible. When we view a child's feeling as negative, we naturally want to rush in and make it better as quickly as possible. Whilst this may work in the short term and they may stop crying or calm down in that moment, the feeling will still be there. Our feelings are there to keep us safe, but if we don't listen to their messages they start to pile up. The more that they pile up, the more sensitive we become to them and bigger we can feel them, this is when they can start to become unhealthy!

Connect and calm The chances are that your children will be feeling really overwhelmed. You will not be able to reason with them at this stage, instead you will need to support them to regulate their emotions. To do this they need connection, they need to know that it's ok to feel the way that they do and that you understand. When they feel emotionally safe, they will feel more able to release all of the feelings that are bubbling up inside of them and will start to feel calm and connected within. 

Talk, listen and learn together Once children are feeling calm and reconnected, you can then start to talk about what happened. This is the perfect opportunity for learning, explore the feelings that were hiding behind the behaviour, reminding them that it is absolutely ok to feel every feeling. You can share a time that you may have felt that way, so they can be reassured that everyone feels lots of different feelings every day and normalising them. Then you can talk through any unwanted behaviours and offer suggestions of how they can express those feelings and release them in a more appropriate way next time. Remind them that they can share any feeling, any time and that this doesn't have to be through words. Maybe they may like to draw the feeling, write it down or play it out with some toys. 

Make time for play Play is how children communicate, how they process feelings and how they make sense of the world around them. Play is so important for healthy brain development, social and emotional learning and communication amongst many other benefits and it is very much needed fun!.  Children need to play now more than ever, they need patience and understanding whilst they process everything that is happening around them and they need us to show them and reassure them that it is absolutely ok to feel every feeling. We are in the middle of a global pandemic. Everything we know is different and it is so important that children realise that what they are feeling is not only normal but is something that many other children and even us adults are feeling too. 

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Also, take a look at Feelings Detective - Sunny Kids Shine | Sunny Kids Shine

Sunny Kids Shine's online programme helps children learn to become a Feelings Detective with you as their Emotional Coach! BAPN members receive a 10% discount. Discount code can be found in the members-only portal of our website.

Stay safe and keep shining!



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