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Dr. Daniel Siegel, psychiatrist and author, defines trauma as anything that overwhelms the capacity to cope. We know an ever-changing world, with the unknown and lack of routine, may trigger employees who have experienced past trauma, and may trigger the children within their homes. How can we help them not only manage their remote working logistics, but also the emotional toll this crisis extracts?
Children take cues from the adults in their life on how to cope with their environment. This establishes co-regulation and, over time, builds a child’s ability to self-regulate. Self-regulation allows a child to manage emotion, control impulses, recover from distress, and maintain attention and focus without the help of another person. However, when someone has experienced trauma — like what is happening all around the world right now — there is a heightened response to distress and a tendency towards dysregulation.
Because you desire a healthy home in which employees can rest and remain productive, consider sharing these trauma-informed principles to guide them in leading their households through COVID-19. When we are intentional and address the emotional needs of others, we can be a non-anxious presence!
- Stress weakens our immune system, making us more susceptible to illness. In the midst of all our hand-washing, we can pay attention to the tone of our voices and the condition of our hearts, asking ourselves: Am I taking care of myself? Am I adding to, or reducing, the levels of the stress in my home?
- A dehydrated brain is an irritated brain. Drinking water is a great way to flush our system and is an infection-preventing practice. We also know hydration is an effective intervention for aggression. Am I paying attention to how much water I am drinking?
- Connection helps regulate emotions. This is a great opportunity to use discretionary time and establish connection with close friends and family. Am I looking more at the people I live with, or at a screen? How well am I listening to their concerns and ideas?
- Families stick together. Let children know if one person in your household is sick, they won’t be alone. Isolation can be an emotional trigger for both children and adults, so “social distancing” and “quarantine” are words that might produce anxiety. When left without a plan, children write their own narratives. Having a strategy for what happens if someone does get sick, will go a long way towards minimizing stress.
- A regulated parent helps inform a child’s response in any new and unsure circumstance. Staying calm when talking about the situation is critical. When the adult has big feelings, the children follow, so ask yourself: When my emotions are out of control and I feel dysregulated, what can I do? Who can I share them with safely? What information do I need? What is my own pathway to regulation?
- Maintaining routine increases felt safety. We need to do all we can to keep activities predictable, so adults and children sense stability. Have a plan for the day, and communicate it the night before, so everyone can “wake up and know” the expectation. Even simple details like meal planning will give the day a sense of certainty.
- Carefully explain changes. Make sure children have warning and explanation on what to expect, whether it’s about school, vacation, or childcare. The situation is rapidly changing and all the uncertainty can cause even otherwise emotionally healthy children to feel insecure. Answer their questions, give them time to grieve what they are missing, and infuse your language with a gratitude that what you are experiencing, you are experiencing together.
- Be fully present and actively listen to one another. It’s important to take the time to hear your household’s concerns and answer their questions with developmentally appropriate answers. We know from science, that being heard by someone who has given you their full attention, and is without judgement, is profoundly healing. This is one significant way we can redeem all the time this outbreak has robbed from us: if we come out on the other end being better listeners and feeling heard, we will be healthier for it.
- Limit your children’s viewing of the media coverage. Children may not understand what they see or hear, so let their information come from you. It’s tempting to watch news coverage throughout the day, but there’s a difference between hearing something an authority is disseminating and something an “expert” is expressing. There are lots of experts being interviewed about how, what, when and where this will impact us next. Sorting through all the information overload can increase stress in the household. Determine what is healthy for your family, and limit what is consumed.
- Offer your family choices. At a time when some things in life may feel out of our control, offering our family members choices can help. What should we have for dinner? Do you want to eat it at the table or picnic style in the living room? Do you want to take a walk, or a drive, or a bike ride?
This is a season when we are learning nationally how critical “we” is over “me.” We are making choices for the greater good: we are sacrificing so everyone is safer. It would be a waste to stretch those muscles for the benefit of those outside our home and then ignore the needs of those most important to us. This virus is costing a lot. We should demand something of value in return, which is empathy for others, connection with family, an outward focus.
These are gifts we can appreciate for the rest of our lives, long after COVID-19 has become a memory