Caring and Being Cared For
In tough times—and in all times—there are people who can help us handle big feelings, by talking with us, by listening to us, and by caring.
These are extraordinary times. Separated from our usual routines and from interacting with other people the way we usually do, it’s essential that we develop a network of caring people to lean on, as well as some alternative ways of connecting with them.
There are always going to be challenging times in your life, times when you’re faced with big changes and big adjustments, times when you feel overwhelmed and anxious. We’re living through that kind of time right now.
Admitting that you need help from other people isn’t always easy, for children or for adults. Asking for that help isn’t always easy either. We may believe that it’s important to always be strong and independent. We may be embarrassed to feel like we need help from outside. But everyone needs the support of caring people from time to time. That’s why it’s important to develop the skills of knowing how to ask, and who to ask. Below are some ideas that might be helpful to and your family.
Everyone needs a hand
In difficult times, be on the lookout for signs that your child may need some extra support. Thumb-sucking, new fears about monsters, changing eating or sleeping habits, withdrawn behavior: these may all be signs that something is amiss. If you see there’s a problem, you may not want to wait for your child to bring it up. You can:
- Validate your child’s feelings. Acknowledge that things are indeed different, difficult, even weird. Remind your child that hard times will pass. Ask: Do you remember another time when things were tough? And then it was over.
- Talk about the people who are working hard to make things better again. Your child has many caring people in her life who are close to her; but there are also lots of caring people she doesn’t even know, like the doctors and nurses who are taking care of people who get sick, and the researchers who are working on a cure for the virus.
- Reframe asking for help as a strength, not a weakness—as an important life skill. There are times when we are the helpers, and other times when we are the ones who need help. Emphasize that everyone in the world goes through difficult times when they need extra help from caring people.
- Share times when you yourself were overwhelmed or stuck and needed extra support from others. You are your child’s best role model. It’s actually good for them to see that you too are vulnerable.
Step by step
Be a good listener: Ask your child what he or she is worrying about. What is the problem? What help is needed?
Now brainstorm the right person to go to. It may be you, as a parent. But recognize that you won’t always be the one with all the answers! It could be that a grandparent, a teacher, a caretaker, a trusted friend, or an older sibling is the best choice for a certain issue. Different people have different strengths. Why is this particular person the best choice?
Remember that it’s not “one and done.” Help and reassurance need to be given over and over again.
Once you’ve identified the caring person, make sure there are specific opportunities to connect. Maybe it’s a once-a-week video session with a grandparent, or a mother-daughter walk each day before dinner.
Whoever and whenever it is, the caring person should give his or her complete attention. No devices or distractions!
Making it real
Here are some additional caring activities that may help:
- Encourage your child to keep a journal. He can note things to look forward to when it’s time to return to the usual routine. Or she can observe those things, even in these difficult times, that are actually even better. Perhaps the family spends more time together, or gets to sleep late. Maybe there’s a new puppy to play with!
- Find a “worry object”–maybe a beanbag, or a drawing of a frowning face, or a small stone–to pass along to a caring person when there’s simply too much to handle. It may help to symbolically let someone else carry the load for a little while.
- Remind your child to thank the caring person for his or her support. It could be a note, an email, a colorful drawing, or a phone call—but everyone likes being appreciated.
Children can be caring people, too
It may make your child feel stronger and more capable to realize that he or she can also be a caring person. Helping others often helps the helper feel better, too. Encourage your child to:
- Be a good listener, giving full attention to the speaker.
- Be generous with helping others. Ask: Does it help you when grandma calls? If so, why not give her a call yourself? Is there a neighbor who might benefit from a colorful homemade drawing?
- Think of caring as a chain that stretches from person to person. Help your child think of ways to pass the caring on!