2 Essentials for Parenting Through Chaos
Stressed parents. Frazzled teachers. News stories droning in the background about rising death tolls, breakthrough infections, and society in chaos.
When one child is in crisis, the community can come together and help them through. When all of us are in crisis, those resources are thin on the ground, and many more kids fall through the cracks.
You can see our collective strain when the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association issued a joint declaration that children are experiencing a mental health emergency.
No, it’s not just your family.
In this post, I focus on two core elements researchers have identified as touchstones that help children and adolescents thrive in the worst of times: structure and love.
Someone Who Is Crazy About You
In Making Human Beings Human, developmental psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner wrote that the single most important thing children need to grow into healthy, happy, productive adults is to have at least one adult who is “irrationally crazy” about them.
Unconditional love. No matter what the child does, they know that “irrational” adults will hold them close, accept them for who they are, help them to be better, and fight the world to keep them safe.
The thing that the children in your life need more than anything right now is for you to be that person for them.
Things are changing all the time. My students are trying to plan whether they will take a class in person or online two weeks from now so they know whether to make plane reservations and go home. And they don’t know.
The middle schoolers in my son’s classroom need to get to school in the morning so they can learn about geology, and stay warm, and get fed lunch. They hope that the bus driver will be there to pick them up and their math teacher will be there to tell dumb jokes and ask for their homework. But they don’t know.
Things are uncertain right now. That makes it critically important that children know one thing: that someone in their lives will love them no matter what and will fight to keep them safe. They need those “crazy” people in their lives. They need you.
A Rock to Hold Onto
One rock kids need to hold onto is love. Another is structure.
It has been easy — at least in my family — to let things slide during the long pandemic shutdown, the pajama days of remote schooling that stretched out way too long, and the weekdays, weekends, nights, and mornings that somehow all blend together.
Dinner time slides from 5:30 to whenever. We went from eating together at the table to together on the couch. To together in the house.
And that “no cell phone during meals” rule? Well…
That was a mistake. When things are stable and predictable, loosening up can be great. When you’re not sure what you can count on, what kids want is structure. There is a reason Mr. Rogers always began his show by walking in the door, putting on a sweater, and changing into his sneakers. There is a reason that “Sesame Street” has an instantly recognizable opening and ending and a completely predictable structure.
Structure and stability you can count on feeling good. Simple flexible rules. A clear schedule. Regular mealtimes. Ritual — getting dressed in the morning, doing chores and feeding the dog, a story at bedtime.
The things that kids need now are the same things they’ve always needed:
Adults who love them unconditionally People and surroundings that they can count on
Now more than ever.