By Becky Harling, Crosswalk.com
Recently I had to cancel a special date with one of my granddaughters. We had planned to have a sleepover, bake Christmas cookies, and make holiday crafts. My cancellation caused a huge meltdown in my sweet granddaughter. She sobbed, “I’m afraid Christmas is going to be ruined this year because of COVID.” I had to cancel plans because of a cold and not wanting to take any chances, but it triggered the huge fear lying beneath the surface of my granddaughter’s heart. My precious granddaughter is not alone.
According to research, the uncertainty of the COVID pandemic is contributing to rising anxiety in kids. As schools opened and then shut down again, and online learning replaced normal routines, kids have felt the impact. The CDC says atress, depression, anxiety, and loneliness are all on the rise in children, teens, and adults. In the middle of this global crisis, how do we help our kids as they cope with worry, fear, and disappointment during the holidays? It takes so much wisdom, right?!
The wise writer of Proverbs wrote, “By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures” (Proverbs 24:3-4). When my husband, Steve, and I were raising our kids we chose this verse as our key verse for our family. I love the phrase, “through understanding it is established.” The idea is of something toppled over being lovingly reset. Here’s the thing: during this global pandemic, a lot of emotions are toppling your kids. How do you help reset toppled emotions, especially during the holiday season?
6 Ways You Can Help Your Child Cope
1. Offer Empathy. Too often I have heard Christian parents “correct” or try to “fix” their child’s feelings. In all honesty, I did that a time or two as a parent. Scolding your child for their feelings will do nothing to alleviate their anxiety. It will only encourage them to withdraw from you. Now more than ever you want your child to feel a deep connection with you. This was God’s heart when He sent Jesus.
Jesus is the greatest example we have of empathy. He left the glories of heaven to walk in our shoes (Philippians 2:5-8). To be empathic means you will seek to understand. Some have described it as walking in another person’s shoes. Think about it. That is exactly what Jesus did. He crossed the distance to connect with us – coming to earth as an infant and dying on the cross for our sins. Your child’s feelings are real. Let them know through your words and actions that it is okay to feel. Listen to them to build a bridge to their heart. Focus on understanding. Validate and let them know their feelings make sense to you. Then, together, work out a plan to move forward. Ask, “What can I do to help you?”
2. Seek Connection. With all the stress and anxiety of rising COVID numbers, kids need to feel bonded and connected. One way to build connection is through play. Whether playing board games, throwing a football, or playing cars and trucks, laughing and having fun together as a family builds connection.
One of the best ways to connect is to be present and check in. Toddlers often process their feelings through play. Train yourself to listen while they play. Grade school kids are more able to articulate what they are feeling, so make it a priority to have a sort of daily check in. Ask questions like, “How did you feel about online learning today? How do you feel about wearing a mask? How can we, as your parents, make this easier for you?” Similarly, check in with your teens. At times teens can be reluctant to share their feelings but let them know their feelings – whatever they are – are safe with you. Learning to gently ask questions without interrogating will help them open up. Put some effort into figuring out when they talk the most and follow their lead. If they talk best in the car, do a grocery store pick up together. The point is to do everything you can to build a bridge to your child’s heart during this wonky season.
4. Establish Routines. With all the uncertainty upsetting normal family life, it is important to establish some routines at home that kids can count on. Routine often helps kids feel safe. One of those routines might be dinner together. Make family meals fun. One family I know has each child in the family share their “happy and crappy” of each day. By using the terms “happy and crappy” kids are given permission to share about the highs and lows of their day.
Another routine, depending on the age of your kids, is to read to them each night before bed. During the holidays there are great Christmas themed books like The Worst Christmas Pageant Ever or The Chronicles of Narnia for older kids. Use it as a time to relax as a family.
5. Manage Your Own Stress. Many of you are likely trying to manage keeping up with your job, while at the same time overseeing online learning. At the same time, every other news report is doom, gloom, and despair. You can feel the anxiety in the air!
Jesus came as the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). When life is pulling you in a thousand directions and your home feels chaotic and out of control, pause. Breathe. Silently whisper, “Jesus, you are my Prince of Peace.” When I feel anxious, I practice spiritual breathing. I literally imagine myself exhaling stress and inhaling the peace that the Holy Spirit offers. Next time it’s all falling apart in your house, pause and exhale all the stress and inhale the peace of Christ.
6. Keep Christ Central. With all the uncertainty this season, it is important that you – without preaching – keep Christ central in your home. Let your kids know that Jesus never changes. His love is as certain as the day is long. He is for them and will always be available to them. He came because He loves them endlessly.
Make prayer be a normal part of your home life. And when praying for your kids, use Scripture. The power of praying God’s Word over your kids is huge. Choose specific verses for each child and pray those verses over that child. When our kids were little, not only did we tuck them into bed at night with a prayer, but if I knew they were struggling in some area of life, I often snuck into their rooms long after they were asleep. I would get on my knees in their room and interceded on their behalf using God’s Word.
This is a season of uncertainty. We are in the middle of a global crisis. Your kids are surely feeling the anxiety that seems to hit from every side. Take some time today to think through how you as a parent might offer empathy, strengthen your connection, manage your own stress, and keep Christ central so that your home becomes a safe place of calm for your kids.
Here is a prayer you might want to pray:
Lord Jesus, I realize that I am stressed out and a bit anxious, so it makes sense that my kids are. Show me today how to let the peace of Christ rule in my heart so that it will overflow to my kids. Help me to listen attentively today and offer empathy so that my kids will feel safe and loved in our home.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Wavebreakmedia
Authentic. Passionate. Funny and Biblical all describe Becky Harling. A best-selling author, Becky is a popular speaker at conferences, retreats, and other events. She is the author of 11 books and her most recent book, How to Listen so Your Kids Will Talk has become a favorite among parents. Becky is a certified coach with the John Maxwell Team and offers coaching for pastor’s wives who are struggling in ministry. You can connect with Becky at www.beckyharling.com, www.harlingleadership.com, Facebook https://www.facebook.com/beckyharlingministries, Twitter, @beckyharling, or on Instagram at Becky Harling
This article is part of our larger Christmas and Advent resource library centered around the events leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ!
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