It’s the Christmas season for our family. A joyful time of hope and good cheer. Here in New Zealand, it’s also the eight-week long summer holidays. It is a wonderful, relaxed time of the year – but it will also inevitably bring times of sugar overload, tiredness and high emotion. I imagine emotions may run particularly high in those parts of the world where Christmas will be different this year due to Covid-19 lockdowns.
Parenting is something we tend to learn as we go along and, like everything, get better at over time. Learning that children are predominantly driven by their emotional brains until around the age of 7, rather than their frontal cortex, is something that has really helped me. As New Zealand neuroscience educator, Nathan Wallis, says:
“With this in mind, ‘emotional processing’ is about engaging with the child’s emotional brain – that is, being responsive, loving and empathic. First and foremost, says Nathan, it’s about “validating their emotions by naming them”: I can see you are feeling really frustrated because he is having a turn before you.“
Knowing this, I have become much better at patiently validating my children’s emotions. I try to sit with their emotion, name it for them, and let it be ok.
Research shows that the simple act of acknowledging and naming emotions actually makes you feel better in itself. After you’ve acknowledged the loss or hard feeling, you can then move forward to re-frame the situation in a positive way, or attempt to teach a more logic-driven coping mechanism.
We can’t prevent hard things happening for our children. In fact, it is likely better that some hard things happen to them while we are still around to guide them through the various emotions life’s sufferings bring, and teach them the skills to manage.
According to pediatric psychologist Parker Huston: “Parents should take heart that kids have the ability to be incredibly resilient with the right support.” He also advises that parents should remember to practice gratitude, which is proven to strengthen mental health in both children and adults.
For those parents in lock-down, once you’ve acknowledged and processed the loss of freedom this year, maybe a low-key holiday is an excellent opportunity to simplify things this year and enjoy quality time as a family over board-games, teaching your children to cook some family Christmas recipes or snuggling up with family Christmas movies.
Most of all, let it be a time to show your unconditional parental love – your best and most important parenting tool.