Fresh Insights on Corona Virus : What we can learn about ourselves and othersTelling someone who is scared not to be is about as supportive and effective as telling someone who is ranting to calm down.
It doesn’t work. It doesn’t help.
The thing about a big event like this pandemic is that it affects us. It restricts us. This invisible ‘thing’ is now the reason we cannot do what we want to do. We cannot live the way we want to. We cannot travel. We cannot work. We cannot go visit our family who may be sick. Even if we are not feeling the physical effects of the virus, many of us are feeling our lives be curtailed by this thing we didn’t see coming.
Some of us are ok with it.
Being calm is easy. Empathy abounds. We have no problem seeing ourselves as a significant member of our national / global community. We are flexible, resourceful, creative. Being logical is no big deal.
But for some of us it can leave us feeling overwhelmed. Feeling small. Feeling powerless.
And if there is any event back in the earlier pages of our life story where something happened that had us feeling these same feelings; small, overwhelmed, dis-empowered, then our current reality may well be accompanied by the music of that time. Our body instinctively moving the same dance: muscles extra tight. Our heart rate elevated. Our breathing quicker and our view of the world the same : not a happy or safe place to be. We have to give in. We want to hide.
We want to whisper “please don’t tell me to stop feeling scared. You have no idea of the nightmares that have been triggered in me. My body remembers… This is how things are. We are being overwhelmed by this ‘thing’. We can’t get away… it’s out to get us and it will. That’s just how it is.”
And for some of us it can leave us feeling on edge. Anxious. Wondering what is coming next. Waiting for the inevitable… next.
Because if there are moments, even far back in our story, where we lived this way before, where we were used to being on the look-out, waiting, anticipating the next bad thing to happen… we learnt that there is …. always… a next… And those harmonies will accompany our current experience. And our body will start that dance again… tight muscles, sweaty palms, racing thoughts, butterflies in the tummy and hyper-focusing on every detail of what is going on around us…
We want to beg “don’t tell me to not worry. Don’t tell me It’s nothing. I am scared, and my body remembers. I am at the mercy of this invisible force out to hurt us all. I need to watch its every move. Need to keep moving. To duck and dive, to run. I can smell it coming… my nightmares have begun again.”
And for some of us it can leave us feeling annoyed. Feeling angry. Feeling disrespected.
The echoes of not being noticed, not being honoured, from times gone by now pumping their revengeful war-dance through our entire system. We want to shout ”I will not be pushed around! I will not be dwarfed and belittled by this force. I will defend myself. Defend my rights. I will survive. I will do what it takes and keep moving. I am full of energy and I will shop and travel and keep living MY life on MY terms. I will make sure I am the bigger one this time! I cannot, will not, allow myself to do otherwise.”
You see for most of us right now – trying to be logical and explain facts will not help. We live from our nervous system state and if our body has us in a defense state (mobilise or shut down) then it is impossible to truly hear and comprehend facts. It is impossible to discern truth from hype. It is impossible for your brain to calm your body when your body memories have been a-woken and are screaming messages of un-safety at your brain.
So What CAN We Do now?
Let us not tell each other to calm down – but let’s lead ourselves. Let us be the change we want to see.
It is for each of us to really pay honest attention to our own response to this situation and extend ourselves some compassion and permission to listen to the music we are hearing. To listen out for the internal strains of fear, overwhelm, or defiance… To notice the dance we are doing in our body and quietly ask ourselves when we learnt those steps?
To consider what this experience reminds me of?
To pay attention to ourselves in a new and gentle way.
Because the truth is – it is unlikely we have actually lived this exact situation before.
The truth is that it just feels like we are unsafe now the way we were unsafe in the past…
Now we can notice ourselves and our body.
Now we can move – our arms and legs, we can get up, we can move from room to room, into the garden, or outside.
Now we can acknowledge the pent-up energy in our body and express it safely, or honour it and soothe it.
Now we can choose what we will focus on. We can listen to the story our body is singing and see where we may still need to befriend ourselves, to heal and to grow in order to bring that old music to a close.
Now we can reach out and connect with others who are safe for us. We can use technology and still benefit from their calming smile, their twinkly eyes, their soothing, honouring, respectful presence, and their ability to help us giggle our way to safety, and find logic and perspective again.
And when we are brought into a state of safety within, then and ONLY then, we can intentionally choose our own response to the way our life is being altered and find the good in it, the things we can be grateful for, the space, the time, the peace, the spontaneous fun.
Children are amazing.
They have incredible persistence, creative thinking, problem solving skills and they LOVE tackling a challenge…especially one that adults have failed to conquer. 😉
So, why don’t we remember this when it comes to getting them taking their vitamins?
There is a larger issue at work here, which I need to mention. One of the strands in the current crisis in health care in the western world is dis-empowerment. We have learnt to dis-empower ourselves and give all power to doctors. We have learnt that health means doing what I am told to do. Taking what I’m told to take, regardless of the reasons, regardless of the side effects, regardless of how I feel about it, or want I think about it. This is a very dis-empowered place. It is a very disconnected place. We disconnect from our bodies, and so we disconnect from our ‘selves’.
Now hear me on this. I do NOT think doctors are a waste of time. No. The best doctors are those who empower their patients with understanding and a voice. Sadly many, especially those in General Practice, don’t have time for that, so it comes back to “what’s wrong? Take this pill to feel better.” [Maybe this is a blog for another time, but I see a strong correlation here to the dis-empowered place that we nurture in kids… one which progresses into them being on the playground, club, alley way, or party and are so used to just putting any pill in their mouth when they are told to without question or discernment…]
So what does this have to do with children and vitamins?
If we want to do our own tiny little bit in helping change this and make cultural shift in our own homes, we need to start by helping children connect with their bodies and utilise all their amazingness to empower them to look after their own body.
When it comes to taking off-the-shelf vitamins, children often just do it because they are so laden with sugar that it is effectively like you are asking them to take a sweet daily: no problem! 🙂 The nutritional integrity of a supplement where the first or second listed ingredient is some form of sugar is always, in my mind, to be questioned.
However, if you ask children to take a top quality nutritional supplement, like the only one I recommend and use, one where the integrity of the product; the ingredients, the actual science and health-based reason for creating that supplement, haven’t been sacrificed on the alter of sweetness and the taste-buds of a generation of sugar-addicted children, then they may, possibly say “no”.
[**Incidentally if you want to know the difference or find out if you are wasting money on sweets or getting the real deal, The Nutrisearch Comparative Guide to Nutritional Supplements helps anyone get clear on which are quality products and which are not.**]
So what do we do?
- Do we let their bodies continue the mission of surviving in this day and age without the extra resources they desperately need?
- Do we allow our conflict-averse selves to believe that they can get everything they need from their food alone (a belief as outdated as ‘computers will never be in every home’).
- Do we try the stealth-ninja technique and hide crushed up tablets in smoothies, yogurt and juice and act all normal, expecting them not to notice? – well, maybe if the children are too small or they really don’t notice.
There is another way. It is a better way. A way that gets me emails of delight from parents celebrating their kids accomplishments (and their children’s pride in themselves) when they follow these 7 simple steps.
7 Simple Steps to Get Children Taking their Vitamins
1. ROLE MODEL – don’t expect your children to do something that you are not doing. If you expect your kids to take vitamins when you don’t, they may be getting a message that it’s ok for them but not for you – that they need it, you don’t – that there is something wrong with them. When a parent leads the way, children quickly watch, learn, follow and a culture of everyone moving towards health gets created.
2. TEACH them, at their level, why it is important to take extra vitamins/ antioxidants/ micro-nutrients. If you need help with this ask.
3. EXPLAIN BENEFITS to them – just some ways these vitamins will help their body in ways that are relevant to them, e.g. help your brain work better, help you be faster at running, help your body stay strong when there are germs around.
4. ACKNOWLEDGE you understand if they don’t like the taste. No matter what it tastes like to your palette, theirs is different. If they think it doesn’t actually taste great, you pretending like it does, or tell them ‘it’s not that bad’ can feel dishonest and like you don’t understand them.
5. ISSUE THE CHALLENGE “I’ve been thinking of how to get these in your body, but I haven’t come up with anything great. So it’s over to you. I challenge you to figure out a way to get them in you. They don’t have to taste nice, you don’t have to love them, I just wonder if you can figure out something I couldn’t – figure out how you could take them?”
6. WALK AWAY and leave them to it (age and safety dependent obviously). Children need the neo-cortex part of their brain to problem solve. When they are feeling under pressure from scrutiny, that part actually shuts off. So give them space, remove all pressure and leave them to it.
7. CELEBRATE when they tell you they’ve cracked it… big deal whoops, high-fives or a low-key 1 sentence if that’s what they prefer, but acknowledge their good job on using their persistence, problem solving, creative thinking and the fact they have found a way to help their body even better than you.
When children feel empowered and curious their resources are unlimited.
Children can do more than we think.
Don’t believe me?
Want to see more on what children can really do when given space to figure things out for themselves ? Watch this TEDx talk.
Children not sleeping well is an issue. It is an issue for them and often quickly becomes an issue for others in the family home too – especially if the ‘sleep challenge’ is seeming to be an ongoing issue rather than just a blip.
Many of the children who I have worked with struggled with sleep. Some of them REALLY struggled with it, to the point of long-term not sleeping for more than an hour or two at a time for weeks or months on end.
When one Dad brought his daughter for her third play therapy session, he announced to me he wanted to take her to the doctors. She was not sleeping and she needed some tablets and could I ‘have a word’. As I never speak about important things with parents in front of their children, I waited until we were safely in my play therapy room and well into the session before mentioning it to her.
The girl admitted she was not sleeping.
She knew she was doing all sorts of things to put off closing her eyes.
She had a reason.
She didn’t want to go to sleep.
Sleep meant not being in control of her thoughts.
Sleep meant NIGHTMARES.
She described one of the nightmares to me.
I could fully understand why she would not want to go to sleep.
Sleep means being out of control.
Many, many children (and adults) who have experienced trauma in their life (particularly those who have experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse) often find that they have nightmares that feel extra horrible. They are a way of the subconscious brain ‘re-experiencing‘ the trauma in order to process it in the hope of making sense of it. The moment(s) of trauma was very likely a moment when the child was totally out of control (dis-empowered) and sleep is now another traumatic experience for them when they feel out of control, and something bad (nightmares) happens.
Going to the doctor for not sleeping, would put a child in a room with 2 adults and depending on the particular doctor, this is often an overwhelming and dis-empowering experience in itself. If the child was given sleeping tablets, then they now have drugs to dis-empower them again and make them sleep, the very thing the child is trying to avoid.
I spoke to the Dad on the phone and made these 3 suggestions:-
- I was only just starting to work with her. Let’s give it some time and see how things go with the play therapy, before turning to any additional interventions. These type of nightmares don’t go away with a simple ‘there’s nothing to worry about’, lava lamp or ‘sleep buddy’. The child who has experienced trauma will likely need safe and effective non-directive creative therapy to process what happened (even if they were too young and don’t remember it). With a qualified and experienced practitioner this is exactly what Play Therapy does.
- It was really important at this stage for the girl to have her voice heard. For this reason alone it would be important to hear her when she says she doesn’t want to go to the doctor and she doesn’t want sleeping tablets. Hearing her is a simple way to empower her.
- She had started doing many regressive behaviours at bedtime, needing a blanket, wanting a story and drink, wanting old teddy bears, wanting cuddles and sucking her thumb. I helped her dad understand this is very normal in these circumstances, and helped him see how these behaviours related to the age she was abused. Although she was actually in double figures, I gave him ideas to help him respond to her as if she was 3 again – to give her the 3 year old support and nurturing she (still) needed.
As our therapeutic relationship developed, and when she was ready, over time she was able to reprocess her traumatic experiences. The theme and subject of the nightmares were played out in her sessions and resolved. And with continued guidance on how best to parent her through the process (particularly around bed time) her sleeping got better too.
I totally understand that parents (who often become sleep deprived themselves when a child is persistently not sleeping), just want a quick fix, and if the child is keen to go to sleep then maybe a trip to the doctors might help for a time (although don’t go until you have already properly tried the suggestions in the other Sleep Series articles – listed below in case you missed them!). HOWEVER, if your child is not wanting sleep, and rejecting any real help to get to sleep, it may well be because of trauma-related nightmares.
If so, what they need is understanding, empowerment and the chance to heal at their own pace.
If you want to get on the list of people to be notified when we run trainings for parents sign up here.
The other posts in the SLEEP SERIES are here:-
Sleep 101 – 3 Essential Foundations for a Better Bedtime
Sleep 201 – Fighting the REAL ENEMY + the number 1 mistake parents make around bedtime fears
Sleep 301 – Beyond the Bogeyman ~ Empowering children to overcome bedroom fears
I am still really bothered by the ISPCC Childline HEADBomz campaign. It has been live across the Republic of Ireland for 2 weeks now, and for all that time parents, teachers, therapists, counsellors, and school Principals have been sharing their (and their children’s) experience of it on social media. It is still being shown on TV and YouTube, in cinemas and in schools (well – some schools, as more and more are choosing not to distress their children by showing it in class). The feedback falls clearly into 2 very distinct groups: those that love it and those that hate it. I understand why.
For the purpose of what I need to say, there are 2 types of children.
- There are those who are generally robust, able, capable. These kinds of kids have their nervous systems working well. They are unlikely to have any current mental health conditions, and are unlikely to have ever experienced trauma. They may have ‘normal’ concerns and worries in life, and will be able to respond when encouraged to let people around them know when they are struggling. These are the children who will find the HEADBomz video hilarious. They will laugh and give positive feedback about the video and genuinely mean it. These are the children that most adults think of when they think about ‘children’.
But in my professional experience I know there is a second group of children.
- These are the children who are already struggling with mild-severe physical and/or mental health conditions – whether they have yet been diagnosed or not. These are the ones suffering with OCD, anxiety, depression, PTSD. These are the Autistic ones, the abused ones, the sensitive ones, the fragile ones. These are the ones with learning and communication difficulties. I could go on… These are children who do not have the support of a nervous system that is working well in their favour. Children who are more literal. Children for whom visual image is significantly more powerful and impacting than group 1 kids. Children who are acutely sensitive – especially to fear. This group of children, if you are not already aware, is growing. They are a significant number in every classroom, every community.
This latter group of children are the ones we need to consider. IF we want to understand why so many therapists and experts in children’s mental health are so bothered by this video, and asking for it to be withdrawn we need to know this group is real, and just as important as the ‘normal kids’. They are living on every street, they are in every class, they will be sitting in every cinema screening. You may not be able to tell – that’s the thing about mental health issues – but they are there, here, among us.
I know these children won’t ever be able to tell the ISPCC Childline what they really think, or how seeing this video has affected them… but if they could, this is what they would be saying:-
Dear ISPCC Childline
There is something really bothering me.
It’s this new video. I see it in my head everywhere I go. It feels like I can’t get away from it. It’s really scary. I know it sounds silly – it’s probably because I am stupid – it’s probably my fault – most bad things that happen to me are my fault. I know it is a cartoon and it’s got a song too so I know it’s supposed to be for kids, but the thing is it makes me feel sick.
I see people, children, getting hot. I see their eyes bulging in their head and then their heads exploding. I know what it feels like to get hot, to feel my eyes bulging. So what scares me is the next thing that is going to happen to me is my head will explode, wont it?
I don’t want it to. I’m really scared that it will. I have started having really scary dreams about it… All from when I saw that video.
We had to watch it at school. I was sat in class and all the children round me started laughing as soon as the heads got bigger and exploded, which was right at the beginning and then over and over and over again.
A big hole got in my tummy. It felt like I disappeared. I got hot and fuzzy and felt sick again.
I really tried to not let my face go red.
I tried to not watch it, but not let them see I was hiding my eyes. They are my friends. They know lots about me, but they don’t know that I really struggle to be like them. I really want to be normal, and I try really hard. You have no idea how much strength I put into it… when all the time I just feel wobbly inside… I guess you’d call it frightened… someone said once it was anxiety. I don’t know about the right words. I just know it feels horrible, it makes me different and it stops me doing things and having as much fun as others.
I so want to be like everyone else, I want to be normal.
So when we had to watch the video and I saw them all laughing, I pretended to laugh too. For those few minutes I tried to pretend to myself that I don’t really feel exactly like the children in the video most of the time… Everyone else thought it was funny. I didn’t want to laugh but I did. I do a lot of things I don’t want to do. But I REALLY don’t want to talk about that.
My teacher was talking after it finished. I don’t know what she said. I could see her lips moving but I couldn’t hear anything. I just wanted to get out.
I got home and was trying to forget about it. My mam said it wasn’t real and I should just stop thinking about it. I tried. I really tried. I wanted so much to forget about the video and those pictures and the laughing song. I played football, but every time my foot connected with the ball, with every kick, every impact, I saw another head exploding and flying across the field. I can’t stop them. The pictures from that video are just popping into my head all the time when I’m on my own.
It got a bit better when I had my tea. We had my favourite and we laughed a lot at my little sister pulling faces. And then I watched some TV. And then it happened. It was there again. Instead of the adverts before my favourite program, it was that same video. That same song with the laughing in it. Those same exploding heads. Those children that are like me exploding.
I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move either. I can’t get away from it. Even at home I’m not safe from it.
My friend said she saw the same video when she went to the cinema too. I won’t go there anymore. EVER.
I wish I had never seen it.
My friend said that the only way to stop my head exploding was to talk. What did she mean by talking? Is this the talking she meant? Talking about something that bothers me? I don’t want to explode. What should I say? What should I talk about? I’d say anything if I could.
She said I should talk to you ISPCC Childline, but you made that video. You made that thing that everyone laughed at. I think you are laughing at me. You think how I feel is funny. You are making me feel unsafe at school and at home. I don’t want to talk to you – but I don’t want my head to explode more. I don’t know what to do.
I wish it would go away.
Please can you help me?
You may think that this letter from ‘Sam’ is a bit extreme. I wish it were. Sadly it isn’t at all.
I have worked professionally with enough of these kids over the years to know how they think, what impacts them and what life is like for them on the inside. Everything that ‘Sam’ is saying has also been echoed in comments from parents and teachers that have been posting on the ISPCC Childline HEADBomz Facebook post and the Vodafone Foundation post. You won’t find many of them there any more – for some reason these and many other critical or concerned comments were being quickly deleted.
Surely, what is important now, is the realization that this video is harming many children. Both those in the 8-10 yrs target group, and those outside it. Is this right? Should it be happening?
More than Marmite
I am sure ISPCC Childline were expecting that not everyone would be over the moon about the campaign – that’s life in the world of marketing. Some will love it, some will hate it. But the difference is this is not about Marmite. This is so much more important. The people who don’t love it have good reason – the MENTAL HEALTH and wellbeing of ALL children.
IF you know of a child who has been struggling because of this advert, I’d love to hear from you. These children’s experiences need honouring. They are important and need to be heard. Please contact me privately here, or scroll down (a long way!) and leave a comment below.
For those who cannot speak for themselves…yet.
If you want to find out more about me, and my expertise to raise these questions,
then please feel free to read my initial article in response to the campaign.
If you want to find out about what numerous children’s mental health experts are saying
about the HEADBomz video then click here.
If you want to read find out more about what is happening to children – in their own words and pictures
from seeing this ad campaign click here.
Last time I mentioned the number one mistake that parents make over and over again when it comes to children who are scared about going to bed. You can read it again here.
When we stop and think about it. No one would want a child to be scared in their own home. There are sadly, way too many children who understandably find bedtime incredibly scary for all the wrong reasons – but supporting children who have been through trauma is for our next and final blog in this sleep series.
Right now, I am thinking about all the children who don’t want to go to bed and find it hard to sleep because of their room. By day their room can be their favourite place to be. By night, it can become their worst.
If you have used the communication script (downloaded from the last blog) to really connect with your child through their fear, instead of isolating them and forcing them to deal with it on their own, then you may have found out that the reason they don’t want to go to bed is because they are scared.
For many children, they are scared about things under their bed, things in the cupboard, things behind the curtains, or outside the window. Children can be scared of anything – the dark, sights, sounds or even smells, and we don’t help them if we judge or belittle those fears.
The worst thing to do is to tell your child there is ‘no need to be scared’.
You are the grown up. You would just reinforce that grown-ups know everything and you think they are being silly/stupid. Your child will hear a message from you that ‘being scared is wrong’. In fact that can get extrapolated into believing that any of their uncomfortable feelings are wrong. None of the parents I have worked with have wanted their child to feel that way – but still it can be hard to know how to respond for their best.
What if there was one conversation – with just a few simple things that you can say, that could change the whole thing?
The good news is there is. It is a magic conversation. What is really interesting is that it wont be YOU doing the unlocking. Time and time again, I have found children have the answers inside them to overcome these bedroom fears – all they need is someone to help them with some presence, empathy, understanding, belief and good questions.
Get the magic communication for bedroom fears by clicking the box below.
Communication Cues to Overcome Bedroom Fears. Get FREE download here
This amazing technique will build a closer bond between you and your child, increase their pride and their sense of empowerment... Oh and likely will help them sleep much better too 😉
This conversation, when done right, has been like magic in many scary bedrooms of children I have supported over the years. Do let me know how it goes in your house.
Did you miss the previous Blogs in the SLEEP SERIES?
Sleep 101 – 3 Essential Foundations for a Better Bedtime
Sleep 201 – Fighting the REAL ENEMY + the number 1 mistake parents make around bedtime fears
Sleep 401 – about nightmares and sleep trouble after trauma – is coming very soon! People on the mailing list will get notified when it is posted. Want it too? You can sign up here.
Many, many children go through a stage in their development when they don’t like going to bed, and the reasons can be many and varied.
Parents often tell me their children are generally fine and ‘the behaviour’ only begins when it is time to start the bedtime routine.
One dad I spoke to described in detail the battle that ensued between him and his daughter. Her delaying tactics were many and varied (and quite standard repertoire); refusing to go up the stairs; refusing to get into bed; distraction techniques; food requests; drink requests and refusing to sleep without the light on.
He was annoyed that it was such a palava and cross that she wouldn’t just do what she was told and go to bed/sleep.
I have had this same conversation many times with mums too, over the years.
When I asked him why his daughter didn’t like going to bed, he looked at me blankly.
It was a question he didn’t have the answer to.
He had never stopped to find out.
Like so many parents, he was getting sucked into the ‘bed-time-battle’, thinking that this un-cooperative child was the foe to be avenged, for the prize of a quiet evening and some child-free time.
This picture is so common it is scary.
Scary? Because it means there are so many children resisting going to bed for reasons only they know. If no one else knows then they are not being understood and not being helped emotionally or practically, they are alone with the thing that is the REAL enemy. Their real challenge.
Solutions and sleep come quicker when parents and children join forces and work together.
I’m sure you have noticed, but the middle of a battle of wills between an adult and child is never a good time to ask the child what they are scared of. If they know you are already wound up (and angry with them) then they will not feel safe to tell you the truth about their anxiety.
Much better progress can be made if this conversation happens at a time when both adult and child are calm and doing something else together and bedtime is not imminent.
Want to know exactly what to say and how to say it,
to get the breakthrough you both need?
CLICK THIS BOX and get your free version of the script I give to parents.
Communiction Cues to End Bed-Time Battles. Get FREE download here
If you get to the point where your child actually tells you what is bothering them, then YOU MUST UNDERSTAND how brave they have been to tell you. At this point there is one MAJOR MISTAKE parents often make.
MISTAKE: Tell the child there is nothing to be scared of.
Remember your child plucked up all their courage to risk telling you what scares them (if they had found it easy to tell you in the first place you wouldn’t have had weeks or months of bed time battle) and now you are telling them they are wrong or stupid to be scared about that. This leaves children feeling wrong, stupid and still scared – as no one stopped being scared about something just by being told to not be scared. What TO say and do is coming soon in another post. For now just make sure you STOP and LISTEN and really HEAR them and try to imagine what it might feel like for them to have had this fear they have carried on their own and getting lots of anger from you because they couldn’t handle it alone.
Communiction Cues to End Bed-Time Battles. Get FREE download here
Previous Blogs in this Sleep Series
Sleep 101 – Essential Foundations for Good Quality Sleep
Sleep 301 and 401 coming soon!