Conversations with my 4-year-old about Coronavirus – showing empathy to our young people of any age!
Hi, I’m Terrie and I work for Young People Cornwall, helping parents and community groups to support young people with their mental health.
I want to tell you about how I’ve used my training as a teacher and a Trauma Informed Schools Practitioner to talk to my daughter about Coronavirus and all the changes that it’s brought to her little world. But these conversations wouldn’t be much different if she were 4, 14 or 44.
It’s all about empathy.
This morning we had a little upset because she wanted me to play with her and I couldn’t because, like many parents right now, I have to work from home. We sat and cuddled and had a little talk. The tears flowed as she told me she misses her old life, her childminder, and all her friends.
It would be a very natural response, like any parent, to try and make her feel better by getting her to look on the bright side.
In her beautifully illustrated Youtube video on the power of Empathy, Professor and Podcast host Brene Brown says that very rarely does an empathic response start with “At least”. I could’ve said to my daughter, “At least you’re home with mummy” or “At least you’re going to get to play with all your toys” but I didn’t because in my daughter’s 4 year old mind she has suffered a loss and what she needs more than anything at this time is empathy and the change to feel whatever feelings she may have.
So, what does empathy sound like in this situation? And why is it a much harder but much more powerful response than sympathy (“At least…”).
Sympathy is trying to put a coat of gloss over a crack, it may look a bit better but it won’t go away. Empathy means acknowledging how someone feels and making yourself vulnerable enough to feel it with them. Brene Brown describes it like climbing down into a big black hole with someone.
For my four-year-old this meant me saying something like “It’s really hard that your life has changed so much and that you miss all your friends. Sometimes it will be boring but mummy will always be here with you.”
And this is the most important bit….
”It’s OK to feel sad about those things.”
I named her feelings for her, let her know it was OK to feel them and that I was there alongside her while she does
You may be wondering how that looks with an older child, a teenager, or even your spouse? It’s the same for any age, essentially it’s: yes, these sucks, yes this is scary, and no, it isn’t going to get better any time soon. It’s OK for you to feel sadness, loss, fear or even anger about it but we can get through this together, we’ve got this!
These changes to our lives are temporary, but it wont feel like that to our young people. Giving them time and space to feel the loss of their school, their friends, their GCSE’s is the most powerful thing you can do for them right now.
For more information on talking to your young people on Coronavirus please see this useful article written but an American Psychologist.
– Blog written by Terrie