The Emotions Matter Bus: Helping parents during Covid19
You wake up in a panic. You feel sick in your stomach. You remember that the Corona Virus is looming and you have another day at home with the kids while finding time for work also. It’s all very tiring. You think to yourself “I wish I could curl up and stay in bed” but you don’t. You get up and you go about your day as normal. But is it normal? Is it possible that your children and teens know what’s going on for you underneath it all?
I wonder what would happen if you got up on this same morning, hopped on the “emotions matter” bus and approached your children by saying how you were really feeling. “hey, I’m really struggling today I feel really sad. I only have 40 percent to give you guys. I’m going to need lots of help, who’s in?”
The day may not actually pan out that different, perhaps your children and teens will/ will not decide to help you but what’s important is that you’ve taught them a valuable lesson. You’ve taught them that it’s okay to struggle and it’s okay to only have 40 percent to give others. You’ve taught them how to jump on the emotions matter bus with authenticity. You’ve modelled that they can choose to get off at the self-compassion stop or ride the bus towards self-destruction.
I came across this term "Emotions matter bus" while listening to Brene Brown's podcast (unlocking Us) with her guest Dr Marc Brackett. It really struck a cord with me and so i wanted to write about it here and hopefully help some parents out there to help themselves.
Did you know that sharing emotions and uncertainty can sometimes be the safest thing for children and teenagers?
We tend to think that if we don’t acknowledge an emotion, it will go away right? Unfortunately not, we’re only adding fuel to the fire. Emotions tend to re-surface through behaviours one way or another over time. Research is showing us that our children and teens are better observers than we give them credit for, they usually know that mum or dad has changed and because it’s not being named, this can be scary for them.
A young person’s way of protecting themselves or you as a parent might be to take on a role as “the good child and the fixer” or “the bad child, the attention seeking one”. You might resonate with this in your own upbringing.
Did you ever feel shame for experiencing sadness because your parents constantly told you that people were dying of starvation in Africa? Maybe you felt guilty for having anxious thoughts because you didn’t want to burden your parents even more? Perhaps you felt weak for feeling at all, you were told emotions were bad and a sign of failure. See the link?
Remember when we name and own hard things it does not give them power it gives us power to affect change. It gives us control again. If we don’t name them, we’re powerless.
What can I do as a parent:
· Ride the “emotions matter” bus more often than not! Acknowledge your emotions “I feel sad today, I feel happy”. You could sit down with your children/ teens and create an emotions matter bus. Ask them to check in with it daily.
· Ask your children and teens for help “hey I only have 40 percent to give today, can you help me” ?
· Show compassion towards yourself: this will teach your children and teenagers that its important to look after ourselves first and that they’re also worth this act of kindness.
· Check in with your children and teens and their feelings “how are you feeling today, what percent are you at? Do you need help?
· Acknowledge uncertainty and difficult times at home “this is hard for you” “I want you to know that I hear you and I see you” “It’s really difficult and frustrating for you” “you’ve done hard things before, you managed x and y, we can get through this by helping eachother”
· Listen and allow for silence. Hear what’s being said without jumping in to save the day. Remind yourself that you’re rarely over listening as a parent. Look at your children in their eyes, give a hug with no words if you think this is what they need.
· Avoid using broad statements like “it’ll be grand” “it’ll all work out” “there are children worse off than you”. Think back to a time when these phrases were said to you. How’d it make you feel?
It’s no picnic in the park being a parent at the moment but one of the greatest lessons you can give your children during this time is to show up with their emotions for who they really are. Model to your children that emotions matter and you’re also feeling worried, scared and frustrated being in isolation. Invite your children to be their most authentic selves in times of stress so that they can fully embrace the times of calm and happiness.
As a parent your actions, words, and beliefs matter. You might just be the main source of information that your child and teen has about how to think about and live in the world right now.
Michelle Murray is a Mental Health Occupational Therapist, Trauma Sensitive Yoga Facilitator and founder of Anchor Therapy Mental Health Services in Dublin. She is supporting parents and teenagers through online counselling during Covid 19 outbreak. Michelle is also offering some free sessions to support Leaving Cert students who may be struggling with anxiety, worry and stress during this time. You can follow Michelle on Instagram @the_wellness_anchor or check out her weekly mental health blogs at www.anchortherapy.ie.