Providing therapy to parents, kids, and families through the pandemic, we’ve witnessed the multitude of challenges that both parents and kids have faced from lockdown to reopening. Our Founder and Clinical Director Matt Lundquist returned to WNYC’s All Of It with Alison Stewart to address how parents can navigate kids’ behavioral challenges as the world reopens and reengage with resources they may have overlooked during quarantine.
In the segment “Parenting Through Disruptive Behavior,” Matt spoke to Stewart about how leaning on kids’ resilience through the pandemic can sometimes “be used to dismiss taking seriously some real concerns…that particular kids and particular parents can be struggling with.” While, as he observed, “by and large kids have risen to the challenge, adjusted, and done pretty well,” the pandemic has unquestionably affected both kids and parents. Parents are dealing with their own stress, grief and loss, and economic challenges, while kids of different ages and dispositions can struggle with isolation, learning, and social issues.
In particular, just like adults, kids are confronting the disruptive transition back to normal life, returning to socializing in more intimate settings after about fifteen months in quarantine. Matt explained, “Especially for younger kids, fifteen months…is a lot of life and a lot of development.” Because of this, kids “may need different things than they needed” when they last socialized.
To aid this adjustment, Matt advised parents to get kids socializing “as much as possible.” Whether returning to school as most have for these last few weeks of the school year or going to summer camp (in all the different ways that can look), socializing, even for the kid that tends to stay home during a typical summer, can help catch them up.
To parents who are dealing with children that are having explosive outbursts, Matt suggested not only looking at the times and circumstances around which a child acts out, but also looking at “what information is the child attempting to communicate badly by the meltdown.” For instance, Matt strongly urged parents in the midst of a kid’s meltdown to say: “Wow, you seem to be really angry. You’re throwing things. You’re kicking things. You’re calling mommy a bad name. I want to understand what you’re mad at.” This way, he noted, “you can invite the child to…more efficiently and without so much drama communicate that issue.”
For most parents and kids, one of the biggest changes during the pandemic was, as Matt articulated, how “we were all in varying degrees and varying ways removed from our social networks.” Both kids and parents have needs that they just can’t get met from one another and social isolation cut both parents and kids off from other resources. This included more obvious mental health and community resources like a guidance counselor or school social worker. But there was also a lack of resources that may have been less apparent such as an adult that really gets through to a kid like a child’s favorite teacher or soccer coach. Family and friends too, whether grandparents or a best friend that lives out of state, couldn’t visit as much and offer in-person support. “When there wasn’t a quarantine, we took for granted a lot of those things,” Matt said.
Parents, Matt described, “have a lot more resources than they realized.” When parents are scared and overwhelmed, they can forget that they need outside resources and tend to take on everything on themselves. Matt reminded listeners that parents too have their own needs that should get met as a part of the process of being in good shape to meet their kids’ needs. In addition to seeking counsel on parenting, they should also remember to attend to their own needs as well. Matt recommended that parents “reengage those networks–talk to school, talk to teachers, talk to sources of guidance that before the pandemic were available and connected.”