I was fortunate to be visiting my daughter and grandson two weeks ago when schools closed and they were both suddenly sheltering in place. Sadly, it turned out to be my last visit for the foreseeable future. Both change and transitions are hugely stressful. Imagine this small human who can’t begin to understand why suddenly he’s having “circle time” at home with mom and grammy, instead of going to school, and has no words for what he’s feeling as he picks up so much ambient anxiety, even though we’re all doing our best to stay calm and create some normalcy for him. So my daughter was just trying to get my grandson to eat his lunch while accommodating his shows and things were quickly devolving into a power struggle complete with whining, food and screen time “negotiating”, and melting down into a screaming, throwing things tantrum in his room. My daughter went to take a shower while I monitored from the hall outside his room after I told him I’d be right outside if he needed me. (He did not want company! I asked.) By the time my daughter got out of the shower, things had quieted down in my grandson’s room. When she went in he was struggling to get his halloween pumpkin costume on and needed her help. She helped him straighten it out and came to sit next to me on her bed next to his room. “He seems like he’s regressing the past couple days. I kind of want to just hold him in my lap and feed him but I don’t know if that’s OK.” (And this is why I love my work so much!) Her intuitive parenting voice had come up with the perfect solution. She just needed informed permission to do it. I gave her a resounding Yes!, and they ended up having a wonderful snuggle lunch. The picture I have in my mind of him nestled into her lap, willingly letting her feed him is printed in my memory. Though culturally counter-intuitive, babying your child when they are regressed doesn’t encourage negative behaviors. It actually meets your child where they are and gives them the comfort and connection they need to become more resilient in the face of stress.
PS: Here I’m talking about a four year old. However, noticing emotional age is equally important for connecting with your eight, twelve or even eighteen year old.