Understanding and Connecting in Challenging Times

By Claire Farrell, MindUP Training and Schools Partnership Lead

I overheard a conversation earlier this week as two 7 year olds were hanging up their coats at school:

“Do you know that these germs are everywhere and we can catch them even when we don’t know and we could die!”

“Only old people die,” the friend dismissively replied.

Then they said, “My grandma is old.”

I could see where this conversation was heading and how the emotions were building.

Mindful Listening

I listened mindfully to their conversation, despite the temptation to jump in and interject. It was important for me to understand their feelings and observations before responding.

Understanding Thoughts and Emotions

We started our discussion, talking about how easy it was to let our thoughts run away and make us feel very worried.

I asked them what they could do to help these worrying thoughts that were taking over. I was heartened by their response, “Do some breathing!” As I enquired into why this would help, they explained to me that when they are calm they can use their owl brain (Prefrontal Cortex) to think clearly. If they are not calm and feel worried and wound up it is difficult for them to think clearly as the guard dog (Amygdala) is in control.

They had learnt about the brain in their first MindUP lesson and were able to link what they had learnt to their understanding of how they were thinking and feeling. Their interpretation of what they had learnt was helping them! Having a Brain Break 3 times a day helps develop a sense of calm and enables children to think and respond more mindfully.

An Empathic Response

As our conversation unfolded it became very apparent that they were very worried and scared. In addition to worries about dying, they’d heard that school was going to close, and they were worried that they wouldn’t be able to see their friends again.

It would have been easy to tell them not to worry and that everything would be ok but that is not what they needed. That wouldn’t have corrected their interpretation of current events. They needed empathy, someone to understand that these thoughts were very real for them and they needed to talk about them.

We calmly sat and chatted about the things that we do know about the virus and also the things that we don’t know. There were lots of questions. They needed to make sense of the virus in the context of their view of the world.

It is important to talk to our children about the coronavirus and help them understand the facts at an age appropriate level. Be factual, be open, be reassuring and most importantly be calm. Children are very good at picking up on our own anxieties.

We ended our conversation thinking about how we could be kind and help others. Again, they knew the brain facts about kindness. That our brains are rewarded for kindness with a release of dopamine when we are doing acts of kindness. Being kind makes us feel good; Do good, feel good.

What a difference that conversation made, from worry, sadness and stress it turned into hope and kindness.

The following link @ Elsa support has a simple explanation of the virus that could be useful.

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