There have been a lot of tears in my house this week. My daughter turned 9 on Monday. Methinks her at-home birthday celebration was finally the event that made this global pandemic real. For weeks, she’s been okay. Then, on the eve of her birthday, her eyes began to rain. An hour later, the rupture of feelings still flowed. Her 5-year-old brother, a sympathy crier, joined in the emotive, much-too-late party. All of our kids are feeling the aches of these recent changes, and I need to talk about it.
Honor the Feelings
As an empath, emotions reign for me. From a scientific and brain-based stance, emotions are the foundation of how 1) we think, 2) physiologically feel and 3) ultimately behave. With the current global pandemic, the feelings are important as we work alongside our students, clients, families and ourselves. We all have emotions, and there is no “good” or “bad” to our sentiments. There is no shame in feeling–it’s what keeps us human. Based on an informal case study of the families I am supporting right now (and my own) and input from my SLP peers, there are some really big feelings right now. Emotional exposure and subsequent acknowledgement of those feelings, especially now, yields meaningful outcomes.
What’s the big deal?
Why are feelings important? First, it normalizes what the child is feeling. It is okay to feel all the feels. We take the fear and shame out of it. Second, naming the emotion is valuable. The child is able to pinpoint what is going happening within his/her/their heart. With this, finding resolve is more easily obtained. Recently, I had my first teletherapy session with a 12-year-old. I began the session by acknowledging our new normal using visuals to talk about what COVID-19 and social distancing “looks like”. Then, I asked her how she felt. Her response was packed. “It’s really weird. I love school. It’s really weird. I miss my teachers, and I like to work really hard. It’s really awful.” Dr. Jeffrey Duncan-Andrade, professor at San Francisco State University, says, “To get to the brain, we go through the heart.” In other words, before getting to the speech-language therapy, we need to build trust, make connections and honor feelings. I would like to add that some days are “head” days, and a worldwide pandemic surely requires “heart” days.
What are kids saying?
Here are additional comments I’ve heard these last few weeks:
- I wish I could go to another planet without the virus.
- I’m sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo bored.
- It just feels like my friends are mad at me since we’re not talking.
- Am I going to die?
- I’m really tired.
Let us also acknowledge that verbalizing is only one way to show how we feel. An SLP peer reported to me that during a session, she could tell something was different. Her client appeared tired and unengaged. This was not typical for him. His mother reported that he was tired of being at home and desperately wanted to visit his grandparent’s ranch. Within 25 minutes of the session, he put his head down and would not respond. Then, he appeared frustrated and began hitting his mom.
Another SLP reported a 17-year-old client apologizing for being late to a session. She told her SLP that the first day of online instruction was hard because she couldn’t concentrate. She has a younger sister and three younger brothers. The SLP acknowledged crying and screaming in the background throughout their session. The week prior, her brother came in upset and attempted to use the electronic device she was using for the session.
These are the current narratives of the humans we are supporting, and their emotional states and subsequent behaviors need to be acknowledged and understood.
Check In Begin sessions by checking in with your students, clients and patients.
Honor Feelings Acknowledge that all feelings are okay and valid.
Share Feelings If you feel safe to do so, share your authentic sentiments, too. We are in this together.
And, finally, while I’m on this topic, please acknowledge the spectrum of your feelings as well SLP. This is our first global pandemic, and there is no road map for our current needs. Acknowledge the scope of what we are enduring, and the work that has likely exceeded our bandwidths.
I shall conclude this post with some sentiments from my current Quality Control team. Members of this team are responsible for monitoring operations to ensure production standards. At this time, while we are staying home, the expectations are to keep one another physically and emotionally safe. Here’s to our children and their valid and wholehearted sentiments.