COVID-19: A lesson in how our kids live

Bang! The piece of silverware hit the kitchen counter. I jumped. I’d dropped my pen multiple times earlier. I’d fumbled the water pitcher. I’d run into walls of the home I’d lived in for quite some time. It was the first morning of COVID-19 restrictions, and I wasn’t regulated. I’d been to the store the Friday before and had seen mostly empty shelves. I’d been to church that Sunday and was wondering if it was the last time we’d meet. I was worried about how I would do my work with limited resources, exposure risk, and uncertainty about how long the pandemic would last. Each night, I thought about groceries and how long I could feed my family with what I had on hand. I went to bed late each night because it took me so long to process the day’s stressors and calm down. I was slower getting out the door in the mornings as I tried to slog through the regular routine while carrying a growing weight of anxiety. As I drove home in the rain mid-week, still in an edgy state, it hit me: This is how our kids live all the time.

Kids with trauma-pruned brains live in a constant state of hypervigilance. They are always waiting for the next shoe to drop. Their constant anxiety makes them jumpy and edgy, leading to quicker escalations, total tantrums, withdrawal, and sometimes complete stonewalling. These kids may be slower to complete tasks, struggle with schoolwork, and not want to attach. Why? They’re operating at the fight, flight, or freeze level of their brainstem. They’re stuck at a lower level of functioning, trying to keep themselves safe, wondering about their next meal, concerned about their housing; afraid, just like many of us are right now.

What can we do to help our kids? Provide calm, consistent parenting. Providing a secure, stable base for our kids to come home to. Practice extra measures of grace and patience, just like God does for us when we time and time again give way to fear instead of trusting in His providence.

What can we do for ourselves? Practice self-care. Give ourselves some grace. Practice patience. Recognize that these aren’t ideal circumstances, and life may not look normal for a while. And that’s okay.

We’re still here. We’re still functioning. We may be afraid, but we’re learning. May with acknowledge our fears, but also recognize this situation for the learning opportunity that it is. May we, if nothing else, have greater empathy for and attunement to our kids, seeing that this season of COVID-19 has given us just a taste of how our kids with trauma-pruned brains live every day.

-AFC Therapist