Follow a mother and her 6-year-old son as they explore their emotions amid the coronavirus outbreak. This is a fictional story based on my experiences with my son. He usually explores his feelings at night after I read to him. Lately, he has been exploring feelings of sad, mad, and scare related to Covid19/coronavirus. The boxes located between the dialogue offer my explanations for things the mother and the boy say and don’t say. I hope it helps you on your journey of exploring feelings amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
“Mommy,” Ben said, “I miss my teacher.” He sighed and looked sad.
“Oh?” his mother responded. “Tell me more about your feelings.”
“I miss my friends too,” he said. He looked down at the floor.
“Come here,” said his mother, as she held out her arms and then lifted the 6-year-old boy onto her lap. “It sounds like you are feeling sad,” she said softly. “Is that right?”
“Yes.” Ben rubbed his face into his mother’s neck.
“It’s normal to feel sad,” his mother said. She felt his wet tears run down her neck as he tried to hide his crying from her. “I miss my friends too.”
“How long will it be until I get to see them again?”
“I don’t know,” his mother answered. No matter how long it is, It will feel like a long time.”
“I want to know now!” Ben screamed.
“Of course you do. I do too. You sound angry now.”
“I’m not mad! This is all just so stupid!”
“I hear you. You’re not mad and this is just stupid,” his mother reflected.
“Yes. Well, I might be a little bit mad.” Ben crossed his arms and looked away.
“I get mad sometimes too,” his mom said, raising her voice a bit. She made an angry face and growled playfully. Ben relaxed his arms.
“Really?” Ben asked.
“Yes,” his mom said. She explained something she understands about herself. “Underneath my anger, though, I really feel scared. Feeling mad is one of my clues that I might really be afraid of something. Do you think this might be true for you?”
“I am scared, mommy,” Ben said. He looked in his mom’s eyes and touched her cheeks. “My teacher told me that I don’t have to be afraid because the coronavirus won’t hurt me. She said it only hurts older people.” He ran his fingers through the graying patch of hair that frames the left side of her face. He then took his index fingers and traced the wrinkles by her eyes.
“That’s usually true,” his mom said as she took his hands and held them in hers. It looks like you are wondering what might happen to me.”
“What if something happens to you AND dad?” Ben asked. “Who will take care of me and my brothers?”
“Are you asking, ‘What would happen if we both die?’” his mom asked.
“Uh-huh,” Ben said. He looked up to lock his eyes with hers.
“Your Aunt and Uncle Jordan will take care of you. We already have that agreement in place.”
“They would take care of all of us?” Ben asked as he thought about his three brothers.
“Yes,” his mom said, “Your aunt and uncle will take care of all four of you.” She paused. “I want you to know something. It is very unlikely that we will both die.”
“What if something happens to one of you?”
“If I die, your dad will take care of you. If he dies, I will take care of you. Either way, we would feel sad. I want you to know that no matter how sad your dad or I feel, we will take really good care of you and your brothers.”
Ben relaxed into his mom’s arms and let out a big sigh. “OK,” he said. Can I go play now?
A Note About Feelings
When talking to children about emotions, I discuss four basic feelings: mad, sad, glad, and scared.
Mad lets us know there is a boundary violation. It feels very powerful because it gives us the energy we need to use our resources to renegotiate the boundaries.
Sad lets us know there is a loss to be mourned and we need to find the inner and outer support we need to grieve that loss.
Glad lets us know that as long as we aren’t hurting ourselves, others, or damaging property, we can keep going as we are.
Scare lets us know that we need to prepare for something or put a protection in place.
Multiple and Layered Feelings
It is normal for children and adults to feel a variety of feelings when dealing with a big change and challenge, such as the coronavirus. I wrote this story to give an example of the different ways that children move through emotions. The story also gives an example of “layered emotions.” In this example, the child covered the more vulnerable feeling “scare” with “anger.”
When our children are feeling big feelings, rather than try to stop them from feeling, it is important to be curious and invite exploration of them. It is helpful to validate and reflect the feelings, as the parent did in the story.
Finally, be sure to tend to your own emotional well-being so that you will be better able to tend to the feelings of those around you. This is your responsibility. It is not your children’s responsibility to take care of your sadness, fear, or anger.
Author’s Note: This story is based on real conversations I have had with my six-year-old son. The parent character could just as easily have been portrayed as a father because men have the same access to emotions and emotional regulation skills as women.
A fuller version of this story would include vignettes from the deep discussions about how our souls would find each other later if I were to die now, and if my son were to die many years from now. I left that part out because I didn’t want to turn off people of different religious and spiritual beliefs. I plan to include that in another story for those of you who are curious about how to address these anxieties about death and dying that are related to the concept of the eternal soul.
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Thank you, Emily! I found this so helpful. I like your specific guidance and reassurance. I’m thinking of you and your family. These are such strange times!!
Thank you. I am glad to hear that it is useful and reassuring. Take care.