Shepherding Children Through COVID-19
Updated: Mar 15
As a Child-Centered Play Therapist, I am a student of Dr. Garry Landreth. Dr. Landreth is considered one of the modern-day “fathers” of Child Centered Play Therapy. He is a researcher, teacher, author, and most importantly, a committed practitioner of the trade. His steady approach, his consistent wisdom and his gentle manner all serve as anchors in my professional life and in my personal life as a mom.
I’ve read most of what’s out there in the world of play therapy. I know the research and the experts. Yet time and time again, I turn to Garry. His convictions and knowledge always steer me back to a steady course.
As I’ve been thinking about COVID as a mom and a play therapist, several of Garry’s “pearls of wisdom” have been whispering in my heart and have been echoing in my mind. These ideas help me know how to proceed in shepherding our young ones through this time. I hope they bring similar comfort to you.
1. Focus on the Donut, not the hole
When we focus on the donut, we are focusing on strengths and abilities. When we focus on the hole we are focusing on lack and inabilities. While we must take COVID seriously and we don’t want to “sugar coat” a serious situation, we do get to choose what we focus on more heavily in our own minds and in conversations with our children. When we focus on the donut in this situation we are focusing on:
* Brilliant scientists who are working tirelessly
* Technology which allows us to communicate with each other and provide education/information far and wide
* Health Care workers
* Supplies that help to keep us healthy and well
The more we focus on the donut, the more hope we feel. The more hope we feel, the more we can relax and allow our immune systems to work.
2. Sometimes Behaviors need to be corrected, however all feelings are accepted
Your child is allowed to feel exactly how they are feeling. There are no “right” or “wrong” or “good” or “bad” feelings about all of this. A child’s feelings, no matter what they are, should be accepted, respected, and held by us, their competent adults.
They might feel any number of feelings right now: scared; sad; worried; mad; happy that they don’t have to go to school; carefree because they don’t really know what is happening; uncertain. . . the list goes on and on.
Their feelings might change moment by moment and their feelings might be very different from other family members’ feelings.
Our job is to accept their feelings. That’s it. If they are frightened, we need to acknowledge their fear before sharing reassuring information.
3. Be a Thermostat and Not a Thermometer
A thermostat sets the temperature for a room. A thermometer simply responds to the temperature. When we are serving as thermostats, we are setting the emotional climate and tone for our environment. When we are serving as a thermometer, we are simply responding to our children’s emotions and taking them on as our own. This means that when our children panic, we, in turn, panic.
Right now our children needs us to be steady, calm, centered thermostats. Their feelings will spike and dip but we do not have to tag along for those emotional roller coaster rides. We can remain steady.
4. We cannot give away that which we do not possess
We cannot give someone a million dollars if we do not have a million dollars. likewise, we cannot give someone strength, calm, and courage if we do not have those things. What do we, as adults, need in terms of our own support? Who can we turn to for strength and courage (it shouldn’t be our children)? Lean in where you need to lean in right now and fill up where you need to fill up so that you, in turn, can share these qualities with your children.
Maybe this looks like your own therapy; your own quiet time to mediate, journal, read, or do yoga. Maybe this means talking with other adults about your fears and uncertainties (but not while little ears are listening). Maybe this means leaning into essential oils or time in your faith or listening to music that calms and grounds you. Self-Care is not selfish. It is a responsibility. ESPECIALLY in times like these.
May these tips bring at least a slight sense of ease and confidence. May you know that you are loved, worthy, and held by something much greater than each of us during these uncertain times.
Kate Weir, LPC-S, Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor is a private practitioner and co-director of a wellness collective in Columbia, MO. Check out her wellness collective, Kindred, on social: facebook.com/kindredcollectivecomo; https://www.instagram.com/kindredcollectivecomo/.
For more from Garry Landreth, check out his manual on Child Parent Relationship Training (Routledge, 2006).