Updated: Nov 15, 2021
Behavioural scientists tell us that children do not have the ability to criticize information until they are roughly 8 age years of age. This means that whatever we tell them goes directly into their unconscious mind and directs their conscious awareness.
From age 8 to 14 they will model the behaviour they see. Often, the person they spend the most time with or the person they look up to the most is who they will model. They begin to exhibit many of the same behaviour as this person and they are not consciously aware they are doing it.
Once they hit high school they are now socializing and trying out their arsenal of modeled behaviours to see how well they work. As they have success, their mind will do a search not unlike a Google search to find supporting evidence for why this behaviour is worth holding onto and repeating.
Imagine if Google searches only allowed you to see information that is consistent with what you already believe to be true? Can you see the importance of being careful what information goes into the minds of children during a crisis? The consequences to what our children are seeing and hearing during this pandemic will be felt for generations to come.
What can we do about this?
1) Have certain conversation in private. If your child overhears you say something that is relatively innocent like, “the people at the store were out of control” it might mean something very different to them then you intended. To an adult a comment like this might mean that the store was busy. To your child though, this comment might mean that the entire world is out of control. Before the Coronavirus things were in control, but now, “things are out of control.”
2) Be mindful of the tone you use when talking about situations that relate to the pandemic. If they hear fear or panic in your voice it may shake their foundation of safety and order in the world. Yes, this can happen simply from the tone of voice you use. If your child detects panic in your voice or an excited tone as you describe the fact that you are running low on hand soap this can create fear in their hearts. The meaning that a child can assign to a seemingly innocent remark might be that their family is in danger because they don’t have soap. Or, they might live in constant fear of running out of soap. I encourage you to say the following sentence over and over and constantly change your tone, emphasis, pitch, cadence and tempo and see how many different meanings you can create from the same sentence.
“We are running low on hand soap and I know some stores have ran out.”
Do you see how the words your uttered are not necessarily responsible for the meaning that other people assign to what you said? It’s not always what you say, it’s how you say it.
3) Be aware of your body language and what it is saying to your children. Remember, children under the age of 8 do not have the ability to criticize information in the way that adults do. If a young child sees his mother or father crying while watching the news it can be utter devastation for that child. The child is looking to you for guidance, support and a connection to world that is safe. If they don’t get this from you the consequences to their mental health may not disappear once Covid-19 disappears. The consequences might disappear 20 years from now as your child is sitting on the couch in my office talking about how his/her life changed back in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic.
My biggest anxiety comes from how parents might be reacting in the presence of their children. What kinds of statements are they making and how are their children interpreting these statements? What tone of voice are you using when describing the chaos at the local store? What message is your body language sending as your children are tying to assess how safe they should feel?
Children model the behaviour they see their role models exhibiting. As parents, we can shift our focus from our own concerns to the mental health of our children. We can make a conscious effort to exhibit behaviour that will reduce anxiety in our children. This means we communicate in a way that makes them feel safe.
When I work with people that suffer from panic attacks, I often find the root cause is buried deep in childhood events. The valuable insight is that the events themselves do not create future mental health problems. It is the interpretation of these events that can lead to anxiety and panic attacks. Many times, when these events are reframed using NLP and Hypnosis the panic attacks vanish. The result is a calm person that processes information in a realistic way and can avoid going down the path of fictitious fear.
I help my clients think differently so that their brains and bodies respond differently. If a stimulus that used to result in a rapid heart rate, profuse sweating and blurry vision is now processed calmly with no physical symptoms this means that we have success.
An even better solution would be if the initial significant emotional event had been interpreted differently. If it were interpreted in a way that did not produce anxiety there may not be any need for me to intervene and help reframe the client's thought process several decades later.
The Covid-19 pandemic has created that significant emotional event for us. I will have future clients that will need a reframe of this period in their life. I also know that if this message can reach the parents that need to hear it, we can reduce the number of traumatized children.
Imagine your children 20 years into the future and ask yourself, “is my behaviour during this pandemic going to create a well adjusted adult that processes information in a realistic way, or an adult that is full of anxiety and panic?”
Answer this questions honestly and then consider changing everything about they way you are communicating. The words you are using, the tone in which you are delivering them and your body language.
I believe we can reduce anxiety levels in adults of the future be recognizing that these adults are children right now. They are children that are watching, listening and soaking up all stimulus like sponges. Not only are the soaking it up but they are modelling it.
What behaviour are your children modelling?