Dealing with Childhood Crises When Vacation and COVID Collide

Source: Cute_Photos / Shutterstock

My youngest (now adult) had a lot of temper tantrums as a child. She was battling ADHD and was emotionally sensitive and responsive. After she finally settled into bed, exhausted from a day of disorder, I myself cried to fall asleep. I felt so bad when I lost my temper with her, but more importantly it didn’t work – it didn’t help get things done, and it sure didn’t help her. to better manage big emotions.

One afternoon just before Christmas, in the Costco parking lot, things quickly turned sour. I’m not sure why I had to bring her with me or why I had to go shopping at that time, but it occurred to me that we had gone straight from kindergarten to the store and she didn hadn’t had his usual snack. After that light bulb moment, I pushed my cart, through the endless expanse of people and vehicles, and sat in the car with her while she had a snack. In less than 10 minutes, she was back to herself.

Now, maybe it should have been obvious to me that she was hungry, but she hadn’t said anything. And I was focused on my shopping task. But once I made that discovery, every time she started to deregulate, my first question was, “When was the last time this child ate?” I always asked her directly too, but she didn’t always realize that she was hungry she couldn’t get out much more than “No” or “I hate everything” or something like that.

Changes in routines increase the risk of internal distress

I find that kids who have made progress and have had fewer outbursts are more likely to relapse during vacations and vacations. We expect them to be happy because of vacations and fun activities, but at the same time, sleep routines change, as do meal and snack times. If travel is involved, there is a lot of stimulation and change all around, and, especially during the holidays, the environmental stimulation is overdriven – lights, music, hustle and bustle. All of these things increase the likelihood that a child’s internal environment will be disrupted or in distress, making a collapse all the more likely.

Prostock-Studio / Shutterstock

Source: Prostock-Studio / Shutterstock

And in this COVID-19 / pandemic world, our lives are continually changing, often in abrupt and unpredictable ways, leaving schedules and plans in shambles. This creates another layer of external changes that increase the chances of internal changes and discomfort in children. This further lowers their threshold to let themselves be overwhelmed by their emotions.

Of course, adults also face changes and new demands that disrupt our schedules and could make us more likely to sleep less, miss a meal, or get overstimulated. It also happens to us. When everyone is pushed to the limit of their bodily needs, emotional management systems don’t have a lot of fuel to operate.

HALT — the 12-step shortcut that also works for emotional deregulation

During my work with families and raising my amazing (and emotionally responsive) child, I realized how essential it is to check out the basic human needs of a child (or adolescent) before assuming that his emotional disturbance is problem behavior. Are they hungry? Tiredness? Over-stimulated? In pain? Scared? Need a hug ? When I coach parents (and for many years in my own parenting), I see these questions as essential first steps with a distressed or irritable child. It doesn’t eliminate all explosions, but it defuses many of them before they get out of hand.

Candida fink

Source: Candida Fink

Using this model, I remember the acronym “HALT”, a phrase used in 12 step programs. It means “Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Fated”. For Members in 12 Steps, it’s a quick reminder of the key factors that can trigger a craving to drink or consume. These physical and emotional needs can derail a person’s sobriety. Taking care of them reduces the risk of relapse. In children whose emotions tend to explode easily, recognizing and correcting the key factors that increase the likelihood of emotional outbursts significantly reduces the risk of such events.

In children and adolescents, their emotional regulation systems are still developing – they lack the buffer to tolerate the distress that accompanies maturation. So a trigger like hunger or overstimulation by noises or people will be a much bigger problem for a child than for an adult. And for children with underlying difficulties in their emotional regulation systems, the problems can become even more extreme.

Emotional regulation skills vary over time and from child to child

Children still develop the systems that help them meet their needs and tolerate discomfort. An infant, for example, can cry only to express some need. As children develop their language, they improve at telling us what is going on. But when they are tired, in pain or hungry, their newly developed language skills regress and they have a much harder time letting us know how they are feeling. That’s why we can’t always count on children to tell us what they need – we have to work on being careful and knowing some of the most likely causes of their distress.

Humans vary widely in their ability to tolerate internal experiences like hunger. Some people don’t notice it at all until they starve to death. Others are aware of the first intestinal rumbling. Children are the same. Some of them show a change in mood as soon as they get a little hungry. Some don’t show much until they go hours without eating. Knowing your child’s habits is part of this process.

STOP for us first

antoniodiaz / shutterstock

Source: antoniodiaz / shutterstock

HALT reminds us to stop and pay attention to any internal clues / needs that might be confusing our child and causing him to collapse. It’s also a great reminder for ourselves, especially during the holidays when the schedules are disrupted and there are a lot of extra stimuli and extra demands. We may not realize that we are hungry, tired, or over-stimulated. And with the level of distress in our lives increasing exponentially as COVID rises again, keeping an eye on our own internal needs is essential if we are to help our children deal with theirs.

As they say on the plane, if you are traveling with young children, put on your own oxygen mask before taking care of theirs. You won’t be able to deal with it if you can’t breathe. So STOP for yourself. HALT for your child. Remember to make sure you and your child are fed and rested, hugged and hydrated before taking on the next challenge of your day.

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