These lyrics in the Sam Cooke song have been running through my head over the last few days. They of course relate to his own struggles, but I think maybe for all of us at the moment the word change is in our minds. Daily changes to what’s happening regarding the pandemic, playgrounds re opening, Christmas festivities requiring tickets and number restrictions, and now Christmas celebrations themselves being restricted to groups of 6.
How we deal with change affects our children directly and indirectly, so it may be worth just considering for a moment how we present ourselves in the family as change is thrust upon us. The pandemic has for me, heightened my awareness of the interaction between personal life choices, government impositions and society response generally.
This week we have grappled with the once easy, now seemingly mammoth task of getting our daughter back for Christmas. Flights are three times the price, direct flights almost impossible and then booking a guaranteed PCR test within 72 hours of her arrival – at a mere snip of £199!
This all coincided with me watching The Crown episodes with Margaret Thatcher where she famously says “…there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families”. I guess as well, the debate from the last two weeks in our column of whether smacking is a state issue, or a pure parenting choice has influenced my thinking on change. It was good to see people interacting with the Facebook post with variations that agreed “you can discipline your children without smacking them” to “No smacking helps all of society?....who are you trying to kid?”. We do of course all have our own opinions, but the changes imposed on us by the handling of the pandemic force us all to move from opinions to different behaviours, and in the case of getting people back for Christmas, or trying to go to the UK, many of us are making changes we would perhaps, prefer not to.
Our bodies and brain prefer homeostasis, a balanced state of affairs that enables peak performance. Any change signals the body to begin a typical stress response of fight/flight. The body does not differentiate the trigger for stress – good or bad, big or small, the bodily response is the same. So even if we try to fool the body by saying winning 1 million on the lottery is good, it is still change – the stress response kicks in. More importantly, the brain doesn’t really know the difference between a real threat and an imagined one – so simply watching the news, thinking about all the bad things that are happening at the moment, affects our wonderful state of homeostasis. Our bodies are working very much harder as we struggle with the day to day changes, we are tired. And so are our children.
But there is always hope! The amazing thing about human beings is our resilience, our ability to bounce back and we can teach this to our children too. Increasing our awareness of our language use, checking our limiting beliefs and really getting in touch with our own emotions and chosen behaviours, models to our children how they can respond more effectively to change, especially that which we do not feel in control of.
Step one: reflect on how much social media scrolling we are doing, how much news we are following on the TV. Actively ‘move awareness inwards’ – do we have a sickening feeling, tight tummy muscles, shaking hands etc…… is it helpful to feel this way? If it feels unhelpful try a day without scrolling/watching and see if there is a difference. Encourage older children to join you in this experiment, reminding everyone that they have a choice in behaviour – we can turn the ‘phone and TV off, even if just for two hours.
Step two: reflect on the language we are using with our children. “Christmas has been stolen from us this year” verses “Christmas will be a different adventure this year” – and encouraging the whole family to think up new ‘traditions’ and ways of keeping in touch with loved ones who are far away. Yes, I know it sounds twee, but it really does work. Changing our perspective using more creative and positive language places less stress on our bodies, creates a kinder illusion of control and allows us to enjoy what really is instead of reminiscing about what we can no longer do.
Step three: ponder on our own thoughts regarding change – just observe them and gently see if we can categorise them into ‘kind thought’, ‘unkind thoughts’ or ‘neutral’. We may notice that we have shifted since March at least, into much more frequent ‘unkind’ thoughts. Thoughts affect our bodies and just trying to notice unkind thoughts and rethink them into kinder or at least neutral thoughts nourishes the body much more. Listen to our children as they articulate their thoughts and explore how they may be ‘kind’ or ‘unkind’ to themselves or others. Most mental ill health finds its roots in ‘faulty thinking’ – the pandemic and our relationship therefore with government and society has presented an opportunity to really look at how we respond to imposed change and how we can use it to our advantage, living in the moment, doing the best we can, in that moment with the resources that we have.
The only certainty we have in life is uncertainty! We have the illusion of control, if we can teach our children how to manage change effectively we can prepare them for almost anything – “A Change Is Gonna Come”.