A year ago, Mi Casa Es Tu Casa® held an interview with Dr. Carrie Contey, childhood development expert and PhD in clinal psychology with an emphasis in the prenatal and perinatal realms. ❤️
Like many of you, Mi Casa Es Tu Casa® is stepping back out into the world. We have opened our doors to in-person Spanish music classes for our families and babies. It has taken a lot of thinking, researching, and polling of our families to design the best environment for these "wobbly times." And we have also kept our virtual class options open for families that are not ready to come back in.
The truth is, all of us perceive the pandemic differently and have made the right decisions for our own families. The end result being a varied array of approaches.
In fact, how to deal with such a wide breadth of approaches to "getting back to socialization" was one of our first questions for Dr. Contey.
So let's dive in!
1. How can parents address differences in dealing with the pandemic so that our children don’t feel confused, judged, excluded, rejected, or isolated?
You may have a group of friends where everyone is fine getting together indoors, un-masked. But the next day you may visit another friend who asks that you wear a mask and keep the playdate to outdoors.
We asked Dr. Contey how to navigate such differences so that our children feel stable, safe, and loved.
"It always has to come back to getting clear within," says Dr. Contey. She reminds us that there's no right way to do any of this, and we can't control how other people do things.
"The only thing you can do for you and your family is get clear within about what's right for us and be able to communicate that with people you love and people that you're encountering."
Follow these steps:
1. Carve out time to check in with yourself and your partner to see where you both are with pandemic-related decisions. What are you comfortable with? With the constant changes, you may need to have these check-ins often.
2. Communicate early with your loved ones. This could look like sending any email before going to a friend's house to see if hugs are OK (or to indicate that you're not ready for hugs yet). This avoids the tense, unsteady feelings of being confronted with those decisions on the spot.
3. Coach your kids around what decisions your family has made and tell them why you've made them. For example: "We will be wearing masks because it keeps us safe. Our friends may not be wearing masks, and we are going to respect their decision."
2. How can parents navigate all these differences without being judgmental towards friends and strangers?
We don't have to tell you that tensions run high around the different approaches families are taking, with some continuing to stay home and others getting on planes and heading out to vacation.
Some are keeping masks on, and others are eager to discard them.
How can we learn to be OK with such extreme differences in handling a global pandemic, especially when we don't agree with them?
"When we're judging someone else," says Dr. Contey, "there's fear being evoked within us." Maybe, for example, we're afraid of interactions we might have with someone handling the pandemic differently than us.
"When we judge ourselves, we're under-resourced." You may feel ashamed to tell others about how unsafe you still feel going to the grocery store when it feels like the rest of the world has moved on.
In today's world we have so much access to different opinions, but we can't change anyone's mind nor do we know what's right for anyone else. Most important is getting clear with yourself.
Dr. Contey says to take the time to make our own reality the biggest priority. She admits it's not always easy for parents to get, but "we need enough emotional nourishment, so that we can think, feel, and know clearly."
Find your own stability by being less focused out and more focused in. When you're confident in what you're doing, you're less concerned with what others are doing.
"...be more open hearted and allow people to be who they are without fearing that that's going to somehow take away from what you're experiencing." -Dr. Carrie Contey
3. Has social isolation from the past year caused behavioral changes in children the way we feared it might?
The number one question we got a year ago was, how is the lack of socialization going to affect my developing child? So what's the answer? We asked Dr. Contey what she has seen in the families she works with.
She explained that, while the pandemic has caused major disruptions to children's lives, more than anything she's seen resiliency. She has not observed a lot of difficult behavior resulting from isolation. If anything, she's seen many families lean in to the slower pace of life and the more intimate family time.
Here at Mi Casa Es Tu Casa®, that's been our observation as well. This past spring we held a limited number of in-person classes at half-capacity and we saw happy, well-adapted babies and toddlers enjoying themselves with their mommies and daddies. In fact, we didn't see any behaviors we hadn't seen before.
Still, parents know their families best, and we did get specific questions around difficulties they're facing with re-entering society.
4. How can we help our children re-enter (or enter for the first time) social settings, especially when it's overwhelming them?
One mother asked, “We always end up leaving family events or church because it’s just too much for our almost 2 year old. I never knew how important socialization was at such a young age and now my girl is having a hard time and I don’t know what to do.”
Dr. Contey recommends "weaning in and weaning out." We don't need to "diagnose" or put a problem on the behavior, just wean him or her back into social interaction. Start with going to the park for 10 minutes. Next time bring a friend and stay a little longer. Next time go to a small store. Take it slow and steady until after a matter or time you're back at church and family events.
Most important is for you to ask yourself what you're up for and how you feel about taking your little one out into the open. Because if you're feeling anxious about it, your kids will pick up on your feelings about it and reflect that back to you.
Take a moment and pause to ask yourself, “How am I feeling? How am I feeling about the crowds. How am I feeling about taking this tiny little human out into the world?” -Dr. Carrie Contey
It goes back to having conversations with yourself about what you're comfortable with. Checking in with yourself rather than pushing through, because ignoring your emotions can cause both you and your little one to be unregulated.
5. Four questions Dr. Carrie Contey suggests parents regularly ask about themselves and their little ones.
These four questions came up as we began discussing how to recognize anxiety in our little ones.
"I see anxiety or withdrawal as overwhelm. When you see hitting or biting or meltdowns after a playdate, that's not necessarily a symptom of something that needs to be diagnosed and handled...it's nervous system overwhelm."
Being aware of your own child's ability to handle overstimulation can go a long way. This involves knowing your child as an individual, especially since, as parents, it's so easy to fall into the trap of thinking of our children as miniature versions of ourselves.
Regularly ask your child and yourself these questions:
1. Who are you? (You're not a little me, you are you. So...who are you?)
2. What's your journey? (Your child's life path is likely very different from your own.)
3. What do you need? (Both in this developmental phase and overall.)
4. How can I show up for you? (What do I need to do for myself so that I can stretch enough to show up for you in a way that meets your needs?)
Dr. Contey reminds us that your relationship with your child will continually deepen and grow if the mindset is, "you are your own person and I'm just along for the ride (they're along for your ride too) versus, I need you to be like us, and if you're not, I don't know what to do."
"[Our children] are here to grow and expand and allow your heart to be able to hold more." -Dr. Carrie Contey
We invite everyone to take a collective breath, do something kind for yourself, honor how you are feeling about the changes happening around us, and be curious about who the little human you're raising really is.
Thank you for being on this journey with us. We are grateful.
We have an ongoing Question & Answer series for parents, and we'd love for you to email us with anything on your mind that you'd like us to cover.
Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
What the full interview below: