Honestly, my head just spins as I sit here and think about the word “COVID-19.” I think the wildest thing that I just can’t wrap my head around is that it has literally affected every single person…dare I say, all over the WORLD, in one way or another? Yes, some more dramatically than others, but in my life, I have never witnessed an event that has completely affected almost every human in every corner of the globe. From job loss, to empty food banks, to cancelled plans, to delayed/missed medical treatments, to stressful home life, and even the most severe—the loss of a loved one—the ripple effects are never-ending. And my heart breaks equally for all of it.
There were many contributors that caused my family to hit “next-level stress”, including the uncertainty that my husband’s company would survive this, and the fact that we pretty much weren’t going to go anywhere for God knows how long. (FYI: I processed this by crying AT LEAST once a week, while my husband just gets his head in the game and crunches numbers.) I assumed that my husband and I were bearing the brunt of the stress of uncertainty week after week, and honestly, I was thankful that my kids seemed to be having the time of their lives. However, I had no idea of the silent and increasing affect that all this had on my son’s mental health.
My sweet boy is almost six years old. He is the kindest, silliest, most imaginary child. I have always thought of him as so “adaptable”, but then again, I have also never seen him with his world turned upside down.
Right around the time that COVID-19 hit, he had just gone through a normal “monsters-under-my-bed” scared phase that all kids go through. Just like all other phases in my son’s life, he seemed to leave it as quick as it began. Then a month or so into quarantine, he started getting very anxious any time either my husband or me left, even if for just a few minutes, like to walk the dog. He would cry (with a mix of screaming), and make a big deal of our “goodbye,” wanting to do a bunch of kisses and hugs, again, knowing I would be back in a few minutes. We assumed it was just his reaction to us being together ALL.THE. TIME.
Then bedtimes started getting SUPER drawn out; he was making everything take forever, making up a million excuses of things he needed, or adding “rituals” to his routine. We honestly dreaded bedtime so much. Then we noticed he was having a really hard time making decisions…SMALL decisions, like “Do you want toast or cereal for breakfast?” They would turn into complete meltdowns. Additionally, EVERY prayer he would say would be about God healing Coronavirus, and honestly, we didn’t even talk about it a lot around him, so we had no idea how or why he was so anxious about it.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 seemed to ease up a little bit mid-summer, so our families visited us and we also went to visit them in Mississippi. Both times the goodbyes were excruciatingly hard for him. Then after we returned from Mississippi, the bedtime situation exploded, and he was almost inconsolable. Night after night for a week, we tried everything we knew to do: console, ignore, positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, we did it all. For a kid who has literally slept through the night in his own room since he was six months old, we were at a loss. We had no idea what to do other than to drag a mattress into his room. And that’s where one of us slept for an entire month.
We realized it was definitely time to get some outside help, so we called our pediatrician. She assured us that they were seeing A LOT of out-of-ordinary behavior and that this was affecting children more than we could imagine. She reminded us that his entire world was completely changed within a matter of days. School, playdates, parks, friends, all were taken from him for reasons that we couldn’t even fully explain. She encouraged us to seek out a therapist, ensuring it would be good for the whole family.
With a two-page recommendation list in hand, I stayed up half the night reading bios to find the right fit for my son/family. (My sister-in law, also a therapist, encouraged us to specifically look for a play therapist.) I landed on one that I liked, and two days later, we had a parent consultation. The therapist was SO KIND, comforting, and encouraging. She assured us that this “not normal” behavior was normal given the circumstances. She was genuinely interested in learning about WHO my son is and all about his personality, tendencies, etc. It felt like she was absorbing everything about him and how he processes things.
I can’t tell you what a relief it was to see her smiling face as she took my son’s hand and walked him into his first session. As a parent, the worst feeling in the world is not knowing how to help when your child has a problem. It felt so good to throw that life preserver.
Fast forward five weeks, and my son has been to six sessions of play therapy. He absolutely loves it and looks forward to it! Nighttimes are calmer, decisions seem easier, and we are out of his room and finally back in our own bed together!
I’m still learning about play therapy myself, and I’m not saying it’s some quick fix. Truth is, I can look back and now see some of my son’s minor anxious tendencies were amplified by this pandemic and season of uncertainty. But I know that learning how to work through these anxieties and gaining some tools as parents will help tremendously in the future. I’ve already learned so much about how to talk to him in a more logical (and empathetic) way.
I’m sure this is not the end of journey—we still have a lot of work to do, but I am beyond thankful that we reached a place of help and hope. At the end of the day, we can’t keep our kids from going through hard things…we can only hold their hands and provide them with the help they need to grow.
Funny thing is, he is helping me grow just as much. Maybe I’ll get my own therapist!
P.S. For those of you going through a similar situation for a season, or if this is has been your story for years, please know my prayers are with you, mamas.