(This post contains affiliate links.)
People always warn you about the Terrible Twos, but no one can really prepare a parent for the Terrible Twos During A Pandemic. I know my son is doing the best he can, but like most kids right now, I’ve definitely noticed a big increase in behavioral issues since quarantine started. My son’s fuse is short, he regularly refuses to eat, he’s started throwing things, and I’m lucky if he listens to 25% of what I ask him to do in a day.
It’s not just from being cooped up or bored; we get outside for walks and bike rides, and I always have a bunch of fun new activities for him. Kids just don’t do well with big changes. It makes them feel out of control. So they look for ways they CAN control things.
- A 3-year-old can control whether or not they sleep. Hello, sleep regression, and goodbye, perfect nap schedule.
- A 5-year-old can control how much they eat. Here comes picky eating or straight up hunger strike.
- A previously potty trained child can control their bathroom habits. Time for bedwetting, daytime accidents, and for younger kids who are just starting with potty training, refusal to sit on the potty.
- And our favorite… kids can control the extent to which their parents want to pull our their hair. So of course they’re going to act out in whatever way they know will get our attention.
So how do we comfort our kids during this pandemic in a way that helps make them feel safe enough in this state of wild change that they stop misbehaving?
Help from ‘I Love You’ Rituals
‘I Love You’ Rituals come from Conscious Discipline, an evidence-based, trauma-informed behavior management system for parents and teachers. It uses social and emotional learning to help kids solve problems and feel safe and loved. It’s kind of like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It starts at the bottom with red, then moves up to blue, and finally up to green.
Before children can handle anything more complex, they have to know that they are safe. Kiddos who aren’t sure if they’re safe are in the Survival State. So many of our children right now are afraid of what’s going on and of what’s going to happen to them. Even if we haven’t specifically spoken the words ‘coronavirus’ or ‘Covid-19’ to our children in an explanatory way, kids are the best at reading the room. They read our emotions no matter how much we’re trying to hide what’s going on and put on a happy, normal face. Kids naturally mirror our heart rates and breathing patterns. If our hearts speed up and we start taking fast, shallow breaths, our kids subconsciously react the same way.
Our kids can’t access the higher level brain states until they feel safe. ‘I Love You’ Rituals (I’ll give examples and explain more soon) help children feel more safe. I’ve also been helping my son feel more safe by talking to him about Covid-19… but being incredibly intentional about how I frame it. I told him that a lot of people are sick right now, so we have to be even more careful that usual to not get sick. I explained how masks block germs in a cute cartoonish way with my fingers as germs flying through the air and landing on his unmasked mouth and getting in— but wait! When the germs fly and try to land in his mouth when he has his mask on, they bounce right off and say, “Oh no! I can’t get in there anymore.” He giggles and giggles and says, “Do it again!”
When I frame Covid-19 in his mind, my objective is to replace fear of the unknown and unfamiliar circumstances with a sense of empowerment that we’re doing such an amazing job protecting ourselves. Instead of talking about the illness, I focus on all the cool things we’re doing to prevent the illness… and give him 100x the normal amount of praise when he does a good job with them.
I’m proud to say that we can run into the pharmacy for five minutes, and my 2.5-YEAR-OLD resists touching anything the entire time. When we get back outside, he proudly exclaims, “I didn’t touch anything, Mommy! You touched 3 things. You need to use the special soap [hand sanitizer] to wash your hands.” Once I left the hand sanitizer in the car, and when I tried to hold his hand outside, he firmly announced, “No, Mommy. Your hand has germs on it. You have to use the special soap before we can hold hands.”
He truly feels EMPOWERED about defending his safety (and mine) rather than afraid. I’m so glad that I talked to him about what was going on instead of just trying to get a terrified child to agree to a bunch of strange new rituals like constant hand sanitizer and wearing a mask.
Once a child has satisfied their need to feel safe and moved out of the Survival State, they move up to working on the Emotional State. Here their focus is on feeling loved and connected. ‘I Love You’ Rituals are perfect for helping kids feel more connected to us.
I realized the pandemic meant my son needed extra opportunities to feel loved and connected after noticing a strange pattern on days we went to the grocery store. You’d think the anxiety of going to the grocery store and wearing the mask would make a child act out more once they get back home. But my son was always so well-behaved and sweet in the afternoons after our morning trips to the grocery store. What was filling up his cup with so much connection that he was back to his pre-pandemic lovey, dovey self?
Well, one big change is that I’ve been baby wearing again since the pandemic began. I don’t feel comfortable putting my son in a cart, and I don’t want him walking for long periods of time in the store and touching things or bumping into people. So I’ve been popping him in the Tula so that I can keep him close to my body and keep him from touching things. It’s been working great for the intended purpose, but also had an unintended benefit of giving my son some extra love and closeness that’s he’s been craving. He always says, “Mommy, can you carry me in ‘hugging’?” (his adorable name for the Tula). After we get home, he’s just an angel for the rest of the day because he feels truly connected to me after all of the ‘hugging.’ He caen move up to the next state: the Executive State.
Once children feel safe and loved, they stop acting out and are in the Executive State, where they can focus on what they’re interested in learning and thinking about. Think of a time when your kiddo was curious and delighted to learn, when they were passionate and had brilliant questions and ideas about what you were learning together. That was a time your child was in the Executive State.
How We Can Help Our Kids Level Up
‘I Love You’ Rituals from the Conscious Discipline movement are a playful way to help our children feel safe, loved, and connected (and help us feel safe, loved, and connected too!). Research shows that they “promote optimal brain development, increase attention span, reduce hyperactivity, build self-esteem, amplify cooperation and facilitate language development.” To accomplish this, the ‘I Love You’ Rituals all combine:
- Eye contact,
- Presence, and
Here are a few fun examples!
It’s wonderful to see you
When you greet your child, start by shaking their hand and saying this phrase to them. Then add in some extra playfulness and start shaking their other body parts… foot, ear, nose, knee, saying, “It’s wonderful to meet you, Nose!”
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
With new child-affirming lyrics!
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
What a wonderful child you are!
With bright eyes and nice round cheeks,
Talented person from head to feet.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
What a wonderful child you are!
Cotton Ball Blow
For this one, you need a small table to play on. You sit across from your child and hold each other’s arms to create the outline of a field. Then you place a cotton ball in the middle of the field. You try to blow it toward your child’s chest, and your child tries to blow it toward your chest. It’s important for this one that it not become a competition; it’s not about winning or losing, just about observing the results of what happens. If your child naturally tries to make it into a competition by saying, “I won!” you can shift the focus by stating, “You blew the cotton ball over to my side of the table.”
Silly Voice/Peppa Pig
This is one that I invented. I let my son watch Peppa Pig for a few minutes once a week when I trim his nails. He’s just fascinated with the accents. One night, I decided I’d try talking to him in a fake British accent to see how he would react. He was completely enamored! He immediately climbed on my lap and looked up at me like I was the most fascinating toy in the entire world. I kept it up for about an hour. He hung on my every word (and onto me) the whole time. It was such a fun way to get in some extra snuggles, silliness, and eye contact… all the makings of a perfect ‘I Love You’ Ritual!
I highly recommend integrating ‘I Love You’ Rituals into your routine to help your kiddos feel more connected during this pandemic… and keeping the rituals going even when go back to normal! You’ll definitely see an improvement in mood and behavior if you stick with it.
The book I Love You Rituals by Dr. Becky A. Bailey goes further into depth about the value of these rituals and includes 75 different rituals you can try out. If you’re also looking for a book on the evidence-based Conscious Discipline strategies in general, this one is awesome.
What changes have you noticed in your children during the pandemic? What strategies have you tried that helped (or didn’t!)?