Why sharing stories of the pandemic is good for us
From an article by Psychology Today
We are all experiencing the pandemic in similar ways across generations. Does the fact that we are experiencing and expressing so much anxiety mean that we should not talk about it to each other? More especially, does it mean that parents should try to “shield” their children from this stress and simply not talk about pandemic worry? The answer is absolutely not.
Research from The Family Narratives Lab at Emory University, Atlanta, has found that parentally guided reminiscing about stressful and challenging events helps children understand and cope with difficult emotional experiences.
New research findings from the Growing Up New Zealand study confirm and extend these findings. Growing Up New Zealand is an amazing longitudinal study of 6000 children growing up in New Zealand beginning at birth. The mothers and children were asked to reminisce about a negative event, a time that they had a conflict with someone or were disappointed. Parents who engaged in the reminiscing conversations in more elaborative ways, asking more open-ended questions (e.g., What happened then? What else do you remember?) had children with fewer emotional problems and better prosocial skills, skills like empathy and perspective-taking.
More specifically, parents who guided their children to a resolution of the challenging experience had children with fewer externalizing behaviors (anger, aggression) and lower depression scores. So parents who help their children to coherently structure, understand, and resolve difficult emotional experiences help their children build positive skills and experience fewer emotional problems.
But what about talk specifically about the pandemic? Is this too stressful as it is still ongoing?
A study was made involving almost 1400 U.S. and Canadian parents, first responding to an online survey just weeks after lockdown and then again 6 months later. Those parents that did not think it was a good idea to talk about the pandemic or to bring up feelings of anxiety or fear in conversations with their children, had children who, 6 months later, were showing higher levels of anxiety and internalizing (depression, withdrawal) and externalizing problems than children of parents with an active communication style.
Parents can easily be more elaborative in their reminiscing style. When parents of 2 year olds were simply asked to:
Praise your child’s responses.
Follow in on your child’s responses with related questions.
If your child doesn’t respond, rephrase your questions with new information.
Keep it fun!
Twenty years on, children of the parents who were more elaborative had more coherent memories of their own experiences. Even more interesting, they had higher self-esteem, higher sense of well-being, and lower depression. That simple intervention in early childhood had such long-term effects.
So, what does all this tell us? Clearly, we crave social interaction and lament the isolation the pandemic has caused, and we worry about the future. But talking with others about it helps. Children especially may need the guided structure of parents to help them create a narrative that is more detailed, more coherent, and has some resolutions. We need to talk to each other, to our families, and to our children about what we are experiencing in order to process and cope with the challenges all of us are facing.
Read the full article here.
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