Today should have been the first big Thursday of March Madness. It feels a little strange without the hype of the NCAA tournament, at least in our home. We are big March Madness people!

About a month ago, my oldest Cole leaned over to me in the car and whispered, “Mom, do you know what gives me goosebumps all over when I think about it?”

(That’s when us moms get all excited and want to say, “Yay! Tell me all of your secrets and just keep talking! But I calmly said… ) “No buddy, what?”

“March Madness,” he said. “Everything from the first tip-off to the One Shining Moment song. I can’t wait!” 

Then, last Thursday, it was all canceled, and my big strong buddy of an 11-year-old was all in tears. 

My initial reaction was to somehow make it all better. I thought about creating some sort of new tournament or planning something else super fun. The mom in me (and the #2 on the enneagram me) just wanted to resolve all his hurt.  But then I realized that this disappointment, the tears, the feeling of something lost, was okay. Healthy even?

As a mom, it is natural for me to want to help my kids avoid pain and sadness.  But if I do not allow my kids to experience those emotions now in a safe environment, where they are allowed to work it out, how will they process disappointment and hurt as adults later in life?  And we all know these challenges are inevitable and unavoidable.   

There are going to be a lot of scared and disappointed kids in the next few weeks and months.  With the coronavirus outbreak, birthday parties are canceled, sports seasons are postponed, schools are closing, and every day seems to bring new change and disappointment.  As parents, we are experiencing the same thing, so let’s talk through that with our kids and let them process their feelings.

It is okay for them to cry. It’s okay for them to be sad that baseball, basketball, school, and so much of their life that they were anticipating experiencing just won’t be quite the same this year. Don’t take those feelings away from them, but let them talk them out.  Below are a few ideas and talking points we can use as parents to encourage conversation and help our kids work through the fears and sadness that many of us are also feeling.  Parents, it’s a tough time.  Tough times can make great teaching times. Let’s use it the best we can.    HLLF, Melissa

Acknowledge the hurt – Sympathy can go a long way.  Statements like “Hey bud, I know that this is really hard for you. I’m sorry.” Or, “What bothers you the most about it?”… can open up meaningful conversations and connection.

Listen without judgment – Maybe the fact that your child is crying over something you see as ridiculous is bothering you…. just listen.  Whatever they say, just be intent on listening. Gather the entire story before you respond and have empathy. Kids go through a lot of confusing emotions, so listen with a helpful attitude.

Strategize how to handle situations – Rather than solving the problem for your child, encourage him/her to strategize a path to feeling better about the situation. A conversation starter might be, “This is a hard time. What could we do to make this time easier?”

Help them label their feelings out loud–  Tell kids when you notice something they might be feeling. So for example,” It seems like you might be scared about what’s happening. What questions do you have about that?” Or, “I think you might be sad about this. Me too, buddy.” This shouldn’t sound like an accusation. It’s just a casual observation that you’re interested in hearing more about your child’s concern.

Just be there – Plan on giving your kids a little extra time right now. Be with them when there are no words,  give extended hugs, choose creative messes over clean counters.  Be more present when their world seems chaotic.

Be patient –  It hurts to see your kids unhappy or worried. But try to resist the urge to fix every problem. Instead, focus on helping them grow into good problem solvers.  There is not a timeline for coronavirus or the path our society is going to take, so let’s not put a timeline on our kids’ emotions about it.

Pray out loud with your kids – Kids loved to be prayed for and with.  Even if you have never prayed out loud with your child before, just start.  It may feel “weird” at first, but I guarantee you, your child with appreciate it… you both will.

Melissa Cheatham