As the Coronavirus (COVID19) continues to impact how we go about our lives, a common concern is how parents will work from home or perform other daily tasks when the children cannot attend school or childcare. This concern is particularly salient as, due to their sensitivity to the emotions of others and their own knowledge and experience of the Cononavirus, children (and young people) are likely to experience a heightened proneness to anxiety at this time.
Most children, when they are anxious, will seek comfort and support from, and closeness to, their parents or other adult caregivers. This proximity-seeking behaviour is meant to relieve stress and restore feelings of wellbeing for the child. During times of heightened anxiety most children will naturally engage in increased proximity-seeking behaviour.
Unfortunately, a number of complications that can arise when children engage in increased proximity-seeking to relieve their anxiety and restore feelings of wellbeing:
- One complication is that the children can be so preoccupied with attaining and maintaining proximity with a caregiving adult that the adult simply cannot always respond to the child. This is especially salient when a single adult is caring for more than one anxious child.
- Another complication is that a child’s preoccupation with attaining and maintaining proximity to a caregiving adult can be so pronounced that, notwithstanding their best intentions, the adult feels overwhelmed and withdraws from time to time in order to restore their own equilibrium.
- A further complication is that, due to their own heightened state arising from anxiety about the coronavirus and the child’s proximity-seeking behaviour, adult caregivers can become less effective at relieving a child’s anxiety.
The net result is that the child experiences the adult as inconsistently available to them as a source of needs provision, where the need is closeness and restoration of feelings of wellbeing.
In and of itself, inconsistency is stressful for children, further heightening their need for a proximate adult. Inconsistent responsiveness typically results in a preoccupation with needs provision and a high rate of, and great persistence in, behaviours to secure access to needs provision; in this instance, the attention and responsiveness of a caregiving adult.
This can leave adult caregivers feeling totally overwhelmed and with a sense that they are being controlled and regulated by the now ‘overly demanding child’.
So, how does the adult caregiver reassure the child that they are accessible to them, thereby reducing the child’s anxiety and excessive proximity-seeking?
The short answer is to enrich the child’s experience of the accessibility of the caregiving adult. To do this, the caregiving adult must check-in with the child without the child doing anything to achieve proximity.
The challenge here is that these are the times when the adult is hungrily trying to attend to all the tasks that need attending to and are being impacted by the anxious child’s heightened need for attention. However, if the caregiving adult can initiate contact with the child proactively the child has the experience that their caregiver is thinking of them and is accessible to them without them having to do anything to make it so. Implemented on a regular/consistent basis, this one aspect of caregiving can have the effect of reducing excessive proximity-seeking and promoting acceptance of temporary separations.
After all, this is how the child learnt in the first place that their adult caregivers were accessible to them without the child having to go to great lengths to make it so. That is, during infancy their caregivers attended to them whether the child was crying or quiet.
So, how to put this into place? Well, I recently released a resource to assist parents and caregivers of children to develop a plan to enrich a child’s experience of their accessibility. You can view the resource below and access a PDF here.
For more information about enriching accessibility, keep an eye out for a further resource I will be releasing in the coming days. Please also keep an eye out for a resource I will be releasing in relation to self-care.
Good luck, and do leave a comment with any suggestions about other topics you might like me to address.
A straightforward guide to keeping things on track in the home during tough times. Includes printable worksheets – see preview below. 18pp
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