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It’s science: Quarantine fatigue is making our kids angry

Sadness and anger are normal responses to loss—here's how to help.

kids quarantine fatigue anger

"I always feel like I am yelling. And it just dawned on me how much I'm really expecting of them. I feel like they're out of their routine. I'm asking them to do things around my work schedule. They think it's the weekend. I can't play every time they ask. I'm constantly shushing them because I'm on the phone. Or telling them to wait. Or getting off a call and snapping when they ask for the fifth snack of the morning." —Ashley

Sound familiar? Kids are having a ton of uncharacteristic anger these past few weeks. They're burned out and frustrated with quarantine fatigue, just like the rest of us—and they are *over* their parents working from home. They have gone so many weeks without their usual outlets—no seeing friends or taking trips to the park or to see grandparents—and have less predictable attention from you.

Their lives have imploded, and they have nothing to do with it or the ability to wrap their minds around why it's happening.

All they know is that they were sad about not being able to do the things that were the framework of their lives. And now they are mad. Aggression follows as they lash out, yelling and maybe even hitting. But don't worry, mama, this uncharacteristic behavior is a normal response to their emotions—and it's not permanent.

Sadness is an emotional pain that occurs when we have lost something significant.

Our daily activities support our identity and missing those can feel physically uncomfortable. Anger is a healthy and natural response to sadness over something that you cannot control. It's natural to find temporary relief by lashing out.

Anger is often expressed through aggressive behaviors like hitting, kicking or throwing toys. We are wired for aggression—the biological function of anger is to help us prepare to fight off threats. Additionally, their capacity to process and regulate emotion is not fully developed yet.

"Children have all kinds of big emotions," says psychologist Dr. Laura Markham. "Because they don't have much prefrontal cortex yet, their brains are still developing the circuitry needed for self-control."

Getting kids to think differently about situations can lead to a reduction in their anger.

Dr. Leonard Berkowitz, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, found that paying attention to negative feelings can help regulate how we express them.

Here's what you can do when your kids are experiencing sadness, anger and aggression:

  • Help them accept the sadness they are feeling by finding words to name it. Ask them what was lost, then let them feel sad, even if it is hard for you.
  • Understand they might not have the exact words, so be patient and honest with them to retain their trust. Be gentle with them, and yourself.
  • Don't avoid their sadness, but let them fully feel their sadness without judgment or comments. Sadness fully expressed authenticates their feelings and validates their perspectives and the importance of what is lost.
  • When they get angry, help them feel it in their body. Then use relaxation skills, like deep breathing and yoga to control the level of their emotions.
  • Help them retrain their attention, thoughts and feelings to the things they can control—like the timing of daily activities, chores and creative outlets—to regain their sense of power.

Just as importantly, prioritize your own self-care and try to model healthy coping for stress and anxiety. "Children are keen observers and often notice and react to stress or anxiety in their parents, caregivers, peers and community," explains Dr. Arthur C. Evans, CEO of the American Psychological Association.

Bottom line: You might think they're pushing your buttons, but that's not what's going on. They're upset and under a lot of stress. As parents, we need to understand that underneath much of their anger is a sense of powerlessness. We need to reassure them, and ourselves, that we will return to what was lost, reclaim our power and, ultimately, a sense of peace. What you do now makes a big impression on how your kids will deal with problems and pressure in their futures.

[Editor's note: According to the American Psychological Association, if anger isn't allowed outward expression, your anger can turn inward on yourself, causing internalizing behaviors, like sulking or increased symptoms of depression. If you or your child are experiencing any of these behaviors, please consult your doctor.]

And if you're looking for tools to help children name their feelings or cope, these can help.

Slumberkins Hammerhead snuggler

Slumberkins Hammerhead Snuggler

Developed by a therapist and educator, the Slumberkins Hammerhead Snuggler comes with a plush animal, board book and affirmation card that can help children articulate and name their feelings. Hammerhead is perfect for guiding children through conflict resolution while learning the valuable life skills of communication and emotional regulation.

$44

Mindful Moments guided exercises + mantra cards

 Mindful Moments Guided Exercises and Mantra Cards

Help your little one discover new ways to breathe, move and express feelings with these beautifully illustrated mindfulness exercise cards. The everyday exercises and empowering mantras aim to increase emotional intelligence, improve focus, build resilience, reduce anxiety and help children feel more connected to the world around them and better understand their big feelings.

$30

 'Om the Otter' children's book

Articulation Books "Om the Otter"

Created by a group of mothers, clinicians and friends, Om the Otter takes children on a journey of friendship, compassion and how to be present for someone experiencing difficult feelings. Through the story, little ones learn breathing exercises that can help them deal with tricky emotions.

$24

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My village lives far away—but my Target baby registry helped them support me from afar

Virtual support was the next best thing to in-person hugs

They say you shouldn't make too many major life transitions at once. But when I was becoming a mama for the first time nearly five years ago, my husband and I also moved to a new town where we didn't know a soul, bought our first house and changed jobs.

To put it mildly, we didn't heed that advice. Luckily, our family and friends still made it feel like such a magical time for us by supporting our every move (literal and otherwise) from afar. They showered us with love through a virtual baby shower (expectant parents nowadays can relate!) featuring the unwrapping of gifts they were able to ship straight to me from my Target registry.

Here's one piece of advice I did take: I registered at Target so I could take advantage of the retailer's benefits for registrants, which include a welcome kit valued over $100, a universal registry function and more. Fast-forward a few years and Target has made the registration perks even better for expectant parents: As of August 2020, they've added a Year of Exclusive Deals, which gives users who also sign up for Target Circle a full year of savings after baby is born on all those new mama essentials, from formula to diapers and beyond.

Honestly, even without the significant perks of a free welcome kit with more than $100 in coupons, additional 15% off coupons to complete the registry and a full year of free returns, registering at Target wasn't a hard sell for me: Even though the experience of shopping for baby items was new, shopping with Target felt like returning home to me… and the comfort of that was such a gift.

And of course, Target's registry plays a vital role right now, as expectant parents everywhere are being forced to cancel in-person baby showers and navigate early parenthood without the help of a hands-on village. A registry like this represents a safe way for communities to come through for new parents. If you're anything like me (or any of the other mamas here at Motherly), you certainly have emotional ties and fond memories associated with Target.

What to register for at Target was also an easy talking point as I began to connect with moms in my new community. I will always remember going on a registry-building spree with my next door neighbor, who had young children of her own. As we walked the aisles of Target back in 2015, she suggested items to add… and we laid the foundation for what has since become one of my most cherished friendships.

Even as I made connections in my new hometown, I was nervous that expecting my first baby wouldn't feel as special as if I were near family and friends. But my loved ones exceeded all expectations by adding the most thoughtful notes to gifts. They hosted a beautiful virtual baby shower and even encouraged me to keep the registry going after my baby made his debut and new needs arose.

In the years since, "community" has taken on a wonderfully complex new meaning for me… and, in these times of social distancing, for the rest of the world. I've come to cherish my newfound friends in our local community alongside those long-time friends who are scattered around the county and my virtual mama friends.

Now, as my friends' families grow, I'm so grateful that I can show them the same love and support I felt during my first pregnancy. I sing the praises of Target's baby registry—especially in light of the pandemic, since I know mamas can do everything from a distance thanks to Target's website and the added benefit of getting trusted reviews and helpful registry checklists.

And now that I'm on the gift-buying side of the equation, I've found new joy in picking thoughtful gifts for my friends. (Because goodness knows Target has something for everyone!)

For my friend who is a fellow runner, I teamed up with a few others to give the jogging stroller she had on her registry.

For my friend who is a bookworm, I helped her start her baby's library with a few books that are also well-loved in our home.

For other friends, I've bundled together complete "sets" with everything they need for bathing or feeding their children.

I know from my own experience that, yes, the registry purchases are so appreciated, but the thoughtfulness and the support they represent means even more. Because although my village may have been distant, the support they showed me was the next best thing to in-person hugs.

Start your own Target Baby Registry here to experience a Year of Benefits including a Year of Exclusive Deals through Target Circle to enjoy for a full year following your baby's arrival, a year of free returns, two 15% off completion coupons and a free welcome kit ($100 value).

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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