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The COVID Brain and Attachment Parenting

Whew!  Here we are, in the middle of a global pandemic, and the future remains unknown.  COVID19 has permeated every part of our lives and has changed how we do family.  Routines are so much different, social distancing is a part of everyday living, and playgrounds are off limits. Parenting has become even more complicated. You are now juggling your own work schedule with your children’s school schedule (and trying to figure out space at home} while still managing household chores, lining up for groceries, and strategizing to make sure that there is enough toilet paper!  Not only that, you are now required to be a computer wizard; join numerous Zoom calls a day, make on-line play dates, and navigate school curriculum.

What is COVID Brain?

The impact of these unique experiences on the brain can be affectionately (or less so) referred to as COVID Brain. COVID Brain refers to how our brains are currently working during this time of unprecedented changes and new routines that are continually evolving.  Your brain has been required to constantly adjust to new ways of being.  COVID Brain is evident when these changes get too overwhelming and we just can’t shift or adjust any more.  Your brain does not like frequent surprises; and there have been so many changes over the past few months.  This is even more complicated when you are parenting children who are still making sense of how to belong in their forever home. Let’s break down how this COVID Brain works and how adoptive and foster parents can parent therapeutically through it.

COVID Brain can surface anytime and anywhere without warning.  It can make some days seem stressful and feel unproductive.  COVID Brain can be disruptive to your usual way of functioning and can leave you feeling confused, isolated, and numb.  The worst part is that COVID Brain is quite unpredictable.  You might think you are doing okay; successfully addressed today’s Lysol crisis, ensured everyone has washed their hands today, you successfully logged into 10 Zoom calls. Then suddenly out of nowhere COVID Brain strikes and you just cannot do ONE. MORE. THING.

How does COVID Brain affect attachment?

COVID Brain can also impact secure attachment and the trust-based relationship you have with your child. Children are looking to parents for assurance of safety and confirmation that they too can weather these changes. While you are trying to provide this security there is the competing pressure to be in your new role of ‘teacher.’ This can present challenges to parenting relationship that is so vital to maintain.  COVID Brain makes learning harder and you might be observing that your child’s ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ response is triggered when faced with academic challenges.

What should take priority?

When you are sorting through the responsibilities that you are currently facing, it is important to be a parent first.  Your connection and relationship with your child is essential to their healthy development.  Your child looks to you for safety and reassurance.  If your child is demonstrating signs of regression, distress and dysregulation, the amount and quality of schoolwork can wait. COVID Brain does not do well when it is asked to do corrections, write a book report, or complete a Science project.  There is a good chance your child will start acting much younger that they are.  They may not remember what you taught them day before or be capable of doing the same amount of work today as they could yesterday.  It will be important for you to recognize when COVID Brain is present and change things up so that your relationship with your child stays as secure as possible. COVID Brain needs to feel calm and safe.  It is so much easier to help children catch up on academic skills when they feel feeling happy, healthy and secure. Rebuilding relationship is tremendously hard work so prioritizing parent child attachment just makes sense!

How can you respond to COVID Brain?

Be conscious of COVID Brain and its impact on you and your family. Mindfully reduce the expectations you have of yourself and your child.  When COVID Brain takes over, your child will be aware and it can be unsettling for them.  This is particularly true for children who still live in a hypervigilant state and work hard to stay regulated and feeling secure.  Once you recognize the signs that you or your child’s COVID Brain is active you can: take a break, play a game, have a snack, do some cuddling, and find some repetitive or rhythmic activities and focus on soothing.  At the end of this crazy journey what will be left solid is the safety and security your child feels in your presence.

Dr. Crandall

Stay tuned for ‘More on COVID Brain and How Your Child Learns During the Pandemic’

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