Positive Parenting in Uncertain Times. Part 2 The Emotional Rollercoaster

Tue May 5th 2020

‘The Roller Coaster of Emotions’

By Debbie Mills

Your children are on a roller coaster now – The roller coaster of emotions.

As parents or caregivers, you have not chosen for your child/ren or yourselves to be on this ride. You haven’t queued and payed to get on it, no one, especially your child/ren (no matter what age) have been waiting for the ‘buzz’, the thrill of feeling ‘butterflies’ in their tummy on this ride. Your child/ren don’t really want to be on it, but they are, and they aren’t quite sure how to get off, in fact they may not be able to for a while. Talk to them about the different emotions, are they aware of them, can they match the word of the emotion to the expression? A lot of child/ren know the basic emotions, sad, angry, happy, but struggle with naming deeper ones such as jealous, disgust, trust, confidence etc.

Let them draw what they feel…….it may look very different to what you think they are feeling. Maybe they could sing or act out their emotions/feelings. Let them go into their room and blast out music at certain times.   

As your child/ren feel the motions of the ride start. They may go quiet, withdrawn, regress or get angry as they are not sure as to what is happening. The ride eventually drops – fast, hard, and long, taking their emotions whizzing around corners, around loops, through tunnels and up and over bumps.

Your children will try to understand that everyone is on this ride together but will also look around a feel that maybe you are all different carts on the ride, feeling different bumps, loops and drops. Your children may not want to ‘bump’ your cart for fear that their emotions will spill out everywhere and you will have to put your emotions aside, they will feel as though they need or want to protect you and nurture you, depending on their developmental and cognitive ages.

It all starts to get scary for everyone.  

This is the Roller coaster of emotions your child/ren along with other child/ren, youth, elderly and families will have and are still experiencing as Covid 19 took hold in New Zealand.

As New Zealand was told to ’lockdown’ in Level four and stay in our ‘Bubbles’.  Families, children, youth, the elderly and pets have all had to adapt to living with a variety of emotions that have filled heart and heads of many. Some have had to learn to ‘deal’ with these emotions on their own.

As adults most of us can manage our emotions, talk about them and find ways to alleviate the fears Covid 19 and the lock down has and continue to cause. For children it can be different, depending on their home environment, family dynamics, circumstances, health and their ability to express themselves.

Whilst on this roller coaster some of your child/ren may have chosen to isolate in their rooms, spend time on social media (which can of cause come with a whole load of other emotions and issues), some may have withdrawn whilst others may have emerged out of their shells to talk about stuff. Some may have regressed in their development to help themselves best manage this Roller Coaster that they fear.

Your children may start ‘playing’ with their dolls again, start talking to their bears, play with that playdough that was out for the younger sibling, they may want to write or draw about their emotions, read more – let them. Let them bake to pound that bread dough, mix the ingredients by hand instead of using a cake mixer – it uses trapped energy and can release emotions.  

Some of these emotions they may have never experience before, whilst on this un-wanted ride and again it’s scary stuff.

The basic emotions of Joy, Excitement, Surprise, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, Contempt and Fear tend to appear as the roller coaster cruises along, ticking along the rails moving to the top of the big drops or loops the feeling of wanting to step off the ride appear but they are aware they can’t just get off.

It almost takes their breath away and then yours as you see your child struggling and you may feel powerless to help. You are not.

Adrenaline will start to kick in along with the anticipation, nerves, uncertainty and fear of the unknown that something could happen, something will happen, something that they or you can’t stop because no one can step off the ride. Nerves and worry start to play ‘havoc’ with your child/ren’s brain and cause further feelings and Emotions, these can start to affect them mentally and they may start to feel physical symptoms too, these physical symptoms may also be in relation to them over worrying causing anxiety.

Within your cart (your bubble) on the ride,  you have a child/young person that is unwell, has maybe recently had surgery,  a transplant, is immunosuppressed or unwell due to other illness and you find your roller coaster has way more twists, turns, drops and loops because you are carrying the emotions of them too and those surrounding you as well wanting to ‘keep them extra safe’,  It’s exhausting.

During Level four you have may have found ways to support your child/ren to help slow their roller coaster down, stop it, ease the loops or big drops, your child/ren may have learnt to breathe better, meditate, communicate better in ways you never knew they could, they may have decided to turn the emotions around and have FUN, laugh, smile, engage in family activities, listen to music, watch movies, Netflix, TV, play video games, manage their home schooling to best suit you and to engage in physical activities that best suit them.

Your children and you would have learnt how to manage those emotions when you have had to leave them or and your bubble to get the shopping, go to work and hospital appointments. Seeing health care staff in PPE gear, would have created some anxiety for your child/ren, suddenly they would feel like they are part of a sci fi movie, it’s a weird and scary feeling, Your child/ren have had to learn how to manage emotions better when attending appointments because the physical support of a hug, a tap on the arm, seeing facial expressions clearly are all not there. They have had to manage emotions relating to not being able to extended family or friends if they are in hospital, maybe they have had to adapt to only one parent/ caregiver attending appointments to hold their hand and if you have other children have had to face emotions that relate to these changes and emotions too.

For some child/ren the Roller Coaster hasn’t stopped or slowed down, it’s got faster, they have felt their heart racing like never before, anxiety has started to creep in, the worries have gotten bigger and for some ‘breathing’ has just been far too difficult. 

Just when you feel like you’ve figured out how your child/ren’s emotional Roller Coaster works and how you can support them, the levels change again and now you now must focus on Level 3 – What this means and looks like for your bubble, you child/ren? Do you extend your bubble, is this ‘safe’ How will your child/ren feel about this? Create a plan, involve them, talk about the changes and how this may impact on emotions. Do you send the kids back to school, is this ‘safe’? Do your child/ren want to or feel safe going back to school? Ask them, get them to journal, write, draw, sculpt what going to school could or would look like. It’s not going to be like before. Do you order food online, is this ‘safe’? Do you go back to work, is this ‘safe’……..still so many uncertainties.

During Level three you will start to experience ‘unknowns’; like no other, choices that you are invited to make with regards to work, sending you kids to school, hospital, doctors etc. Possibly worrying about the long-term effect your decision will have. Your child/ren will be thinking the same things, again dependent of age levels.

The pressure is on, this ride just keeps getting harder to step off.

Just keep allowing your children to talk about their emotions and feelings – ‘breathe’ and try to slow their roller coaster down for them for a short time allowing them to discover their quiet space in their heads and in turn allowing you to breathe too. . 

“Inside the soul, right in the middle of it, there’s a bird standing on one foot. This is the soul bird. It feels everything we feel” ‘The Soul Bird’, Michal Snunit.

As this Roller Coaster of Emotions continues, anxiety may start to increase further, we’ll look at Anxiety in more depth next week.

Family Activities

Could you draw your Roller Coaster? What are the Emotions that have been obvious? How have you overcome these? What techniques have worked within your bubble? What have been your biggest fears?

Handprints – draw around your hand, decorate or write in it all the emotions/feelings you have experienced in Level 4, put all your handprints together and ‘share’ – reflect in these in several months.

Play Dough – Create an emotion that you are feeling – talk to it, smash it, re-mold it

Creative writing – For young people it’s a nice Idea to create a poem or piece of writing relating to the Roller Coaster

Creation of a board game – Create a board game, asking questions along the way as to how best Emotions can be supported, what techniques could be used, and feelings associated with the virus.

Below are a few sites I’ve found useful for children, youth and families for activities relating to Emotions





This is part 2 of a series of articles aimed at addressing anxiety and behavioral changes stemming from the COVID-19 lockdown confinement, and its ongoing effects on children and families. IDFNZ members with questions relating to this and the other articles in this series can email questions to info@idfnz.org.nz  for a response from Debbie.