The foundation of systemic phenomenological work


30 March 2020| Family Constellations, Theme: Corona Virus

Kids feel that parents don’t know

In these times when entire families are locked up in their houses together, it’s difficult to not get frustrated. Frustrated because you can’t find your own space anymore, without anybody else in this space. Frustrated because you have to teach your children and you are not a teacher but a parent. Frustrated because at the same time, you have to do your own work from home, and perhaps share the computer with the other home workers and kids. The regular chores also have to be done, even more than normal with all this intensive use of the house. Enough nourishment for frustration.

And underneath all that, lurks the bigger frustration: that you do not have the answers. Nobody knows what’s actually happening, nobody knows when this pandemic and the lockdowns will be over, nobody knows how it, the world, life, will be when “it is over”.
We all try to hold on to the thought of “when this is over”. Because the only reality we know is how it was. The reality now of not knowing makes us insecure.

Kids can feel that the parents and the adults don’t know. That the adults act as if they know. Kids react to the underlying insecurity of the adults, also (perhaps even more!) when you try to hide the insecurity from yourself! I even dare to say that not the kids, but their behaviour reacts to the underlying thoughts and insecurity of the adults.

This is just what kids need: clarity about safety. It is an old basic instinct that we have: When there is clarity about everybody’s place and function, the whole herd can feel safe.
When the adults are clear about what they know and what they do not know, this brings clarity. When adults act as if they know, but actually they have no clue about what will happen and how life will be when this pandemic “is over”, the insecurity only increases.

Children have to behave as if they are in school, but they miss all the familiar and useful conditions for learning: the school building that indicates a clear boundary between home and school. The classroom to identify who belongs to the “we”. “We” as the peer group and teacher, “we” as those who are learning with and from each other, “we” as the ones who have the same level of understanding, learning, “we” with the same kind of language, “we” who can defend ourselves together against the older children, …

And this is especially true for the smaller kids: they miss the smell of the classroom, of the teacher, the teacher’s smile, that feeling of togetherness – outside of the family – when singing a song together for example.

This also creates a lot of frustration for the kids themselves, because – despite the huge efforts of their parents to provide the best conditions to home-school their kids – you can never recreate all these “normal” conditions…

So, we can be sure that at this moment the level of frustration is multiplying worldwide.

Parents have the huge, and perhaps impossible task to contain all this frustration. Normally, we can consult our knowledge, or we can ask other people to see what they know. But the reality now is that nobody knows how long this “not normal” situation will continue, and we don’t know what kind of life and world we will be in after the COVID-19 pandemic has been stabilized enough to return back to “normal”. How much longer will it be until we can say that life is normal again? How much longer will it be until we will say “Everything is normal now, but the normal of before 2020 is behind us”?

We don’t know.

So, our knowing is not a resource we can use at the moment. And that is scary.
Adults sense that it is better not to show your fears when kids are in the room.
But children sense that parents act as if they are not scared; children have a special antenna to pick that up.

Children need basic clarity about who can provide safety, they need to sense that all the adults are taking their position and their responsibility. When they miss this clarity, there is a good chance that they will – subconsciously! – be sucked in a position of “having to be the one who saves the herd”. But the behavior they show, often is does not save anyone at all! The behavior of children who are subconsciously taking the parent’s position (or the position of the parent’s parent), should be a wake-up call for the adults to take their adult position. But it is difficult to understand this kind of behavior, it frustrates us even more that we do not understand why our child is behaving like that!

Frustration upon frustration upon frustration…

I am afraid that inside those locked-down houses, there will be explosions of frustration and domestic violence; all that blocked life energy has to find a way out, and aggression is often the first relief method.

Systemic thinking has no direct solution for all this frustration. But what we know is that acknowledging has a healing effect.

We do not know. What parents can do is to acknowledge that they do not know. Acknowledging that you don’t know is not the same as being helpless, not the same as being desperate. Acknowledging that you do not know is scary, but when you finally pluck up the courage to say: “I do not know”, strange enough, it brings peace. Peace within yourself and peace for your children’s behavior.


For children it is worse when you act as íf you know,
than when you acknowledge that you do not know.


I have huge respect for all the multi-multitasking parents! Good luck to all of you!


Bibi Schreuder

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