Managing uncertainty to avoid crisis

Tanya Kemp

Managing uncertainty to avoid crisis

In my work with families I help parents to think about managing uncertainty for their children in such a way that it leads to growth and learning, as opposed to dysregulation and crisis. Covid is a time of unprecedented uncertainty so its no wonder that we feel so depleted.

Uncertainty can be disconcerting for most of us. We like stability and predictability. Our kids often need things to be predictable to be okay. However, it is often in moments of uncertainty that meaningful growth happens. It is when we are faced with something that is somewhat uncertain, a bit of a challenge, that we enter a mode of problem-solving, inferring and flexible thinking. We refer to this as productive uncertainty or productive stress. We are not overwhelmed by the uncertainty or challenge, and feel sufficiently engaged, interested and motivated to attend to it with curiosity. Solving problems ad working through challenges in this way builds feelings of competence and fosters resilience. It is a productive state. 

On the opposite end we find something called ‘unproductive uncertainty’. This is essentially a place of chaos and causes a tremendous amount of stress and ‘burning’ of internal resources. There are endless uncertain moments in each day and with finite internal resources available to us (and our kids) each day, we want to direct our energy to those uncertain moments that will create meaningful growth – rather than waste energy on things that really don’t need to be uncertain. 

With some consideration and planning we can scaffold our own success and manage energy expenditure to be more productive and kind to ourselves(and our kids).

Action Points:

The key question to ask yourself is: How do I reduce unproductive uncertainty and maintain the things that support my sense of safety and stability?

Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

As always, remember, your regulation is key for your kids. They are the barometers for our emotional state…so pay attention!


Set up an activity with your kids where you all draw/write together about what you miss most about life before Covid-19. You can’t recreate life as it was, and you don’t want to – but identify some ‘same but different’ opportunities. Then truly acknowledge and empathize with that which you have lost. Hold space for each other for that too.


Take comfort in the notion that everything feels less important with a little time or distance.

Imagine that you are looking back at your life from a ripe old age, or looking down at your life from a million miles away.

What would matter most from this perspective?

What would seem small and inconsequential from this perspective?