Caring for our kids in a time of crises

As a long- time educator and mom of 3, I would like to offer a few words of comfort to parents, grandparents and caregivers in these anxious times of the COvid-19 virus.  

Children, even very young children are very astute. They know something big is going on right now and they sense adult anxiety and their first inclination is to want to fix it.  They do not like seeing adults unhappy because most children see the world as a very joyful, happy place.  So, do not be surprised if during this time of crises, your children are overly clingy, act out, cry or become argumentative and ask you question after question out of frustration that they can’t fix what is going on and bring life quickly back to normal.   

In addition, don’t be surprised if your high school and college student is an emotional cyclone.  Suddenly their campus schedule that they were finally getting a handle on, has been quickly replaced with on-line learning, housing uncertainty, extra-curricular activities canceled and their friend group suddenly torn apart. This can all be very anxiety producing and it’s very difficult for a young adult to have the rug suddenly pulled out from under them when they have just started being responsible and making most of their own decisions.   So prepare yourself for a roller coaster of anger, frustration, protest, and maybe even unreasonable demands that you do something, anything, to put it all back as it was.   

My best advice to you is to acknowledge this sucks and give everyone the opportunity to voice their feelings. And dads, this means you too! You can’t very well expect your kids to open up and talk about their feelings if you are unwilling to do so yourself.   A child’s anxiety and fear, no matter their age, are often mitigated by a parent being open about their own feelings, so do the bold thing and start the conversation.

But while it’s important to be open to sharing feelings, it’s also important to be mindful that sharing does not mean dumping problems on your kids they have no means to solve.   You have to be mindful to have those difficult conversations, regarding things like potential financial loss and job uncertainty, away from the ears of your children.   And for goodness sakes, no one, not even you, needs to be parked in front of television pundits 24-7 filling your head full of supposition and unproven facts.

It’s good family lesson that in the immediacy of a crises, what matters is the facts. There will be plenty of time down the road to battle it out over what could have been done better. But the reality is that isn’t your job. Your job is to go about your daily lives as best you can and as safely as you can.

In other words, downsize the problem to what is yours to manage. Your plate is full enough already!

It’s also important that your children know that the facts about this crises might change as our government and the medical community understand more about the virus and what we need to do to prevent it.   Details may be sparse and then overwhelming, but ultimately, we will have them and it’s important to remain flexible and not panic.   

Our most important roles right now are to keep calm, wash our hands, cover our coughs, wipe our noses with tissues, practice social distancing and avoid unnecessary activities that might compromise your safety or that of others.

With this crises comes a greater emphasis on sanitation and if you think about it, there is an opening now without mom and dad begging, for all children to learn more about the importance of keeping things clean to prevent disease spread. So, let your kiddos participate in the household chores as they are able.  Now that you’ve stocked up on sanitizing supplies, you might even encourage them to look through their toy chest, books and comics and old clothes. Figure out what they want to donate and they can sanitize everything, pack it up and it’s ready to be donated when things settle down.

Try your best to keep some sort of routine during the hours your children would normally be in school or sports or other activities.   While your college age children may be doing some sort of on-line schooling, younger kids may find themselves suddenly with a lot of free time.   No more recess with friends.  No more afterschool sports, band or dance class.   But that doesn’t mean that learning has to stop.  

While some kids may view this extended break as a great thing, most kids will eventually long for their old routine, miss their friends, their teachers and the sense of doing their own thing that school and extra-curricular activities away from mom and dad provided.  

So, it’s important during this period of transition that you work with your child(ren) to set up a home and school routine with all sorts of educational and fun activities to fill the gap and give kids a sense of ownership over their lives.  

Set out Board games and puzzles, word searches, science kits etc… Pull out the old Disney DVD’s, the Star Wars Saga, the old black and white classics and not only watch them, but talk about the life lessons in them. Pull out the dress up box and create a play or tell jokes. Get out photo albums, year books and old home movies and maybe explore your ancestry on-line. Extend the activity by making a favorite family recipe. Put on some records and your favorite 80’s jams and dance your socks off.  Dust off that piano or guitar and have a jam session.  Write a song and record it.  If you don’t have an instrument, then make one out of an upturned bucket or a pan lid or cardboard box.  Put out water colors, crayons, paints and paper and let your inner Picasso out. Learn that video game your child is always playing.  Let them teach you about twitter and Tic Tok, YouTube and Instagram and Snapchat.   Use your phone camera to take funny pictures or make a movie together. Go out into your garden and weed and plant and talk about nurturing God’s creation. Make homemade cards for the military and homebound and look on line for ways to serve in your community, or speak with your Pastor about what is needed in your church family.   Groom your pets, make homemade dog and cat treats, visit online sites on nature and brainstorm what you might do as a family to help protect our natural world.  Grab a blank journal and write a story and illustrate it together. Turn on an episode of “I Love Lucy” or “Friends” or “American Horror Story” and make fudge and pancakes and popcorn. Write a letter, E-mail friends and family, or better yet, teach your child how to talk, not text, on the phone with their grandparents!

For those in high school and college undergoing an immediate structural change in how they learn is very stressful, so it’s important to keep engaged with their well-being and mindful that this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Yes, the younger generation is much more technologically savvy than prior generations, but that doesn’t mean everyone processes information the same way. On-line learning is a whole different ball game then a classroom experience and your student may find they are frustrated with the pace of the course, with the inability to immediately ask a question, with the lack of student interaction and the lack of hands on learning. They may also find their teachers, who they thought knew everything, may not be up to the task of administering an on-line course. So you may have to have conversations with your child about patience and understanding and cutting people slack. And in some cases, you may have to help your child follow up with the appropriate campus entities if the online educational experience is really sub-par.

Also, a lack of extra curricular activities, which is so vital to most high school and college kids, can immediately turn your kind and considerate child into a feral beast. Help them by finding new ways to maintain their physical fitness if they were formally engaged in competitive sports or dance or cheer; explore together on-line courses and websites that might engage them in new and fun ways and do not be afraid to let them take point to help the younger ones in your family. And for gosh sakes, get out of the way and let them talk out what is happening with them with their friends. I know you want to be there savior, but right now, you need to remember that they never asked for any of this. So it’s important to give them the privacy and space they have been used to and allow them the time to work out what is happening in their own mind.

While these things might sound silly and corny in a time of crises, I promise you that if you do these things, several years from now, when you are all gathered as a family and your children are telling their own children about the “Great COvid-19 Virus of 2020”, their conversations will not be a story of tragedy, but a story of hope.  A hope that you instilled in them today, right now, in this time of crises. A hope that the promise of a better tomorrow is never at the mercy of a tragedy if we spend our todays positive and productive and always, always moving forward with the gifts God has given us.

Stay safe and well dear readers and feel free to add your own thoughts and comments that might help others during this challenging time.

PositivelyAnne