Lately, there have been so many news stories about kids. Many are about how they are struggling during the pandemic. Others are about how schools need to reopen because the ones that have are 100% safe. It’s odd to me that a country that doesn’t value education puts so much emphasis on how much a school can do for children during a pandemic. However, that’s not the point of this post.
The truth is kids are hurting. But the bigger truth is so is everyone else. And so I wonder if we need to shift our focus away from school and onto emotional intelligence, coping skills, and communication within families. I feel like we need a PSA special now more than ever. I was raised in the 90s. I swear there was a new one every month. Still, I truly believe someone should make a guide for dealing with this.
Kids are not okay, but neither is anyone else. It is a pandemic. Everyone is expected to have a few struggles along the way, including kids and teens. School should not be, and is not, the answer to getting children through this.
I remember when my parents tried to protect me from things when I was growing up. Inevitably I either blamed myself or made it worse in my head and worried constantly. It is near impossible to protect anyone over the age of four from all that has happened in the last 14 months. We can only help them survive it.
I don’t know one person who has not been affected by at least one event. An entrepreneur I follow lives in Australia, and she posted pictures of the red sky when the country was burning. Kobe Bryant’s death rocked my husband. I have a coworker who has gotten Covid 3 times, and they have family members who were hospitalized because of Covid. Every single one of my coworkers has lost someone and experienced a virtual funeral or opted to have no funeral at all. And the multiple Covid scares can be maddening. Let’s not talk about the civil unrest or the election.
Kids lived through those events just like adults. Except, they have even less of a clue as to how to feel or process those feelings. School can’t help with that.
I am not saying that school is not important. It is. Instead, I am asserting that it is not the cure for all that ails our children. It will not make any of this more comfortable for them. It may serve as a distraction, which may be welcome, but that also comes with its own troubles. They need the tools to process what’s happening and tools to move forward. If we continue to view school as the great savior for youth, we are missing a golden opportunity to change how the world views mental and spiritual health.
I have made space to allow my friends, family, coworkers, husband, and myself to have emotional outbursts. What kind of mother would I be if I did not give my six-year-old the same allowance? So, I do. Then I ask him to rest for a few minutes until it is time to talk about it.
Truth. I was not raised to discuss feelings. However, I was raised to always be upfront about them when my mother asked. The difference is subtle yet profound. It means I often did not have the language to express what I felt. So, I told her what I thought. It meant I was always slightly disconnected from what was happening to me. Feelings are hard. Thoughts are effortless. That also meant that I was ready to blow by the time we got around to discussing my feelings because they were walled up for so long before they began to leak into my actions.
Now, more than ever, I make a point to talk with my family about their feelings. We have check-ins. We share. We acknowledge the strangeness and discuss ways to feel better and things we can do while staying safe. My kid is allowed to vent and cry and be in a bad mood. And that is okay. What he is never allowed to do is hide his feelings and sulk alone. He’s also allowed as many hugs as he wants.
These days we use dance parties and funny videos to lift our spirits because the cold weather limits our activities. I try to throw in meditation, but the kid has ants in the pants, which, ironically, is our family’s current favorite game.
My child will probably not sit still or stay quiet in class very well when he goes back. But he’ll have a better handle on his emotions, navigating tough times, and coping skills. All things I don’t think we would have been so vigilant on teaching if it wasn’t for the pandemic.
Kids are not okay, but they can be. Schools can help provide heat, meals, socialization, structured learning, extracurricular outlets, and healthy distractions. That’s a lot. I am not discounting the value of any of those things.
However, that is not enough to arm children appropriately. We need to talk to our kids, especially the older children. Chances are, the older the child, the more their life has been changed or disrupted this past year.
You can be honest without going into details. My husband and I talk about how hard it is sometimes to deal with social distancing. My kid and I desperately miss our Saturdays out, and he misses sleepovers. We’ve compiled a list of things we will do when it’s warmer, as well as a post-Covid list, which may or may not include a trip to Disney. Because we are working, learning, and living in a small house with a basement, we’ve learned to politely set boundaries and be honest about our feelings. Before Covid, I had 3.5 hours to fit in quality time, homework, dinner, next-day prep, and baths before bedtime. No matter what it cost me, I would have never been able to say, “Mommy needs a few minutes of quiet time. Can you tell me the story later?” I was basically a captive audience during cooking time, and both my husband and son took full advantage. Before, I took it while aching inside. Now, I have zero problems calling out, “Safe zone!” and they know to leave me alone until I’m done cooking or initiate conversation on my own. We also never entertained the idea of Monster saying, “I can’t do school today; I’m tired.” Children need to go to school. They don’t get mental health days. Right? Wrong. They do. And whether school is virtual, homeschool, or in-person they need “I don’t wanna” days just like adults.
It is time we normalize good mental health and prevention. Society seems to ignore emotional and mental health until there is a problem. If the pandemic and social distancing taught us anything, I hope it taught us to pay more attention to the things that really matter like health and peace of mind. We need to be more explicit in how we teach good mental hygiene. And caregivers need to be more open to listen and ask children what they need.
We need to infuse emotional resilience, emotional intelligence, and coping skills into parenting and education. Emotional Resilience is the ability to adapt to stressful situations or crises. Emotional Intelligence is the ability to understand, differentiate, and manage emotions in yourself and others. The five basic components are empathy, self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, and social skills. Coping skills are techniques or activities that help reduce negative feelings and positively cope with stress. There are two types of coping skills, emotion-focused, which you feel better, and problem-focused, which help you reduce the source of the stress.
Here are a few coping strategies to try. Take deep breaths and other breathing techniques like Take 5, dragon breath, or lion breath (my kid likes to oink instead of roar). Use play-doh, clay, or kinetic sand; these can be very grounding. Alone time, talking, exercise, yoga, five-minute meditation, dance party, or blasting music helps. Low fi or meditation music might be preferable if the senses are heightened. Other activities include coloring, drawing, painting, building with legos, journaling, and making a solution-focused plan.
There is nothing simple about dealing with emotions like sadness and loneliness, no matter the age, but it is heartwrenching to watch a child struggle. My heart goes out to the families who are dealing with loss and separation. I know my struggle with keeping my little one happy and sane pales in comparison to parents who fear they are losing the battle. I wish you and yours strength and happiness. You can get through this.
Please look out for signs of depression in your loved ones and yourself, and take suicidal thoughts and ideations seriously. Children do not always show the same signs as adults, so watch for behavior that is abnormal for that specific child. If someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. Open Counseling is a resource to find hotlines and free or low-cost counseling services. YouthLine is teen-to-teen support, and Kids in Crisis can help children and families.
Stay healthy, joyful, and safe.