COVID Lessons for Kids and Families
"There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in." - Leonard Cohen
I often come back to this quote in challenging times because it reminds me that when life feels difficult, it means we are learning something. Learning is growth, and sometimes that can be painful. In my own experience, the most growth comes after the toughest times. This year has been one giant collection of tough times.
As I've talked with kids and families in therapy this year, I've noticed some themes of silver linings. Let's call them COVID Lessons. Because out of the cracks of this year, the light of growth and learning has certainly been shining on us.
Lesson 1: Our Goals Must Match Our Resources
The pandemic has altered many resources for families. Many of you have had changes in your jobs and work schedules that have financially impacted your family. You have had to make some tough decisions about prioritizing your family's expenses. Thinking about lowering costs when financial resources are strapped is the most straight-forward decision many of us have had this year, but this resources-to-expectations relationship goes beyond finances.
We are tired. Why? Well, every day we are making decisions. Can we go to that event? Should my child go to school? Should I go into the office? Can my child go on that playdate? Should we cancel this or that? All of these decisions take energy that we previously didn't utilize because school, work, and many social events were automated within routines we didn't even think about prior to COVID. And, this is on top of the energy we are spending thinking about politics and racial injustices this year. Many of us really only have the energy for the first three levels of our needs to be met: Psychological needs, Safety needs, and Belonging & love needs. The rest is icing on the cake this year.
Our mental and emotional resources are depleted so we have to be intentional about spending them. Spend energy on taking care of your health with getting sleep, drinking water, being outside, and socializing in the way that makes you feel best. Whenever our expectations are higher than our resources, we feel stress. This is why teachers and students are so stressed. They are being asked to teach and learn a curriculum that was designed pre-COVID. At some point, we need to think about how viable this plan is for our kids, their teachers, and their parents.
Lesson 2: We All Require Different Amounts of Socialization
Every time I talk to a child or teen via telehealth, I ask if they are lonely or feel they are getting enough social time. I then make sure they understand that being alone is not the same thing as being lonely. Many kids I've talked with have gained some important self-awareness this year. Some have realized that they are less stressed without the drama of a particular friendship or that they didn't realize how much their mood depended on hanging out with friends before and after school.
It's important for us as adults to notice our social needs, too. Because all of our social interactions were stripped away from us when quarantine started, it's much more obvious to notice how our social needs were serving us. Were we showing up to things out of obligation and now we feel relieved? Or, do we really miss a certain friend or social group?
Some of us are happy with a few friends and some of us need lots of friends and group gatherings to feed an extroverted personality. It's important for parents to respect their child's social needs, especially if they vary from their own. I've listen to parents who are worried that their child only has one friend when in reality the child is very satisfied with one friend; it's only the parent's perspective of realizing they wouldn't like to only have one friend that makes them feel uncomfortable. We are all fueled by different amounts and types of social interactions and this year has been a great time to analyze what we need to full our social & emotional bucket.
Lesson 3: Childcare Makes the World Go 'Round
All parents knew this prior to the pandemic, but I'm hoping that everyone else is paying attention to this now. When we decide to become parents, we have to think through who will work and who will stay home, or if we both work, who will stay home when our child is sick. Or, will we need to hire someone or rely on family to help when a child is sick.
Expand this conversation to not only when a child is sick but when school is closed, indefinitely, and this is the major reason families have been stressed this year. Continuing to work while at the same time monitoring your child's remote learning is an impossible task and families have been doing the best they can.
My hope is that we have learned this lesson: When families don't have childcare, parents cannot work, and when parents cannot work, businesses cannot run, and when businesses cannot run, our economy suffers. If you are in a management position in any company or organization, this is your moment to shine. Support working parents and they will be more effective employees.
Lesson 4: Remote Learning Only Works for Some Students
I'll start by saying that remote learning is not even developmentally appropriate prior to about third grade, and beyond for students with developmental needs or attention & executive functioning weaknesses. As I've listened to kids and families describe their experiences with remote learning this year, it is only working for some students under these conditions: The student is already an independent learner, meaning that they are self-motivated and have the attention span to monitor their work, and that they have the emotional regulation to handle the stress of set-backs with technology.
I have talked with students who make As and Bs when learning in person and are now making Ds and Fs. This isn't usually because they don't understand the content; it's because they have missing assignments and can't keep up with the organization side of everything being digital. There are some students who are thriving remotely because they like being away from the crowded and loud school building while learning.
Every student has responded differently to this situation. And yet, this has always been true in education. There is no ONE WAY that all students learn. I hope that seeing previously strong students fail at remote learning can prove the point that educators need to have the funding and flexibility to differentiate instruction and curriculum for their students.
Lesson 5: Whatever We Miss is What Really Matters to Us
Noticing what we miss is, in my opinion, the most important lesson of this time. How many of us as parents were spending hours after school and work in our car, driving around town, taking our kids to and from activities? Was it worth it? It's an important question to ask. What do your kids miss? Was the social connection most important to them or were they dedicated to learning a new skill? Or, were they only going to an activity because everyone else was doing it? Were you showing up out of obligation to something and realize now that you don't even like doing that thing?
Whatever you miss if most important to you. I really miss live music and concerts. I didn't realize how much until it was gone. My son really misses traveling and looking forward to a change of pace. I didn't realize how important that was for him until quarantine. Notice what your child and your family is missing and only go back to that stuff. It's important to spend our energy on the things that fill us with joy because our joy is the light that the crack of COVID is letting in.
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