Dr. Corinne Masur
People say this is a lost year.
People say we are living in the Twilight Zone.
But this year is not lost and it is not science fiction.
We are living through a very difficult time – but it is a time we will always remember and which our children will always remember. It will have been a year of having to adapt to strange and new circumstances, a year of worrying about our safety, a year of mourning those who became ill or died.
But humans have always suffered. We have had wars and epidemics and pandemics and natural disasters throughout history and pre-history. Now we are the ones suffering.
We are worrying and missing the things we cannot do and the people we cannot see – we are worrying about the effect that all this will have on our children, we are enduring deprivation in so many forms.
AND we are figuring out how to survive it.
The fact is this: we just need to do the best we can each day. And maybe this means letting the kids stay online for 6 hours while we get a job done. Or maybe this means letting them go OFFline for an hour even while school is still in session because they simply cannot pay attention for another minute. Maybe this means having pizza for dinner again or maybe it even means breaking down in tears or shouting at somebody.
None of these things will ruin our kids for life.
And neither will missing a normal year of school and friends. This will not ruin our children’s futures.
A whole generation of children is going through this pandemic – they ALL had a disrupted spring, a different kind of summer and now a disrupted and in some cases, disorganized school year.
But parents forget that this is the experience of this entire generation and think that their particular child will be the only one who gets behind in what he or she is supposed to be learning.
But it’s everybody. Everybody is going through this. Everybody’s year is different and disrupted and strange. We will have many stories to tell in the future about this year.
And all our children will make up what they did not learn this year. AND they will have learned some things we did not expect them to learn.
Their tech skills will be better. Their ability to tolerate change and uncertainty will be better. Their ability to figure out how to occupy their time will be better. And their confidence that they can live through difficult times will be better.
The important thing to remember is that our children can manage if we manage. Anna Freud, the daughter of Sigmund Freud, studied the children who went through World War II in London. She compared the children who were sent out of the city to live with families in the countryside (where there was less bombing) to the children who stayed in London and had to run to shelters with their parents when there was an air raid. And what she found was that the children who spent the war WITH their parents in London (often just with their mothers and siblings) fared MUCH better emotionally than the children who lived in the countryside with host families. Even though the children in London heard sirens and bombs falling and saw neighborhoods destroyed, they actually felt safer than those who were without their families. Children whose mothers could tolerate their own fear and their children’s fear and provide soothing and reassurance provided enormous protection from traumatization for their children.
So this is one thing that is important to recognize now. We do not have to be perfect as parents. In the long run, it really does not matter if we ate take out or pizza four times a week for a year. And while it is strange and different to have to wear masks and socially distance and talk about how to be safe, this will not hurt our children as long as we, as parents, can tolerate it and manage it ourselves and reassure our children that we are doing the best we can to keep them safe.
Even if we cry or feel irritable around our children, even if they cry or fight or feel irritable around us, as long as we can talk about our feelings with them and let them talk about theirs, as long as we can soothe our children when they feel scared or defeated, as long as we can figure out MOST of what we have to do each day, and as long as we realize that 2020 was not a lost year, it was just an incredibly difficult year, we will all come out of this OK.
Concrete suggestions for parents:
- Eat at least one meal a day together with your children
- For children over 3 or 4 bring up topics at the table such as what was the hardest thing that happened today? What was the weirdest thing that happened today?
- Some families like to go around the table and have each person tell a “rose” (good thing) and a “thorn” (bad thing). This encourages and facilitates children talking about what is hard right now and what is OK right now.
- Conversation and interaction with each other and with our children is an antidote to all the time they are spending online. Real in person human contact at home is more important than ever – and this is true even if the time spent interacting includes fighting or disagreeing with one another. Having to negotiate in person is a skill that we all need to improve on.
- Keep a routine. It’s harder now than ever but regular mealtimes and bedtimes help in an unstructured or scary time.
- Inaugurate reading to your children again – even if they seem too old. Reading is not just for bedtime! Pick a really good chapter book and on weekends or on afternoons when your children are done with school (if you have time) spend a half hour or 45 minutes reading a chapter out loud. Snuggle on the couch or let everyone sit where they want and draw or fiddle around while you read. Your children may resist at first but this often becomes a favorite activity – especially if the book is suspenseful or an adventure tale.
- Schedule breaks so that you can have time away from your children: whether you take turns with your partner, let the children watch an hour of youtube or a movie, etc., you need at least one hour each day to yourself. (And this does not mean folding laundry).
- Get outside at least twice a day and make sure your children get out too. Take a walk, mail a letter, ride bikes or scooters, whatever. This is necessary for everyone’s mental and physical health. And remember, there is no such thing as bad weather – there are only bad clothes. Make sure right now that each of your children has rubber boots, a raincoat, a parka that fits for this year, a hat, gloves and snow boots. You can go out no matter what the temperature or precipitation – and you’ll feel better if you do.