Difficult Situations, Difficult Conversations

March 25, 2020

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Our families, our country, and the world at large is currently facing an unprecedented challenge. We are collectively facing a Difficult Situation of unparalleled proportions. The survival of many people directly depends on the collective actions of all. Each of us is challenged to think of the greater good when we decide how we will respond to this crisis. We have been asked to engage in social distancing. to stay as isolated as possible, to be vigilant about handwashing, and to subjugate personal pleasure, convenience, and interests and commit to actions that prioritize the collective good.

We face additional levels of challenge as parents raising kids who tend to be resistant to change, whose "radar is supersensitive to perceptions of danger, who move from "connection" to "protection" mode with lightning speed, and who worry about the permanence, safety, and security of their families. How can we persuade our kids of the necessity to accept the current limitations of social distancing, closed schools, and sheltering in place without setting off all of their inner alarms that might trigger their unconscious fears of loss, abandonment, and rejection?

First and most important, talk about the dangers—in age-appropriate ways. Silence exacerbates fears. Secrecy stokes our ability to imagine the worst. We must speak honestly with kids about our concerns without over-catastrophizing the situation. Help kids to understand how they can be part of the solution through simple yet effective and essential ways. Explain what is happening, what's expected of them, of us and of our communities. Help them visualize their behavior as an integral contribution.

  • Comply with the social distancing guidelines
  • Washing their hands thoroughly (Check out this video for an eye-opening tutorial)
  • Conserve supplies to lessen the need for visits to stores
  • Engage with friends and family via  devices
  • Get outside every day. Vitamin D is good for the immune system
  • Exercise daily. It helps burn off tension and anxiety. (Here's one activity I shared with my grandson!)
  • Find ways to laugh
  • Resist the tendency to complain. It doesn't change things and only magnifies the challenges
  • Read
  • Limit time on devices
  • Be patient
  • Revise expectations
  • Look for ways to reframe challenges, e.g.,  "Safe at home" vs. "Stuck at home"

As parents, we also have an opportunity to stay solution-focused. Yes, we have serious worries and fears because of this virus. These concerns are valid. Still, we have to plow through the current situation as well as possible. Our kids will be looking to us for reassurance and for an example of how to respond. Our most important task is to remain regulated ourselves and then to reassure our kids and wrap them with a sense of safety. Unless and until they feel safe, their thoughts and behavior will reflect and express their fears and worries. When fear flames, the thinking brain shuts down and the survival brain takes over. Their behavior will reflect this shift and it will be distressing for all.

Just as fear and worry impede our own ability to function, it makes it hard for our kids as well. If ever there was a need for Attunement, it is now. Academic work is important, however, sustaining your family relationships is primary. Many homeschooling parents have posted suggestions for those of us who are new to this endeavor. Most suggest establishing schedules to give the day structure. As much as kids may complain about schedules, most of them fare better with the structure and security that schedules provide.

Academic progress can be reestablished! Concentrate on nurturing connection and mutual concern. Look for opportunities to create laughter and fun as well as some quiet, calm time. Imagine this crisis is finally resolved, what will you be glad that you did with your family? What will you be pleased that you avoided? What will be the lessons you have learned together?

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