Hey parents who now have kids underfoot, I want to say something that might be shocking. I want to give you permission to NOT DO ANYTHING ACADEMIC with your kids. I want you to know that whatever you need to do to get through this slow moving crisis, it will be enough.
You don't have to become your kids' teacher. You don't have to do any of it. It's okay. Really. Especially those of you who are also still working, from home, trying desperately to do all the things while keeping the children occupied and not fighting.
First let me tell you about bringing kids out of a formalized school environment. Then. I'll talk about trauma and reducing its effects on children.
(And if you need my credentials, here they are: I've been raising children for thirty years. I am an ordained minister, a religious educator, and I am a former homeschooler, of the radical unschooling variety. I have homeschooled at almost all grade levels. And I have more than once in life had to suddenly start homeschooling a kid who had been in school for years. I have had kids in public school too. Yes, I have raised plenty of children.)
It is important to understand that when you remove a kid from a classroom environment, there is a long process of decompression for them. They might sleep a lot, or want to watch too much t.v., or (like my youngest two right now) have their nose in books well below their grade level for a week or two.
It's all okay. Let them detox. In all likelihood, in most locales, this school year is effectively over. And you know what, that's going to be okay too. Schools will figure out what to do with this year, how to bring the kids forward down the road. Don't worry about that now.
What I do want you to think about right now is that we are undergoing a collective and slow moving disaster. Yes, that's what this is. The amount of anxiety and trauma we are all experiencing is very large. The dread alone is a weighty thing to bear. Our lives have been disrupted, and it will be a long time before things right themselves.
What children need in times of trauma is comfort. If we had just survived an earthquake or a hurricane, we would not be worrying about the kids getting their online lessons (if you even have those in your district). They need extra snuggles, they need free play (that's where they work out their fears and questions), and they need permission to regress.
Thumb-sucking, bedwetting, clinginess—these are all normal. Outbursts of tears, fighting with siblings-also normal.
The toll falling on you, as parents and caregivers, is large. We are all exhausted and worried. And the most important thing in this disaster is mitigating its impact on our bodies and psyches. So, as we practice staying inside, please, please go easy on yourselves. You do not have to concern yourself right now with lessons and academic progress. We are now concerned with surviving a disaster.
Let's talk about trauma. Trauma is exhausting to body and mind. I'm having trouble keeping my thoughts in order. I am deeply tired. I'm alternately panicked, tearful, and very angry. Other times I'm zoned out and numb. I have no appetite, except for jelly beans.
Our kids are in the same state too. They might seem like clingy jellyfish or grumpy bears, but they are feeling the anxiety of the adults around them and they are also trying to adjust to the complete disruption of their daily lives.
Some helpful activities for working through emotions in times of trauma:
- Clay and playdough are very useful in emotional regulation. Salt dough is good too—and very easy to make.
- Painting and other art helps kids work through things they can't express verbally.
- Playing with stuffed animals or dolls, working out feelings. Let your child do anything in their play and don't interfere, even if it is things like violence or death. This is how kids work through the things that scare them.
- Large motor activity--a dance party, a yoga session with the whole family, a race on the sidewalk (if you are allowed out)
- Writing down forbidden words and shouting them all together (if your family is okay with that)
- Getting outside, even if for a walk around the block
- Planting seeds if you have them, and in egg cartons if you don't have a garden (growing things is a practice of hope)
- Singing together. Now's a great time to learn all the old folk songs or musical numbers that you learned as a kid. It doesn't matter if you sing well, or terribly—singing has physiological benefits rooted in breathing, and singing with others has psychological benefits that are good for repairing brains.
- Praying or meditating together. If this practice is new to you, you might feel a little awkward at first. That's okay. If it comforts you, it will comfort your kids. For Jewish and Christian families, the 23rd Psalm might be familiar. If you do not belong to a particular tradition, you might read comforting poems.
One of the biggest things we can do to reduce the harm of trauma is to be of service to others. Feeling useful helps mitigate the worst of our distress. Look for ways your kiddos can help others:
- Call or video message grandparents and older friends who are alone
- Write thank you notes to caregivers and mail them to local hospitals
- Put together zip loc bags of snacks for an adult to give out to people living without shelter
- Organize an online fundraiser for your local food bank or relief efforts
Finally, gratitude practices help us grow spiritually in times of crisis. In our family, every night as we begin to eat our dinner, each of us is saying one thing we are grateful for. This is immensely healing for our spirits and our bodies--because concentrating on gratitude activates different parts of our brains than our lower brain stem "fear and threat" zone.
Modeling service and gratitude, instead of concern about whether we will "keep up" with the old normal, will teach your child a lot about how to be a leader in times of crisis, too.
Mostly, just be relaxed together as a family as much as you can. If you do not have to work to feed your family (or keep your job), then maybe you can reduce your time spent on the computer. It's okay to watch movies every night. It's okay to stay up late and sleep in even later.
And if you must keep working, and you are scared you will never make it through these days, just know that however you get through will be good enough. If your kids run wild and naked through the house while you are on Zoom calls, it's okay. If your second grader wants to read Warriors books all day and night, and will only eat cold cereal for every meal, it's okay. (Hello, that's the situation at my house.)
It's all okay. The most important thing is to be good to yourself and the people in your circle of care. If what you need to do is plant your kid in front of Netflix for three hours so you can finish that project for your boss, that's okay. Really. If you need to let them dig a giant hole in your lawn, hey that's okay too. My children destroyed part of my small flower garden yesterday to build a fort. Whatever, right? We can always repair it later.
If you need permission to stop trying to keep things normal, here it is. I give it to you. Just do your best to keep yourself and those around you in good mental health, and you will get through this.
Take good care, beloveds. You can do this. You are doing this. And if you reach a breaking point, reach out to a friend. We can get through this together.