By Dr Justin CoulsonTuesday 14 Apr 2020
We’re living in unprecedented times. Offices are shut, streets are increasingly empty, and some people are locking themselves away. The uncertainty that we are grappling with is challenging enough for us as adults, but it’s also hard on our children.
School fetes and discos have been postponed, sports are off the table, and even play dates are increasingly frowned upon. And, to top it off, the Easter Show has been cancelled.
As adults we might be tempted to say to our disappointed child, ‘the school disco is really not a big deal’, but that’s not true for our kids. It’s not just the cancelled fete or formal. It’s not just the stoppage of school and social activities. It’s the sudden unpredictability of life. Our kids just don’t understand what is happening. They don’t understand why they’re missing out. And it’s even worse since they aren’t actually sick (and for most of them, neither is anyone they know)!
Even for us, as adults. It’s a little bit hard to grasp. Most of us acknowledge that we have to work hard at ‘flattening the curve’. We get the need to protect others who may be more at risk than ourselves. But for some, it’s a hard thing to explain to our children.
Here are six tips on how to do it.
1 – Talk About How Some People’s Bodies Aren’t as Strong as Others
We want to teach our children that this crisis isn’t about survival of the fittest. It’s about protection of the weakest. Show them the famous photograph of the long line of wolves travelling through the snow. Explain that the wolf in front is one of the strongest wolves, and she’s pushing through the snow so that the other wolves have an easier time following.
In the same way we have to do some hard things (like giving up the Easter Show!) so that others who aren’t as strong as us have an easier time staying well.
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2 – Give Practical Tips
Explain how germs travel and spread. Try this object lesson:
Put some pepper in a bowl of water. Have your child dip their finger into the pepper. When they pull their finger out, they’ll see pepper grains clinging to their skin. Then have them put soap on their finger and ask them to put it back in the water. They’ll see that the pepper races away from the soap. It’s fascinating to watch. Try it!
This object lessons shows what germs do when we wash properly and how good hygiene can stop the spread of diseases.
3 – Let Them Help
It’s important to explain that it’s everyone’s responsibility to protect others by doing what we can not to spread germs. This works with our kids because doing things for others makes us feel good. Research utilising fMRI technology shows that altruism actually activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex.
So let them help. Brainstorm some ideas together. Can you drop a meal off to someone more at risk? Can you deliver toilet paper to the elderly in your neighbourhood like so many children in neighbourhoods around the country? Is there an acquaintance that is feeling lonely that could use a phone call?
Letting our children get involved and help also gives them a sense of control. Having a strong sense of control is associated with positive mental outcomes, and less anxiety and depression, particularly important in these trying times.
4 – Focus on Gratitude
If your children are still struggling, focus on gratitude. Feeling grateful increases wellbeing, and can stave off feelings of hurt, disappointment, and anxiety. So ask them, what do they have that they’re grateful for? Talk about the things that you’re grateful for – a safe home, a loving family, toys, friends, BBQs and trampolines. Switch the mindset from what is lacking to what is abundant.
5 – Embrace the Opportunities
Rebecca Solnit, a human rights activist who wrote A Paradise Built in Hell, reminds us that disasters are opportunities as well as oppressions. For example, we may soon have a lot more time together as families. Take the opportunity to do those things you’ve always wanted to do with your kids. Learn to make pasta or build a fort in the garden. It may not be a perfect situation but embracing the change is much better than focusing on the negatives.
Remember that though a lot of things have been cancelled, life hasn’t.
6 – Have Hope
This is a hopeful time. Yes, there are concerns. It’s true that economically, this is a breathtakingly brutal time. Jobs are being lost. Industries are closing. The dollar is tanking. And people are dying.
But we are going through changes that will make the world a better place. We are going to see massive disruptions to the way we do things that will ultimately improve who we are. Right now there are people out there working on solutions that will revolutionise aspects to how we live.
How will we respond? How can we share that with our children? Can we show our kids that even if our business crumbles, we won’t? Can we be resilient enough to stop asking “why me?” when things go wrong, and instead stand tall and say “try me?”
These choices matter. Let’s stand tall, have hope, and set a resilient example for our children.
Article supplied with thanks to Happy Families. About the Author: A sought after public speaker and author, and former radio broadcaster, Justin has a psychology degree from the University of Queensland and a PhD in psychology from the University of Wollongong.