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YWCA Hartford Blog

Know What Is Important During COVID19

March 24, 2020

Contributed by:
Jill Marini, Director, Early Learning & School Age Programs
YWCA Hartford Region

As I sit by and watch all my family and friends with school-age children begin distance-learning, I have gone through several stages of thought. The first one being, no big deal; many people have been receiving their degrees using online distance-learning for many years. Next came my amusement over the multiple memes of parents experiencing homeschooling and the reality of trying to educate their children under a state of lockdown. My current stage is one of concern.

Let me start that I spent all of my parenting years as a military spouse and mother to four military dependents. Additionally, most of those parenting years, I also worked as an educator to other military dependent children. I will tell you that children with parents in the military have a different set of core values than the average American child. There are also things that they have experienced that many American children have not, until COVID19.

Our children are experiencing a form of trauma. Stop and think about it for a moment. The definition of the word trauma is "a deeply distressing or disturbing experience." We as adults tend to think of trauma as a violent or aggressive experience, however, it can come from a "disturbing" experience too. This is what COVID19 is.

Humor me for a moment. Have an honest conversation with yourself right now. Think about how you feel about what is happening in the world right now. Let me share how I am feeling. I am concerned about the health of my family and friends. I have three children who are mission essential and a daughter in law and son in law who are also considered mission essential. I, too, am mission essential. I am concerned about the economy and the burden this virus may put on my employees. I am worried that this will go on, and it will be difficult for the country to recover financially. I am worried that the work that I have done over the last several months on my job will be gone and I will need to come up with a new plan. I am worried about all of these things, and I am an adult who has the cognitive and social/emotional ability to work through these things. I have the language skills to explain how I feel.

Now think about your children. Children now were all conceived after 9/11. They do not have the knowledge that our country was able to rise out of the most devastating experience of our generation. The current message they are receiving from the media is that our country does nothing but argue and bicker. Children are scared. To make sense of what is happening around them, they create schemas in their minds based on what they do understand. Think about what that looks like for a moment. They are creating their truth about their current situation with the knowledge they have gathered. What do you think is going on in their little heads right now?

Next, I want to you to think about the importance of human relationships and the human connection. As an educator, I suspect some parents don't realize how much of role teachers and school staff play in the social/emotional development of their children. Whether it be preschool, elementary, middle, or high school, a large part of the growth a child experiences in a day is in the area of social/emotional development. The positive friendships and human interactions that cause them to laugh, smile, and feel good about themselves. The teachers who go the extra mile to encourage a child that is struggling, the administrative staff that supports them, and the coaches that mentor them…everyday interactions they experience at school. Today they find themselves without those human connections and thrust into a new learning environment with parents who may be ill-equipped to be their teachers. The human connections they are now experiencing are limited to what happens within their home.

Here is my advice to parents that are now faced with this dilemma: Spend as much time on your child's social/emotional development as you do on the school work. Keep in mind that you don't have to have a "school schedule" that mimics the typical school day. I recommend a schedule, but it doesn't have to look like the traditional school day does. Set aside some time for social-emotional connections which can include conversations about how they are feeling and guidance on understanding the current situation. Help them build schema's that are truthful and encouraging, instead of those they have created for themselves. Allow them some down time without the computer, TV or tablet. Allow them time to play, laugh and feel good about life.

Finally, please listen to me as the voice of experience…take care of yourselves as well. This is traumatic for you as well. People joke about being home with their children and having to become their teachers, but there is some trauma in that experience as well. Many of you are are now working from home while educating your children. You are coordinating all of their activities, not leaving the house, AND processing the stress from daily COVID19 updates. You no longer have the social outlet of going to work with grownups and talking to your peers. You can't go out to lunch with your friends and there is no therapeutic Target run in your day. These can all be distressing, therefore traumatic.

Everyone, take a deep breath and think about the social and emotional health of your family and then come up with a plan that works for all of you. One that is kind and allows for you all to feel and talk about those feelings. One that encourages laughter and the human connection.

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