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YWCA Hartford Region Blog

BE KIND

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

May 15, 2020

So here we are, months into staying at home because of COVID-19. I don’t know about you, but if I could, I would go back and tell my Pre-COVID self that teleworking is actually more work that actually going into the office. I would also make sure my Pre-COVID self knew that no, if I had unlimited time, I would not clean out all my closets and get to all of those projects I have put off.  Finally, I would tell myself that the world shutting down would impact us all in ways that we could not imagine.

Never mind the grocery stores and lack of toilet paper, dismiss the inconvenience of not being able to leave your house.  Let’s talk about the impact of COVID-19 on life events.  Prior to this time of social distancing and working from home, I had a co-worker who had been planning her daughter’s wedding for over a year. Every time to completed one of the milestones and planning she would share it with us, a light of excitement in her eyes.  However, as the time for the wedding drew nearer, the family made the decision to postpone the wedding until the health scare was over.  This bride and her family made the best decision at the time; however, it was not an easy decision to make.  The bride and groom will have their ceremony and time of celebration with their family, but there is some disappointment in the delay.

Next, I heard about the many proms and graduations that were cancelled. I don’t know about anyone else, but the day that all of my children graduated from high school was a momentous occasion.  We do High School graduations up BIG in our house.  Look back to your senior year, remember how you couldn’t wait to walk across that stage and grasp your diploma?  Remember all of the events and celebrations leading up to graduation? The graduating class of 2020 will have none of that.

Think of the new mothers in labor, some of which are not allowed to have anyone in the labor room with them.  No one is there to hold their hand, get them ice chips and encourage them to keep going.  No one is there to delight in the experience of the birth of their child with them.

Finally, think about the families who have had loved one’s pass, unrelated to COVID. I have a dear friend who is stationed in Guam. She received news last week that her sister in law was in hospice, she made sure that the Red Cross message was sent to her husband’s command, the Emery S Land.  The boat pulled into Guam this past week and the orders given were that no personnel leave the ship.  The Chief was not allowed to leave to say goodbye to his sister, now he is not allowed to leave the ship to celebrate her life, not allowed to be with his family and support system at this time.  

My Father in Law passed away Monday morning and the planning for his service has been fairly easy because only five people can be in the funeral home at one time and only four people can attend the service at the cemetery.  We are unable invite his friends and family, only the immediate family will be allowed to attend. There will be no gathering after the ceremony to celebrate his life, the state of Rhode Island will not allow gatherings of more than five people.

When we all began this time of social distancing and quarantine, I don’t think any of us thought about life happening. Sure, we thought about having to stay at home and not be in public places, but I don’t think many of us thought about the impact that this crisis would have on life events.

So, maybe, during this time we can practice kindness. The person who is in front of you in the pick-up line at the takeout place or the drive thru teller at the bank may not be experiencing this crisis like you are. They may have a life event that they are struggling with because of COVID19. BE KIND.

 


Tantrums, Meltdowns and the Art of Unpacking

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

April 17, 2020

I feel like I need to start this entry with a disclaimer to reassure parents of young children, that I did not have the all the answers when my children were younger.   As a matter of fact, I stumbled through parenting, learning as I went. It wasn’t until my children were into their teens and I completed my Master’s degree that I began to understand what I know now. I have learned so much more about brain development, trauma and the social/emotional development of young children that I can speak to mothers with compassion. This comes from my knowledge as an educator and practitioner, but also as someone who has been in your shoes.

To add a second disclaimer, the majority of emotions, outbursts and tantrums your children might be displaying are normal in the best of circumstances. In situations like COVID 19, they should be expected.

Over the last couple of days, I have spoken to two phenomenal moms, who feel completely overwhelmed and have feelings of failure regarding their parenting. These feelings of failure could not be further from the truth and I am going to tell you why.

When young children become overwhelmed and are dealing with emotions that they do not understand they naturally run to their safe place. They dump all the emotions and feelings on the person or persons they feel safest with, most often their parents. In layman terms, your children losing their little minds all day, every day, while quarantined are doing it because you have created a place where they feel safe. They feel secure in your presence. That security sends a message to their brains that it is okay to go completely off the rails and unload all those emotions.

I know most of you are thinking when your child loses control, it’s a result of you not doing something right. Or that you are not giving them what they need. However, it is the complete opposite…you represent security and safety in their lives, and they feel safe enough to feel these emotions in your presence.

As a parent on the meltdown battlefield, you do not necessarily feel honored that your child is choosing to unload on you, the consistent loving presence in their lives, who puts their well-being above all else. However, know this, your child trusts you with their feelings because of how secure you make them feel.

When the meltdowns occur, wrap your arms around them and let them cry it out. When the frustration hits, provide them with activities, like throwing cloth balls into a basket to let it out. Let them work it out. Then ask them to help you “unpack” what just happened. Unpacking looks like this: 

Ask the child:
“Can we “unpack” what just happened? Can you tell me what made you so mad or upset?”

The first time you are introducing the concept of “unpacking” emotions you may have to explain it and/or share something they can relate to. For example, you could demonstrate by “unpacking” your own feelings around not being able to go to work or see your friends because of the COVID 19 quarantine. Tell them how that makes you feel. Once you have used the “unpacking” method a few times, you may not have to provide an example. Let them come to you and “unpack” what made them sad or mad. Let them know it is okay to feel their feeling and reassure them that talking about their frustrations can help them cope in a healthy way. 

The benefit of introducing the concept of ‘unpacking’ when they are young, is that it will come naturally to them as they grow older when their emotions and frustrations become more difficult to navigate. This will make it easy to return to that safe place you created to share their thoughts and emotions with you.

As overwhelming as all those childhood emotions are, keep in mind that your children are expressing them because of something you have done right. So, in the midst of the tears, shouting, drippy noses, whining and stomping feet, pat yourself on the back. You’ve nailed this parenting thing.


I Run a Tight Shipwreck!

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

April 9, 2020

I was just watching a video a teacher friend of ours posted on Facebook. He teaches at the high school that both he and my husband graduated from.  The footage included teachers and faculty holding up individual signs to create a message for students as each frame progressed. The message was one of encouragement and hope, acknowledging the challenges that students have faced while adapting to distance learning.

It struck something deep within me. These are trying times for parents, some of whom are working from home and homeschooling their children. Others are working the front lines and wish they could be home with their children. And then there are those homeschooling their children while coping with the financial stress of being laid-off or furloughed. Now think about it from a child’s point of view.

Just as your life has turned upside down, so have the lives of your children. However, you are a grown-up with the skills and resources to adapt to doing your job from home. Our children, on the other hand, must adapt to an all-new learning environment with teachers who are learning to steer the ship of online learning at the same time it sets sail.

The challenge of meeting expectations that continually change (much like the course of this pandemic) is overwhelming enough for adults. Imagine how it makes our children feel.

The good news is they are doing it! They are figuring out. It may not look how we want it to, but they are making it work. I was on the phone with a co-worker, and she had asked her daughters to do some reading. One did, and the other chose to draw a picture instead.  In the drawing, the family was sad, the dog was sad, and the fish was sad. She may not have completed the reading assignment, but she found an activity that helped her make it through the day.  Her drawing is the equivalent of the bowl of ice cream I eat at the end of each day or the Facetime call to my sisters. I do what I need to do, to get through each day. And that is okay.

April is the month of the Military Child and the Week of the Young Child runs April 11 to 17, 2020.  This is a time CELEBRATE our children and their ability to be sailors on a pirated ship being built as we sail! Loosen your grip a little bit on the idea of what this whole working from home and homeschooling your children should look like. Focus less on the craziness of their behavior and take pride in their resiliency in finding a new normal.

Just tell people…I run a tight shipwreck!


Reality Versus Schema in the Lives of Our Children

April 4, 2020

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

In my previous blog I talked about how children take the information that they understand about a situation and create a schema or a reality that makes sense to them.  They do this for everything, not just the hard stuff or the overwhelming stuff.  Let me give you an example of how it works from my life. I am going to share a story about my youngest son and how he took several truths in his life and put them together to create something he could understand.

Here are the facts that he used:

  1. Zachary was born on December 7th.  This day does not have significance for as many people as it used to, but as the son of an active duty Submarine Master Chief and having been born in Hawaii it has meaning to Zachary.  December 7, 1941 was the day Pearl Harbor was bombed and the day that the United States entered WW2.
     
  2. One of my closest friends was a foster parent for years and she adopted every child she fostered.  Zachary spent a great deal of time with this loving family and only understood the loving family side of foster care, not what caused the child to be in foster in the first place.

When Zachary was six or seven we went to go see Chronicles of Narnia in the theater.  As the movie began with families putting their children on the trains, Zachary leaned over and asked me what was happening. I explained that during WW2 many families in Europe who lived in the city sent their children to live with other family members who lived in the country to keep them safe.  The enemy was bombing the city, but not the country, so children would be safer there. He then said, “So it was like the foster care Aunty Kelle does?”  I replied, “A little bit, yes.”

Fast forward a few months and as we drove past Pearl Harbor, Zachary asked me, ”Mom, when am I going back to my real family?”  I was a little confused because I was the one who delivered all ten pounds of him, three weeks past his due date so I asked him what he meant.  This was his reply, “Mom. I was born on Pearl Harbor Day, at the beginning of the war and my family sent me to you to keep me safe, just like foster care.” 

This example of how a young child took the information he had, all truthful, and created his own understanding is one that I use in every class I teach to explain how children create schemas.  Children take the information that they know and as they understand it and they create something they can relate to.

So, now imagine the schemas children have created about what is happening in the world right now.  You may not have had a conversation with them about it, but their minds have been gathering information about it from the news, the change in their daily routine, the fact that they don’t go to school anymore and are learning from home, the vibes they are getting from the adults in their lives and the feelings from social isolation.  If you assume that that they don’t know what it going on, you are correct.  However, they are going to take what they know and create something they can relate to and it will become their truth about the situation.

How do we impact that schema? 

  • First look at the messages that they are hearing via TV and radio and consider not watching when they are around. z
     
  • Second, make sure that you have dealt with your own emotions around what is happening so they will feel your calmness.
     
  • Thirdly, take some time to sit down and ask them how they are feeling and talk through those emotions.  If they share fear and anxiety about becoming sick or someone they love becoming sick, tell them that everyone is doing their part to make sure that doesn’t happen by staying home and washing their hands.  If someone does get sick, doctors and nurses are working hard to take care of everyone so that they can get better.  Talk to them and see what information they have used to create their schema and, where there is misinformation, provide them with truth and talk it through. 

During this time where we are confined within small spaces with each other, with no end date for the social distancing, be kind to yourselves.  As crazy as this sounds, we are fortunate to have this happen at a time in history when there is an awareness of the importance of social/emotional development in young children and the knowledge of how situations like these impact the mental health and wellbeing of individuals and families. We can talk about these things and work them out together, unlike any other time in history.


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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