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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

How Modeling Resiliency Can Impact What Children Remember About the Pandemic

Our friend Craig Kielburger, co-founder of WE Charity, shares how important it is that parents demonstrate positive behaviors and channel resilience in the presence of their children during times of crisis.

Voices rise in harmony, resonating like a choir in a cathedral through deserted streets. It already seems like a lifetime ago since the video of quarantined Italians in Sienna singing together from their balcony windows went viral, sparking similar performances across Italy and in other countries. Yet I think none of us will ever forget that haunting act of unity. And we shouldn’t forget, because it was so much more than just a heartwarming moment in a dark time. It was a lesson in resiliency and how to help our children learn to cope with crises.

“Most young kids will remember how their family home felt during the coronavirus panic more than anything specific about the virus,” observed New York-based clinical psychologist Dr. Rebecca Kennedy in a recent article.

Much has been written about how to explain coronavirus to kids. There’s even advice about how to help children cope with anxiety. Just like adults, their lives have been utterly disrupted. That stress is compounded by the worry they can sense in adults around them. How we parents behave is not just about targeted conversations or lessons. Our children are watching everything we do, now more than ever — in close quarters and in a time of great uncertainty.
How we interact with others, how we react to the news, and our general behavior as we manage our own anxiety, is on display. So here’s a gentle reminder for parents (myself included) as we all try to hold it together.
●  First and foremost, get them giving back. Helping others will give kids a sense of control at a time of heightened anxiety, easing stress as they exert influence over the circumstances. It also teaches them about the importance of community in overcoming hardship.
●  If you are able, join the ‘caremongering’ trend as a family. The online volunteer group divides large chores into small ones among the volunteers to help vulnerable people and will pair you with someone who needs its services. And there are other ways you can help them make a difference without leaving the house.
●  Families with older children and little ones might encourage the eldest to share a favorite hobby with their young siblings in a peer-to-peer learning model. Sometimes, it’s easier to get children to listen to their mysterious older siblings than to mom or dad. Older children put in charge will take on more responsibility, and practice patience.
●  Spring cleaning is one of the few seasonal things we can still do. Consider organizing playrooms and closets, making a donation pile for toys and clothing to drop off as soon as items are accepted again.
●  If you’re able to go out, encourage your kids to mow lawns or help shop and deliver groceries (left at front doors from a safe distance) for elderly neighbors. 
Here are some other tips that can help you impart resiliency to your children.

Model considerate and compassionate behavior. Think about what your children will take away when they see you arguing with someone over the last roll of toilet paper.

Please, don’t make every household conversation about coronavirus. Your (hopefully restrained) news consumption can increase anxiety. How you respond to these reports is also important. Try not to mutter frustrations or gasp at every breaking story. Stifle your anger at certain politicians on screen. Little ones start to question their own safety very quickly when they witness stress. Have an age-appropriate discussion about the positive steps world leaders are taking, and the nature of expertise and advice.

If you’re working from home, take breaks, and do simple mindfulness exercises with your little ones. Make these practices a habit, and they will become part of your child’s lifelong toolkit for dealing with future exams and job stresses.
All the tips will tell you to maintain a routine in your house. Make time for fun. Yes, we’re scheduling fun now for the time being. Watch a comedy or play YouTube karaoke. Give every child the chance to pick an activity for a fun time. You can still give them happy family memories, even in a crisis.

WE is helping out with cost-free and publicly-accessible resources to support well-being for youth and their parents. WE sped up development of a K-12 mental health curriculum created with the input of internationally-recognized experts. A daily one-hour WE Schools Live online broadcast, hosted by renowned speakers such as Spencer West and featuring inspiring guests, teachers, celebrities, and experts, complements home-based online learning. We’ve also launched a WE Well-Being podcast hosted by Canadian First Lady Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau that offers thought-provoking and informative conversations between mental health experts, advocates, and celebrities to help empower people of all ages with tools to help support their well-being and the well-being of their community.
To borrow an analogy from COVID itself—  we need to start now in flattening the curve on the mental health impact of this pandemic, so we don’t have a generation overwhelming our mental health care system down the road.

Twenty years from now, Italians from Sienna will remember that, in a time of fear, their parents stuck their heads out of windows and sang with the neighbors. What will you give your children to remember?

Written by Craig Kielburger, co-founder of WE Charity, a 4-star international charity working to excite and empower youth to get involved and give back in their communities. The organization also works in communities around the globe to expand economic opportunities and achieve sustainable change.

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