Coronavirus has taken its toll on everyone. From fears to frustrations, people are physically and mentally exhausted. In yoga and counseling sessions, people express anxiety, fatigue, grief, anger, annoyance, helplessness and even hopelessness. Everyone feels something about our situation during quarantine.
Then…our children’s schools went full remote spring of 2020. Now if you want to see stress, watch a parent attempt to get what they need done at home AND keep a kid in their seat or awake for their virtual learning. This is no small feat. I have never in my life had more appreciation for teachers until I had to do it myself.
For some schools, the children went back this September; for others, virtual has been the only option. There was no easy choice in this matter. Many people were worried about the safety of their children in school, but some people were processing their feelings and uncertainty as to how to help their children cope with the loss of in person instruction. I read endlessly about people consoling their tearful children, wanting only to see their best friends again. I also saw parents’ fears come out in anger; not truly sure where to place blame or how to channel their feelings. My heart ached for everyone.
Being a trauma-informed therapist, I have fielded an overwhelming amount of calls and emails regarding the best ways to navigate with the ever-changing landscape of coronavirus and schools. Below is a list of 8 important details we discuss to help cope during this time.
- Compassion: I keep seeing the statement “We are all in the same boat”. No, we are not. We are not in the same boat. Some people are on fully staffed yachts, some are on pontoons, some are hanging on to two pieces of plywood fighting a strong current. We are in the same tumultuous ocean, but are aboard different vessels. We must first acknowledge that everyone’s situation is very different and we must have compassion for everyone during this time. If we adopt this mentality, we would release ourselves of a great deal of frustration. Compassion must begin with us. If we can give ourselves a break, it is easier to have compassion for others.
- Check Yourself Before You Wreck…: I work hard to keep my emotions in check. I am lucky enough to have trusted people in my life to vent my frustrations to. I have mentors who keep me in check. I tell everyone find someone, just one person you can process your feelings with. We do this so our feelings do not spill over and other people, even our children, become our containers. We know that someone can do something one day and we brush it off. The next day someone can do the EXACT same behavior and we will blow. Nothing changed, except that our cup was filled with stress. The more we can release our own stress by talking, writing, or movement, the more room we will have in our cup to deal with stress.
- Open Communication is Key: We discussed how important it is to keep our emotions in check, but this cannot always be possible. Just the other day, I found out a high school classmate and my dear friend’s mother passed away the same day. I was in shock and had a difficult time resisting the tears. As all children, my child was perceptive enough to know something was wrong. I had no choice but to discuss what happened in an age appropriate manner. I could not push the emotions away and pretend as though everything was ok in the moment. She saw authenticity and also regulation. After I spoke about it to her, I said I felt much better-modeling the process of talking about our feelings. Once I spoke about it more with my mentor, the feelings did not spill out everywhere. I had control over my feelings; my feelings didn’t have control over me. Healthy communication is imperative for all of us to get through this incredibly difficult time. If we don’t feel like we have a family member or friend that can hold our emotions, a therapist is a fantastic option.
- Fake it Until You Make It: I am one of the parents who is working from home and also trying to keep my kid in her seat for her home instruction. Do you think I want her back in school for in person face to face instruction? You bet your piping hot coffee I do. Do I show her this frustration? I work hard at putting on a good face. Do I have to fake a smile some days to keep her calm and happy? Yes! As a trauma therapist, I know the importance of co-regulation. If she sees me out of control, she will feel out of control. Our children our sponges. Despite our difficulties, when we can muster the energy to put on a smile, we should attempt to do so. There will be days that getting out of bed, let alone cracking a smile, will be impossible. That is when we go back to compassion and processing our feelings. Those first steps will bring us to a place where we put on a smile, even if we don’t feel as though we can.
- Perception is Reality: What we think is how we see the world. If our perception of coronavirus is one of despair and fear, that is what our children will pick up as well. If we are able to take a look at the situation and see the smallest light in the darkness, that is what our children will pick up as well. We must be mindful of our perceptions and how to express them to our children. Going back to processing our feelings is so important to weathering this storm.
- Be a Container: When our children come to us, we must ask them this question first: Would you like me to offer suggestions/help find solutions or just listen? Once our role is established, we can then be a container. We will listen to their thoughts, emotions, feelings, hold them if they want while they cry or rage. We can ask clarifying questions without taking anything personally. We are there to hold space and their emotions. This will come easier every time we also communicate (as we mentioned above).
- Instilling Hope: Hope may seem like a distant dream. Just like in counseling, we work hard at supporting people to see the light. Hope keeps people motivated and allows people to focus on something other than the difficulties of the present time. Planning where you would go after this is all over. Looking up places of happiness, planning, and discussing what you will do will help bring in a bit of light. Talking about who you will see after this is all over is exciting. Thinking about how you will feel once you are able to be with the person again is comforting. Another tactic of hope is taking a look at all the heroes of the fight against coronavirus. Discussing their selflessness, bravery, altruism and faith is a rich conversation of values. With this conversation, you can discuss future career paths with children.
- Remember you are doing the best you can! I know for certain I missed my Coronavirus handbook they handed out in February. No one could ever anticipate the insanity of 2020. The unknown of the situation created an incredible amount of anxiety, rising to the level of agoraphobia for some. The grief from those we lost, who became sick, and the loneliness we experienced was debilitating. Many people I know and have worked with were forced to say goodbye and safe journeys to people via the phones of nurses and doctors of the ICU. This should have never been the case. You are doing the best you can with all the tools you have.
Overall, my hope is everyone will see that the more compassion we have for ourselves, the easier it will be to deal with the extreme stress. Processing and talking about our stress will allow us to have power over the situation. If we are able to contain and work with the stress, the unintended consequence is more secure, more regulated children. I am sure I speak for all parents in that we wish for our children to come out of this on the other side more compassionate and resilient. Good luck out there everyone! Please stay safe and healthy, take care of yourselves and one another.
Kristina Silvestry is a nationally certified, licensed professional cognitive behavioral counselor, certified clinical trauma professional, and trauma informed registered yoga teacher with over 17 years experience working with survivors of trauma and those working through depression and anxiety. Kris Silvestry is the founding director of Peace of Mind Counseling and Wellness Center and Peace of Mind Yoga. in Berkeley Heights, NJ.