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Friday, December 03, 2021
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(Courtesy of Ohel)

What are some of the top skills and/or benefits children will gain from the ‘My COVID-19 Resilience Workbook’?

Children now feel empowered to express themselves, which creates opportunities to acknowledge and validate their feelings about the pandemic. The workbook exercises teach children valuable skills to regulate feelings like sadness or anger. How can I feel better when I’m feeling sad? What can I do to feel calmer when I’m angry? Children develop internal coping skills and are also able to identify adults to support them throughout the process.

The workbook additionally creates an opportunity for parents and teachers to check in with children to better understand concerns and to correct misinformation. Surprisingly, many parents have discovered their children are worried about sickness, death or not being able to see their grandparents. I met one child in particular who was convinced he was the cause of his longtime pediatrician dying of COVID-19 since he had an office visit a week prior to the doctor falling ill. The workbook has served as a tool to begin these tough conversations and provide children a safe space to share their fears. Parents now have a glimpse into their children’s hearts and minds in a way that may not have happened so organically before.

Who is downloading the workbook?

The workbook is in use by parents, mental health professionals and most widely by teachers. Many schools are leveraging the workbook as a classroom-based activity, so all students benefit from the content. Each child receives an individual hard copy and the school sets aside “workbook time” to complete the various pages as a group. We are proud of the workbook’s global reach, with downloads in countries including Israel, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Brazil, England, France, Germany, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Uganda. The workbook is also often downloaded by grandparents who use the resource as a meaningful bonding activity with grandchildren (often across Zoom because they can’t be in person yet!).

How can parents navigate challenging mental health conversations with young children during the pandemic and beyond?

The foundation of trust and safety must be established before these types of conversations may successfully take place. We recommend parents regularly set aside time with each child individually. It may happen naturally, perhaps while baking or doing other household activities together. Throughout the pandemic, parents have experienced intense pressure, and many interactions with their children feel heightened. Children also see themselves through the lens of their parents, and if parents are chronically irritated and stressed in their interactions, the child perceives they are the one causing these negative emotions.

We recommend setting aside time where you can just be together and the child feels a sense of safety and comfort. From there, these important conversations can begin. We might suggest parents initiate a conversation by modeling their own reactions and feelings, which makes it safe for a child to follow along.

How can parents ease their own anxiety about possible long-term effects the pandemic might have on their family?

The way children cope, especially young children, is highly correlated to how they see their parents cope. Therefore, it is so important that parents have the support they need to manage their own anxieties and fears related to the pandemic.

We are living in unprecedented times and enduring incredible tension and stress. If I had one lesson for parents it’s be kind to yourself. Often the self-recrimination and frustration arise when there is a gap between expectations and reality. The greater that gap, the greater the frustration. I want parents to know it’s OK to relax your expectations; we are all just getting through this challenge one day at a time. Your child may be falling behind in math because of school disruptions and distance learning, but maybe you need to anticipate that is just going to happen, and that’s OK. The meals you serve your family might not be as nutritious as you would like, however, everyone will be fine.

There was so much loss experienced this past year. Children had very difficult school experiences and were faced with adverse consequences academically, emotionally and socially. These issues need to be addressed, but we need to take the long view. It was famously said that people may not remember what you said or did, but they will always remember how you made them feel. In five, 10 or 20 years from now, what matters most is how you came through together as a family, supported each other and bonded in the face of a major challenge.

The lessons your child is learning this year are more about resilience than about social studies history, math or science. When we can shift that mindset, it helps us cope better, feel less stressed in our parenting and ultimately, have better outcomes within our families.

What is the best piece of advice you have for parents today?

Today, parenting is very different than even a generation ago. In 2021, parents put extraordinary pressure on themselves to make sure their children are OK. They are very involved with homework; get upset when their children are excluded from activities; and feel they are failing as parents if their children are unhappy.

The truth is, we can’t protect our children from all negative experiences, nor should this be the goal. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t control everything. It’s all right for your child to be uncomfortable or to feel distress. You don’t need to rescue them from those feelings. You do need to be there for them, validate their pain and support them along the way.

Share experiences when you had similar feelings and how you coped so they may learn and understand. But let children feel their sadness, worry and disappointment. It’s through experiencing and managing these emotions that children learn how to cope and develop the resilience that will benefit them not only today, but throughout their lives.

The workbook is available at https://www.ohelfamily.org/workbook/

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