How can we help our kids cope with COVID19? Do you also feel like at the moment we are making a gazillion dreadful decisions every day, go to work/ stay home, go to school/ school at home, eat out/ eat-in, visit/ don’t visit? All the regular things of life have been upgraded to monumental declarations of position, opinion and faith. And our kids have a front-row seat to the whole thing, to the anxiety, the struggle of work, finances, “home” school and the constant flux in context and every other impossible challenge this pandemic has thrown at us, with their own little lives, not to mention futures, currently residing under a giant question mark. These are hard days.
The undercurrent of anxiety that is now part of our homes affects all of us in different ways, even our kids. Their stress might not look like ours does, like too much coffee and too little sleep, or too many hours escaping in Netflix, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Kids become unmotivated, discouraged and younger kids even regress due to stress. Have you seen any of that happen at home? Here are some helpful focus points in shepherding our kids through this season:
Stress is most often a product of uncertainty, and so in this our kids have the same needs we have when we are stressed – predictability, security, and practical tools! These must include regular exercise, and a daily routine that takes at least some of the uncertainty out of a very uncertain time and helps them know what to expect in a time of a lot of unexpected things. One of the things that kids stress about the most is not knowing what’s going to happen next. And even if the one minute they can go to school and the next minute they can’t (which is one of many uncertainties we as parents can’t control), there is a lot of comfort in creating a little bit of predictability in their day in order to better cope with the unpredictability of life. Doing this for them (even if it doesn’t come naturally) and for ourselves is one of the best ways to deal with the stress of this season. If you are suddenly juggling work/home/school a flexible but predictable routine will be your saving grace.Stress thrives in chaos but shrivels in structure – Kona Brown Click To Tweet
Learn to Pivot
No, this point does not oppose the first one! If you’ve been around here for any length of time you will know that I believe flexibility is like a superpower. And by flexibility I don’t mean chopping and changing, I mean creating structures and routines that are more task bound than time-bound. That means our routines can adapt to changes in our circumstances, like someone getting sick or a car breaking down (or some new and unexpected news from the President’s command council let’s say). It’s about knowing what you want to get done but being flexible about the when and how. A goal-driven routine (as opposed to a time-driven one) will help you accomplish that and allow you to pivot when you need to. Keep an eye on the blog for a course on this coming soon.Learning to pivot is what helps us deal with change and still thrive – Kona Brown Click To Tweet
In my book I used some of the many names of God to teach my kids about His character. As AW Tozer rightly says, what comes into our mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us. In the face of a global tragedy, what do we tell our kids about God? Did God cause this to happen to us? What does this tragedy reveal about His character? Our faith remains the lens that we view all of life through, so we need to help our kids (and maybe even ourselves) to have the right perspective on this pandemic. Our older kids might have questions, and our younger kids are at the perfect age for us to deliberately bring biblical understanding to this confusing context. I will just briefly highlight some helpful discussion points.
God did not cause this pandemic:
Like other natural disasters and pandemics, it’s a product of living in a fallen world, where there exists natural evil and moral evil, sometimes acting separately and sometimes converging to cause disaster. The pandemic once again evidences to us that there is brokenness between us and creation and us and our Creator and in a broken world, human sin, suffering, and pain are simply inevitable. If we did not want to recognize this fact before we have to recognize it now because it cannot be ignored and it’s a wonderful waypoint to discuss the gospel with our kids and what it means for us today and into eternity. God didn’t cause this pandemic, but He can use it in the lives of people.
We live in scary times but we don’t need to be scared:
What did Jesus want us to know about being here on earth before He left? In his “farewell discourse”, in the 13th to 17th chapters of the Gospel of John, Jesus clearly displayed the truth that his death and resurrection had both temporal (for today) and prophetic (for eternity) application, and these are great words to go over with our kids. Some of His final words to us include tellings us to “take heart”, in Greek the word means to take courage. How can we be courageous? By remembering that Jesus took the sting out of death and the teeth out of suffering, both of which we will face on earth but neither of which have the final say over us. This truth means we face the realities of COVID 19 differently. It has to!
(I know sometimes the gospel/ biblical concepts can be hard to explain to kids, and as adults sometimes we understand something in our heads/ hearts but we don’t have the words for it. My book helps with this. Just saying.).
Disappointment. It’s become a staple of this season for grown-ups and kids alike. On some level, we are all mourning losses, canceled plans, even the death of loved ones, all the “could’ve been’s and shoud’ve been’s” of school tours and galas and matric dances and hopes and dreams and plans and goals.
Validate their experiences
One of the best ways to help our kids deal with their disappointment is to validate its existence. To acknowledge that it’s terrible that he won’t be going on hockey tour/ she can’t have a birthday party/ we can’t go to granny’s house. It’s sad and sore and unfair. One of the most precious things we learned as a church this year has been the value of lament (Thank you Pastor Richard!).
The examples of lament in scripture is of people allowing themselves to come before God with their heartbrokenness, their disappointments, not with complaining as the end goal, but for the sake of drawing them near to a God who hears, sees and understands. Why not use this opportunity to teach your kids to mourn and then release their disappointing experiences to God? There are almost 42 Psalms of lament that you can use to help you.
In lament, we mourn the loss of something good, and in that sense, it is also an acknowledgment of all that has been good in our lives. That we have things/ people that are worth mourning is a wonderful privilege! Is your son sad about not going on a hockey tour? Why not talk about what he would’ve enjoyed about it most? Frustrated at not being able to visit her favorite places? What makes it a place she loves and misses? In the context of loss and disappointment, we can highlight for our kids how much good we truly have in our lives, and in doing so shift the focus to what remains good instead of what is less than ideal right now.
I think we talk way more now about what we can’t do and don’t have, much more now about what we lost than what we’ve gained. But this is not the example set for us in scripture. Asaph in Psalm 77, in the context of his difficulty and disappointment, after a heartfelt lament, pivots, makes a diligent search, and comes up with a list that reflects God’s faithfulness. And then he goes one step further, he talks about it.Practicing gratitude helps us change the temperature of our souls and positively influence the conversations around us. Kona Brown Click To Tweet
Lean into Prayer
I honestly don’t know how people are getting through this season without Jesus. With so many burdens and concerns, within our own homes and outside our walls, understanding the power of prayer has never been more important. Prayer is also our (and our kids’) first line of defense in helping them bear up, process and cope with so many emotionally and mentally challenging truths of this time, such as increasing poverty and fearful situations and unpredictability. This is what I taught my boys about prayer.Prayer is the act of positioning ourselves in the hand of God – Kona Brown Click To Tweet
Protect them from the Media
TBH I use to listen to the news a lot more. One of the reasons I started writing the blogs that ended up turning into The Mommy Diaries was because my kids starting asking me about things they heard reported on in the news, such as #FeesMustFall and #metoo
But the old adage, don’t believe everything you read, remains true, especially in South Africa where we do not have a well-regulated and appropriately accountable news media. I learned first-hand this year that even the most “reputable” (and I use this word VERY loosely) news outlet will do anything for clicks and shares even if it means exploiting children and their trauma or blatantly reporting in an unbalanced way. This is what we need to know when we engage with the news: the side of the story that wins every time is the side that induces the most fear, anger and morbid fascination because that will keep us clicking. If we don’t tell our kids this they will also haplessly follow every trend or news story down the rabbit hole of half-truths and sacrifice their very peace in the process!
And now, our kids have phones and WhatsApp and they hear and see everything. And it is 100% up to us to teach them how to walk the line between being watchful and informed on what is necessary to know on one hand, and unaffected, unoffended and unafraid on the other. I don’t get this right all the time, I don’t know many people who do. But in this season where we are constantly being overloaded with information that provides no solutions and burdened by bad news we can do nothing about our discerning consumption is a vital act of safeguarding our kids and our own soul- and spirit-wellness.
This blog is focused mostly on kids between the ages of 8 and 15, but if you’re kids are younger and you are looking to spark a conversation or simply give them a tool to help them process the mixed emotions of a global pandemic, I can highly recommend you visit https://www.stronganchor.co.za for some very helpful resources. 1 New subscriber to this blog will win their books, Monster in my neighborhood and Monster in my School!
As parents, it’s up to us to equip our kids to contextualize, understand, and engage with what is happening around them on a basis of truth, compassion and hopefulness. But that’s not always easy. But in an era-defining pandemic, if we do not concern ourselves with our and our kids’ worldview, both our approach and perspective and even our faith and hope will be on shaky ground. The Mommy Diaries was written to help you with this and you can get it here!