Finding the Silver Linings in a Major Crisis – a Lesson in Gratitude

It has been a heck of a month since my last article. It was a completely different world on March 10th when the rumblings of a new virus in China were really starting to take hold in the US. I had already been paying close attention, as biology fascinates me, as does the history of viral outbreaks and the politics behind it all. But on that day, even having had over a week to research what was happening overseas, I was not even remotely prepared for the changes and challenges I would soon be facing. I, like millions of others, had no idea that everything could change at the drop of a hat. I spent many years as a political activist. This type of life-altering event was talked about, and even feared by many, but I don’t think anyone was truly prepared for the massive global changes we were about to endure.

As a parent, our number one job is to protect our kids. This includes protection from immediate physical danger obviously, but it also includes protecting their emotions, their fears, their routines and creating a sense of stability. Major events like a global pandemic can be incredibly confusing for kids, and if we aren’t diligent in showing them that no matter what is happening outside the doors of our home, that WE are their protector, their safe space, that  we will always make sure that they are safe. They know this, and many psychologists believe this inherent knowledge is what formulates unconditional love and the special bond between kids and their parents.

I imagine it was very different for my own parents to shield us from the fears that come with major events, due to the lack of internet and social media in my childhood. These days there is no lack of exposure to current events, and keeping your kids out of the loop entirely isn’t possible if they’re connected. And any amount of uncertainty can spiral into bigger issues in the home if they’re not managed properly, including behavioral problems, aggression, anxiety, and even depression. Kids face all of these issues without a world disaster, and for many of our kids (and even us as adults) this is the first major global upheaval in our lives. Uncertainty and fear in our own minds can be perceived by even very young children, so it’s important that we strive to be as positive as possible during tough times, not only in the presence of our kids, but for our own well-being as well. Staying positive requires one key element: gratitude. It’s not possible to find a silver lining if you don’t first acknowledge your gratefulness toward something.

As a homeschooling advocate – one of the first silver linings that came to mind to me was that millions of parents were about to realize just how doable homeschooling is. I won’t say it’s “easy”, but it’s not as difficult as people believe, and it doesn’t require special knowledge or expertise in education. There are too many available resources to worry about our own lack of knowledge, as long as we can accomplish the presentation of knowledge to them, we have the fundamental ability to allow them to learn outside of a classroom setting. It’s most certainly not easy to juggle homeschooling and working from home at the same time, but with careful planning, and some patience, this can be an endeavor that is not only effective, but fun!

Part of managing potential complications before they begin is maintaining balance and structure. The structure part is as important as the balance, so focusing too much on structure can tip the balance scales, and focusing too much on balance can dismantle your structure[j1] . In our home we used our trusty sticky notes to create schedules. Since my kids are already used to home management using Agile methods like a scrum board, sticky notes seemed like the most logical option. There’s a sticky by the TV, the game station, the family computer, and the kid’s device shelf. On it, we wrote out the schedule of waking hours and who would have access to which types of device at which times. There’s also one by the door for exercise and outdoor play.

Kids under 12 in elementary school are subjected to this type of scheduling daily at school. Teachers have learned that the key to mitigating behavioral issues is constant change. Because kids have shorter attention spans than adults, they fare better with constant movement over sitting in the same classroom for long periods of time. I have found that the same methods work best in the home for managing multiple kids at multiple grade levels in one household as well. So, nothing is scheduled for longer than an hour. “Bite sized chunks” of activities help encourage both mental stimulation and physical activity, breaks from staring at screens, etc., so for every hour of work is an hour of play or other activity that doesn’t include electronics.

When you’re homeschooling, everything becomes a lesson. Of course, the kids have scheduled activities on their school-provided devices, but having the kids sit with their iPads for 5 or 6 hours a day is not beneficial to their bodies or the learning process. Include your normal routines into theirs, for example, let them cook with you. Cooking is a math and science lesson. Let them plan grocery lists, or help with online ordering. There are many different types of things you are already doing that can easily become an educational lesson.

Most importantly, help them discover the silver linings. Be open with them about why something might be bad, but make sure they know that something good can come out of it. In this case, being home (and homeschooled) has brought everyone closer. There’s more familial interaction, more inclusion. My own kids have thrived in this new environment, and I am absolutely certain that gratitude plays a major role in this. Kids can be resistant to change, but they adapt quickly, and that adaptation can also be a benefit if gratitude plays a role in that change. Ask them to look for the silver linings. Ask them what they are grateful for, tell them what you are grateful for. Facilitate and encourage positivity and gratitude into your normal daily routine, and it’s quite likely that you’ll look back on this difficult experience with fond memories of kids who didn’t complain about their routines being disrupted, but instead kids who found the silver linings.

 [j1]I’m not clear on what this paragraph means or is about. Please clarify.