This long period of sheltering at home has been challenging, and many of you have shared that you are worried about the impact that social distancing is having on your children. Mindful of these concerns, we’ve asked our school psychologist, Dr. Bogart, to offer his reassurance and support for parents in an upcoming workshop. We also looked to a friend of TCS, psychologist Michael Thompson, for his reflections on the most pressing concerns he has seen among parents during this time.
The top concern Dr. Thompson has heard from parents is that their children’s mental health will deteriorate over the weeks of sheltering at home, or that they will be traumatized by what is going on. But he wants to reassure families that while children may be upset by the changes and new precautions in their lives, most children feel safe with their parents. What children want to know is that their parents love them and that their parents are doing the very best they can to protect them, and themselves. If you can convey that to your children, you have addressed their deepest anxieties. Of course, you can also tell them that you have been scared at times, and frustrated at times, and bored at times. They will appreciate knowing that, and then they will adapt.
Parents also worry that their children will suffer from a lack of social contact with peers. Dr. Thompson suggests that while children do miss their friends, they won’t be damaged by two or three or even four months without peer contact. They know their friends are out there, even if they can’t play together; they can see their friends on screen. Young children will turn to their siblings as playmates; you can expect brothers and sisters to get closer during this time, with more play, more love and more fighting, all of which is healthy. As for only children, they are used to spending lots of time with doting adults who love them. They will miss their friends but will make do with indulgent adults.
Lastly, parents fret that because the regular rules about screens have been relaxed (for distance learning, Zoom calls, TV, games), children will become addicted to screens and won’t be able to return to the previous limits. Dr. Thompson points out that children know that they are going to return to the normal rules when the pandemic lets up and they return to regular life and regular school. The most important thing is to protect their sleep, so no stimulating screens before bedtime. Evenings are best for playing board games and reading books together, for family time away from screens. If parents keep up some kind of regular schedule of work, play and family time, children will re-adjust when all this is over. And with the arrival of beautiful weather, playing outdoors and exploring nature are a great recipe for lifting children’s spirits while also keeping them safe.
Although this intense, isolating experience has been hard on many families, we will not be surprised to see a new maturity and thoughtfulness in our students when they return to school, born out of adapting to new circumstances. The silver lining to a crisis like this one is that it prompts us to reach out; to strengthen our bonds with others; to think collectively, as a community; and to adapt to limitations in creative ways. This time of sheltering at home can also be a catalyst for growth, for new resilience and for a deeper understanding of one another.
Here’s to cherishing the growth in your children, in both their hearts and minds, as they have adapted to sheltering in place.