By Tracey Dowdy
By now, “2020 was a year like no other” may be the most overused phrase in recent history, becoming the written equivalent of saying “like” in every sentence. Millions of American children haven’t been in a classroom or on a playdate since last March, some have lost loved ones, had quarantine birthdays, learned to live with uncertainty and disappointment, and the knowledge they’ll be among the last to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Still, they’ve shown resiliency and courage through it all. Our children have adapted to virtual schooling with varying degrees of success, submitted to wearing a mask better than some adults, and figured out creative ways to connect with family and friends via technology.
With so many of the challenges of 2020 still lingering in 2021, here are some ways to help your kids charge into the new year with confidence, courage, and a cheerful heart.
Lead by example. If you frequently complain about what a dumpster fire of a year this has been, your children will adopt that attitude as well. Be careful about projecting your struggles on to your kids, which is easier said than done at a time when parental burnout is at an all-time high. There’s no question whether or not we’ve all struggled but focus on the victories, not the losses. You don’t need to pretend everything’s okay – your children aren’t blind to what’s happening – but by teaching them to find the good in every situation, you’re not just helping them get through today; you’re setting them up to be leaders and culture changers whatever their future holds.
Don’t stress over bad habits. I’ve heard so many parents lament the amount of screen time their kids are subjected to through virtual schooling or simply as a way to pass the time when playdates are out of the question. Others are concerned they’ll never get back on a schedule after sleeping till five minutes before their Zoom class starts or ever be able to hold a face to face conversation again. Julie Ross, executive director of Parenting Horizons and author of “Practical Parenting for the 21st Century,” says, “Many of the habits that children are developing now that their parents are ‘worried’ about are ones that serve them well in this bubble we’re living in. What concerns me, to tell you the truth, is that because parents are worried, they’re putting pressure on to their kids and not acknowledging how resourceful they are being.”
Instead, ask yourself whether your child is eating and sleeping well, getting some exercise, still spending time with family and whether they’re pretty much on top of their schoolwork. If the answer is yes to most – doesn’t have to be all – of these questions, don’t stress about what’s helping them cope now – like excess screen time.
Offer concrete praise. While empty praise does little other than guarantee your child will one day be among the first round of contestants on a reality show they’ll later regret, recognition for actual accomplishments, big or small, is life-giving. Recognize when they push through a challenging class or assignment, finish their chores, or show kindness to a sibling. “Acknowledgement is specific, and acknowledgment is not overblown,” Ross says.
Be intentional about downtime together. While many parents and children have spent more time together over the past 12 months than they ever have before, much of that time has been structured or in some way instructional. Claire Nicogossian, a clinical psychologist and author of “Mama, You Are Enough: How to Create Calm, Joy and Confidence Within the Chaos of Motherhood,” suggests taking stock of how much time you spent together throughout the day, then adding a few minutes for relaxing and reconnecting. “This is not to make you feel more guilty, but give you perspective. Often, we as parents spend so much time in the supporting roles of parenting, we lose out on the fun, quality-time moments.”
Finally, although self-care may seem as out of reach as getting back into your pre-quarantine jeans, find ways to take care of your mental health. You can’t pour from an empty bucket, so ignore the laundry so you can take a bath after the kids are in bed, treat yourself to an overpriced coffee on your grocery run, disconnect from social media, or go for a run before everyone is up. If you’re overwhelmed and can’t seem to catch your breath, reach out to friends and family, and ask for help.
While we can’t make COVID go away and get things back to normal tomorrow, we can take steps to ensure we all get there eventually. Give your children and yourself grace. Remember, you’re your own worst critic – unless you have toddlers who are brutal and give savage performance reviews. I promise you’re doing a great job, sweetie.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.