Voices rise in harmony, resonating like a choir in a cathedral through deserted streets. The video of quarantined Italians in Sienna singing together from their balcony windows went viral, sparking similar performances across Italy and in other countries. This is so much more than just a heartwarming moment in a dark time. It’s a lesson in resiliency and how to help our children learn to cope with crisis.
“Most young kids will remember how their family home felt during the coronavirus panic more than anything specific about the virus,” observed New York-based clinical psychologist Dr. Rebecca Kennedy in a recent article.
Much has been written about how to explain coronavirus to kids. There’s even advice about how to help children cope with the anxiety. Just like adults, their lives have been utterly disrupted. That stress is compounded by the worry they can sense in adults around them. How we parents behave is not just about targeted conversations or lessons. Our children are watching everything we do, now more than ever—in close quarters and in a time of great uncertainty.
How we interact with others, how we react to news and our general behavior as we manage our own anxiety, is on display. So here’s a gentle reminder for parents (myself included) as we all try to hold it together.
Please, don’t make every household conversation about coronavirus. Your (hopefully restrained) news consumption can increase anxiety. How you respond to these reports is also important. Try not to mutter frustrations or gasp at every breaking story. Stifle your anger at certain politicians onscreen. Little ones start to question their own safety very quickly when they witness stress. Have an age-appropriate discussion about the positive steps world leaders are taking, and the nature of expertise and advice.
Teach your kids about the importance of community. If you are able, join the “caremongering” trend as a family. The online volunteer group divvies up small chores to help vulnerable people and will pair you with someone who needs its services. By contrast, think about what your kids will internalize when they see you fighting over the last package of toilet paper in the store.
These tips can help impart resiliency, too.
If you’re working from home, take breaks and do simple mindfulness exercises with your little ones. Make these practices a habit, and they will become part of your child’s lifelong toolkit for dealing with future exams and job stresses.
All the tips will tell you to maintain a routine in your house. Make time for fun. Yes, we’re scheduling fun for the time being. Watch a comedy or play YouTube karaoke. Give every child the chance to pick an activity for fun time. You can still give them happy family memories, even in a crisis.
Twenty years from now, Italians from Sienna will remember that, in a time of fear, their parents stuck their heads out of windows and sang with the neighbors. What will you give your children to remember?
Craig Kielburger is co-founder of the WE Movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.