“If you can control your behavior when everything around you is out of control, you can model for your children a valuable lesson in patience and understanding…and snatch an opportunity to shape character.” (Jane Clayson Johnson)
For me, it was the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and also the war in Vietnam. For my parents, it was the Great Depression and World War II. For other generations, the 9/11 attacks or Hurricane Katrina may have etched permanent impressions.
The noteworthy historical event for today’s children or grandchildren could well be the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ll remember it not just as that year schools closed and we stayed home a lot, but also for the way we as individuals and as a nation responded to adversity.
Will they tell their own children and grandchildren stories of scuffles over toilet paper, of hoarding and profiteering, of finger-pointing at people of different nationalities? Will they recount the politicization of life-saving, common-sense measures? Or will they describe how, even in isolation, people found ways to connect with and support one another? How neighbor checked on neighbor, shared provisions, and made sure that those who were most vulnerable were not overlooked.
Will they carry memories of family togetherness, of doing homework, playing games, talking, and comfort, even amidst a tableau of uncertainty and fear? Will they recall participating in activities that helped others, and being part of a positive national response?
And how will they remember their parents and other adults? As heroes, or as belligerent and indifferent self-seekers?
Our kids are going to take their cues from us. In addition to modeling safety behaviors, such as hand-washing, wearing masks, and physical distancing, are we modeling positive social behaviors? Are we demonstrating compassion and generosity? Are we speaking kindly about our neighbors and expressing gratitude for the healthcare and service workers on the front lines? Are we refraining from blaming and ostracizing people from other countries or cultures? Are we extending ourselves to help others, and encouraging our children to do the same? Are we behaving responsibly?
Think about the ways we can help our kids remember these history-making months as a time when we came together:
- Talk to them about what’s happening, and listen to them as they share what they’re thinking and feeling. Do your best to acknowledge and allay their fears without minimizing their feelings.
- Ask them for ideas on how to help others. Whether it’s staying in touch with friends and family, supporting neighborhood businesses, helping families in need, or supporting a local foodbank or homeless shelter, your kids will prove to be imaginative and adept problem-solvers. Nurture that quality.
- If loved ones are isolated or far away, encourage phone, Facetime, or Zoom conversations. Invite your kids to sing a song or read a story, or share what they’ve learned in home school. Maintain connections.
- Talk about ways to thank the workers who remain on the job, no matter what, in healthcare facilities, grocery stores, and pharmacies, as well as postal workers, sanitation crews, agricultural workers, first responders, and so many others whose presence on their jobs increases their risk, but keeps us safer.
- As some news media spread stories of bad behavior, share with your kids the less visible but prevalent stories of kindness and generosity. Remind them that people are basically good, and that when they do bad things, it’s often because they are afraid.
While this is certainly a time of challenge, inconvenience and hardship, it can also be a time of adventure, bonding and growth. Take a page from Mr. Rogers’ mom, who told him when he saw scary things in the news, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Be a helper. And show your kids how to be helpers. Make that what they remember from the Pandemic of 2020.
“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” (L.R. Knost)