Dear Dr. Debbie,
I realize there are no perfect solutions for this school year even with the welcome flexibility our older child has as a student in a charter school. Teachers are stressed. Parents are stressed. My husband and I are juggling work-from-home amid ever-changing national and local guidelines for getting the pandemic under control. What is the best we can hope for as a family, a community, and a society?
Uncharted Territory / Unbelievable Truth
Between looking back and looking forward, the year 2020 is far from perfection.
What you can control, and what is most important for your family, is to have a home base that is reliably safe and supportive.
Devotion to One Another
The family is often described as the basic unit of society. Mutual respect is a bare minimum. Teach your children by example that everyone’s needs are important, and that when one member is needy, all do their best to take care of those needs. This is Switzerland’s national motto: All for one and one for all. As a family you can support each other to discover the talents and passions that make each a unique and cherished contributing member of the group. When families do this, children grow up to make a positive difference in their families, communities and global efforts. As examples to your children, point out families, organizations, businesses, and public agencies that are working toward the best interests of people’s needs.
No matter what is going on in the outside world, a child does best with daily, weekly, and seasonal routines. Adults do best, too, when we are not faced with decisions from one moment to the next. To the extent possible, establish your household’s daily rhythms around set times for sleeping, eating, errands, and outings, with predictable work hours for parents and school time for your older child. Younger children thrive on schedules, too, with flexibility around growth spurts (more sleep and appetite) and those wondrous sustained moments of intense learning.
The pandemic has forced all of us to learn new ways of doing things, which often adds time and focused attention to formerly mundane tasks such as attending a meeting or getting groceries. Individual competence can flourish when a family’s household is functional. And vice versa – as we get competent with necessary new routines, individuals can flourish at home and in community systems such as school and work.
Conflict is Resolvable
Despite daily routines and rules of respect, people who share space and objects will be in each other’s way at times. Children, especially, are prone to self-centered attitudes when it comes to who gets the better deal in a dispute. Adults, too, can act selfishly when time and or money can’t be easily spared. In a family, as in a wider culture, there are common values that can help to shape the outcome of a squabble. A calm discussion will bring this out. They key is to focus on concrete facts and refrain from emotional assaults. Listen, learn, rebuild, and forgive, after a conflict.
Peace at Home
Are there activities, spaces, and times established in your home in which one, some, or all of the family members can find happiness? Children of different ages may need your assistance to create spaces with actual physical barriers for uninterrupted play and leaning. Height is one difference to take advantage of, with closed gates and doors as reinforcement. For example, a table protects a Lego construction or art activity from a crawling baby, but may not protect the baby from choking on fallen pieces. Likewise, an infant has extra protection from accidental flying objects with secure netting over a crib or floor gym.
Compared to controlling Covid-19 and its collateral effects on society, assuring happiness at home is a walk in the park. Check last week’s column for suggestions on using each family member’s strengths to make a plan for restoring happiness when things sometimes go awry.
The best we can hope for is to emerge from a pandemic with heightened abilities to value and nurture each other.
Dr. Wood is offering “Little Kids at Hope” for parents and other caregivers of children 0-5 years-old through Zoom on Saturday, September 12, 9:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. The cost is $25 per person. MSDE-approved for continuing education for childcare professionals. Register at www.theccm.org or 410-990-1993.