Obstacle or Challenge?

A friend expressed concern yesterday for the mental health of children in all this as fall semester approaches. So I thought I would use my “learn to live with it” post from yesterday as a platform for my response.

The virus and its effect on society are what we call, in my field, stressors. Stressors can be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term). Acute stressors are easier to handle – they either fade on their own or we can do something to avoid/eliminate them. Chronic stressors are more difficult. They don’t go away and they can start to erode us if we are not capable of managing them.

hCoV-19 is a chronic stressor.

So what tools can we use? There are several that have evidence behind them: prayer/meditation, regular exercise, and social support (virtual works, too) are all good choices. But a lot of the battle with a chronic stressor is in the framing, the way you “set up” the picture as a photographer might say. So let’s talk about that in the context of school.

How will you, the parent, portray the situation to your kids? How will you “frame” it? Your choices are two. First, you can choose to frame it as an “obstacle, ” lamenting the loss of what was, with fear and sadness and maybe even anger. Second, you can choose to frame it as a “challenge,” a battle against a common foe that each child can help to win by doing her part. You can demonstrate the proper behaviors happily and willingly and praise them for being “part of the team.” You can encourage them to see the new semester as a mountain to be climbed, instead of a specter to be feared. But you can only do that if you are willing to do that, too.

So are we done feeling sorry for ourselves yet? Are we tired of being sad and angry about “the way it used to be”? If you aren’t, then they won’t be either.

But if you are, share it. Tell all your adult friends to work on their own mindsets, to “mask up”, avoid high-transmission situations, and make whatever adjustments are needed to overcome. Make the sacrifices as well. Your kids will see that. What you do is so much more influential than what you say.

Meet this challenge with optimism. Keep yourself safe. Do what you can, and do it willingly. The longer that we act like this virus is an “obstacle” rather than a “challenge”, the unhappier we will be.

And your kids will see that, too.

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