Teachable Moments During Times of Uncertainty
Using challenging times to teach our children valuable life lessons.
Posted Dec 31, 2020
Looking back, who would have ever imagined that 2020 would’ve been such a challenging year. A year of wearing face masks, isolating ourselves from friends and loved ones, working from home, and, for many parents, becoming their child’s teacher. All of us felt the impact of the pandemic, and perhaps those most affected were our children.
Aside from adapting to a global pandemic, as a nation, we have also seen issues brought to light like systemic racism during a time marked with political turmoil. And as though that weren’t enough, Mother Nature made her presence known with record-shattering hurricanes, snowstorms, and raging wildfires, leaving many homeless. To think that these unprecedented times didn’t affect our youths' mental health would be naive. Many children, and adults, too, were left with the looming question, “What’s next?”
In 2020, one of the critical components missing from our children’s lives was in-person socialization. And with many schools using virtual platforms in place of face-to-face instruction, those golden opportunities to connect with peers were lost. Additionally, youth reported spending more time online than in the past.
According to Verizon's survey, teens reported spending an average of 11 hours a day online between distance learning and leisure. Although virtual connections provided a safer alternative to hanging out with friends, they didn’t replace in-person interactions. As a result, the events of 2020 took an emotional toll on our children’s mental health, leaving many disengaged, disconnected, and isolated.
According to a survey conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association, titled "Stress in America™ 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis," 81 percent of teens ages 13–17 reported experiencing the negative impacts of COVID-related school closures, and approximately half (51 percent) said the pandemic made planning for their future feel impossible. As parents, we play an essential role in helping our children cope with unplanned events and life hardships. By capturing unprecedented teachable moments, we can help them see the light at the end of the tunnel. Although 2020 was filled with uncertainty and challenges, we can use this past year as an opportunity to teach our children about passion, perseverance, resilience, and unity.
Five lessons for our children during challenging times.
1. Let go. A part of our human nature longs for structure and routine, and when a monkey wrench gets thrown into our plans, we may experience high levels of stress, especially if there isn’t an end in sight. No matter how much we like to live in the future, the truth is, we have no idea what tomorrow will bring. So, why not embrace today? When we let go of control, we are more open to expecting the unexpected, which helps us adapt to adversity more quickly.
2. Smile. As the saying goes, a smile does go a long, long way. In an article published in the journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers found that smiling, which results in us using our facial muscles, causes us to feel more positive emotions. Smiling triggers the amygdala, the brain’s emotional center, which releases neurotransmitters to encourage an emotionally positive state.
When we smile, it helps us see the world through a lens of optimism. Even though our mouths are hidden behind a mask, we can still detect a sparkle in those smiling eyes. As the famous jazz artist Louis Armstrong sang, “When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.”
3. Mental health matters. Mental health is just as important as physical health. In the past several months, there has been a spike in anxiety and depression. The data support the notion that many of the nation’s youth are struggling emotionally.
The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry published a systematic review of more than 60 studies on the impact of social isolation and loneliness on children and adolescents’ mental health. The review found that social isolation and loneliness increased the risk of depression and possibly anxiety. The prolonged isolation caused by the pandemic is increasing loneliness and will not end after the mandatory isolation ends, according to the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
The destigmatization of mental health is long past due. Our children need to know that their emotional well-being is just as important as their physical well-being.
4. Make lemonade from lemons. In times of adversity, we can teach our kids that they can take life’s lemons and make lemonade. They can bounce back with resilience. Resilience is our ability to cope with, recover from, and thrive after difficult or traumatic events.
In life-changing and stressful circumstances, we can grow and become stronger. Being resilient helps us keep unplanned events in perspective. It helps us adapt and accept what we can’t control and find comfort in what we can. More importantly, resilience reminds us that we can get through challenging times.
5. Define yourself. Bad events don’t have to define who you are; you define yourself. The ever-so-wise Dr. Seuss said it best: “When something bad happens, you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.”
Parents, don’t let these unprecedented times be for naught. Take advantage of the extra time home with your children and focus on strengthening your parent-child relationship. Teach your children that some of the most valuable lessons can be learned when faced with adversity and uncertainty and can bring forth growth and change.
Happy New Year!
American Psychological Association (2020). Stress in America™ 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis.
Loades, M. E., Chatburn, E., Higson-Sweeney, N., Reynolds, S., Shafran, R., Brigden, A., ... & Crawley, E. (2020). Rapid Systematic Review: The Impact of Social Isolation and Loneliness on the Mental Health of Children and Adolescents in the Context of COVID-19. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 59 (11). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2020.05.009
Marmolejo-Ramos, F., Murata, A., Sasaki, K., Yamada, Y., Ikeda, A., Hinojosa, J. A., ... & Ospina, R. (2020). Your Face and Moves Seem Happier When I Smile. Experimental Psychology, 67 (1). https://doi.org/10.1027/1618-3169/a000470