What Can Children Learn From COVID-19
Research in resilience reveals the ideas that nurture strength.
Posted April 13, 2020 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
"Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars." –Kahlil Gibran
Over 50 million students in the United States (not including college) are participating in distance learning during this pandemic. This works well for some, and, well, not so well for others. I have had to remind many a parent lately, “This is not an academic emergency,” when they feel like they’re failing as a parent, teacher, and positive person. The goal isn’t to be sunny sunshine, but to help your child (or children) emerge from this adversity with more resilience, awareness, and hopefully compassion.
Of course, this is no small task: For most boys and girls, this is the first national adversity they’ve ever experienced so they’re in unchartered waters. They’re disappointed with proms and school productions thwarted as well as field trips canceled. But from an educational perspective—all is not lost. This time is ripe to help students learn a few emotionally intelligent concepts from the COVID-19 crisis such as:
- Inner is always greater than outer. Humans are born with eyes facing outwards, and typically start looking to the outside world for validation. This is normal, but not helpful for the long-term. At some point, a child gets the opportunity to “see” that within them is the power to overcome any obstacle, which normally would be a bully on the bus or broken leg, but today—it includes the COVID-19 epidemic. Alycia Kamil and Damayanti Wallace from youth-led Chicago nonprofit, GoodKidsMadCity, raised over $7,000 for families who need food assistance. They’re beginning to really see, and experience how inside of them is everything they need to help themselves—as well as others.
- This is temporary. Helping a child see the “bigger picture” and that today’s inconvenience and discomfort is temporary is going to help them move through this time. It doesn’t mean it’s easy, but helping your son or daughter recognize that in life—there are challenges, but they come and go is important. You might even, if appropriate, discuss challenges throughout time, whether it was World War II, or more recent natural disasters.
- Kindness is a practice (to self, and others). Being able to embrace your imperfections, and big feelings without judgment is a practice, which every child needs to learn. So, feeling fear and anxiety now is very normal, and learning to stay with emotions—hold them, soothe them, and let them go constructively is the practice. In my book, The Emotionally Healthy Child, I share ideas and strategies on how to do this. But I know creating an emotional hygiene regimen akin to a physical one is essential now (for example, 3 Good Things before bedtime, listening to calming audios, or showering off stress). Remember: Practice isn’t perfection, if we mess up—we can begin again.
- Help others. Every student that turns from “me, me, me” to “we, we, we” will have learned an invaluable lesson from this pandemic. A lifelong lesson. For example, Holli Morgan, a fifth-grade student, who started making masks for first responders is experiencing the joy of helping someone, especially those who need it the most. Or Jayden Perez, another 11-year-old student, who donated 1,000 hand sanitizers to his school district because he was concerned other students didn’t have them.
- Emotional toolbox (everyone needs one!). As adults we may have something that helps click us back into place whether it’s a saying, “This, too, shall pass,” or something else that reminds us—this is temporary, I can calm and come back into balance. But for our children, we need to help them add knowledge (how do emotions work) and strategies into their toolbox so they can begin to self-regulate, center themselves, and when needed hit the emotional reset button. For some, it may be jumping on the trampoline, and imagining frustration or anger falling away or others, it may be doing Cosmic Kids Yoga, as examples.
Similar to a diamond that is formed under extreme pressure (and yes, heat) your child can emerge from this experience better than before. Yes, it’s not easy or simple, but it’s possible. Through the seemingly straightforward experiences of everyday life, your son or daughter can add some tools to their emotional toolbox, begin to see themselves as capable to overcome obstacles (no matter what they are) and remember: This, too, shall pass.
Healy, Maureen (2012). Growing Happy Kids: How to Foster Inner Confidence, Success and Happiness. Deerfield Beach, FL: HCI Books.
Healy, Maureen (2018). The Emotionally Healthy Child: Helping Children Calm, Center and Make Smarter Choices. Novato, CA: New World Library. (Preface from Dalai Lama)
Calm Audios (2020): bit.ly/3b2VZnf
Hendrickson, N and Issa, N (March 20, 2020). Neighbors aid neighbors during pandemic. Chicago, IL: Chicago Sun Times.
Lucas, Liza (April 7, 2020). Sewing support: 11 year-old creates masks for healthcare workers in need.
Zurita, Anthony. (March 27, 2020). Boy donates 1,000 hand sanitizer sprays to town amid coronavirus concerns. USA Today online.