CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
There likely isn’t a family in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee that has not spent this week adjusting to a new normal. With school out of session, parents working from home, public Mass canceled and families practicing social distancing, day-to-day life is almost unrecognizable for many of us.
So how do we tackle this crisis side-by-side with our kids? What do we tell them about the virus that has turned our lives upside down?
Jackie Block, MFT, LCSW is a therapist working in the Agnesian Health Care system in Fond du Lac. She has 30 years of experience treating children, adults, couples and families.
Her advice? You need to keep yourself calm if you want to keep your kids calm.
“We as adults should feed ourselves with just the facts,” she said. “It’s when we feel like we don’t have control that we break down. For the people who went out and bought 20 rolls of toilet paper — they at least felt that they had control over something.”
Our world is in a little bit of upheaval right now. To what extent do kids pick up on these tensions in the world and in their families?
Block: “I truly believe it depends on how much it is fed by the important adults around them and sometimes other children as well. Studies show children should not be watching the news until about 12 years old and in this day and age, with TVs going and all the information being thrown at us — some of it is necessary – but to binge-watch is not helpful to the adults as well as children. Keep calm, show confidence, be very clear and matter-of-fact as to why things have changed and what we need to do to stay healthy and safe.”
Any tips about how to explain that without alarming them?
Block: “Equate it to crossing the street — we look both ways. So washing our hands is just something we do to stay healthy; this is why your friends will not be coming over, but we certainly can go for a walk if you want to do that. Let them know that it’s an illness and that right now in America there are people who are sick and there may be people who will get sick and we’re going to do all we can to make sure we’re going to stay healthy.”
A lot of us, as parents, are grappling with our own anxieties. How do we make sure that these don’t transfer to the kids, and if they see us break down, how do we handle that?
Block: “I think the frame is one of compassion for others. The fear comes from the sense of not wanting bad things happening to our loved ones. That anxiety and fear can be framed in that way — it’s a sense of empathy. Some people can get very sick. For our own selves, we need to reinforce those self-esteem issues. Focus on things we are capable of: we are washing our hands, we are thinking twice before we head out into the world. The first piece is to be mindful. We often wonder about the unknown and the first step is to look right in front of you. This is what I can do, this is what I’m doing, for this day, for this minute, for this hour. I’m with my family, we’re healthy, I have food to cook a meal. That reassurance — and prayer, of course.”
Some moms of older kids have expressed difficulty getting their kids to take this seriously — kids are upset that they can’t spend time with their friends or go to parties. How can we help them take it seriously?
Block: “I think to be other-centered is important. Most people will get this illness and it will be very mild. But what will this do if Grandma or Grandpa get it? What will this do if the person that you’re in close contact with in the store is much older and has some compromised health? You may feel fine and you most likely will weather this, but we have to be really careful because there are people that could get very sick for not using cautionary self-care.”
From Our Moms: How are you discussing this crisis with your own kids?
“My teen fully understands and respects it, thankfully. He’s got a little school work that he is working ahead on for now, and is balancing some social time by texting and playing XBOX online with his friends living in other places.”
“With my almost 5-year-old, we talked about how it is a really bad cold and we need to be extra safe to not get it or spread it to others. He knows the name and that you get really sick.”
“My 90-year-old father lives with us, and I have to say that one of the blessings of this craziness has been seeing the beautiful care and concern all three kids (17, 14, and 12) are exhibiting for him. The concept of social distancing has been maybe a little easier for them to grasp because the example of his vulnerability is right there at the dinner table, every night.”
“This is my first crisis as a single mom and my boys who are 8 and 10 have been hyper-focused on us being quarantined ‘alone’ and questioning if I can handle it without their dad. It is scary but it’s also been a really great opportunity to show them how to lean on Christ and our Holy Mother when we’re afraid and seemingly ‘alone.’”