One day (hopefully in the not-too-distant future) the pandemic will end. In an ideal world, we will all open our doors, go back to hugging each other, shaking hands, sitting next to each other on buses, and be excited about embracing the world as it used to be. That is the idea. However, realistically, the pandemic has changed us and left an impact. Much of that impact will become understood in the coming years. Some of that impact is already being felt. Especially with our children and teens. Difficulty with school manifesting in school avoidance and/or school performance struggles are pervasive. Although estimates of school anxiety and school avoidance fluctuate drastically, many countries are reporting a significant increase in these kinds of challenges for children and teens. This kind of significant challenge brought on by a once in a 100 years pandemic, requires substantial leadership from the caring adults in a young persons world to assist them in navigating this challenge.
The challenges young people face related to the impact of the pandemic include:
- Increase of despair or loss of hope – With the perceived loss of years of their young life, many teenagers grapple with many “losses”. They don’t see hope of recovering what has been taken from them and feel as though what has been taken was/is necessary to have a fulfilling life.
- Difficulty of adjustment socially and academically in day-to-day life – The pandemic has required an inordinate amount of flexibility. The flexibility required to navigate the pandemic removed much of the protective structures (a school schedule, connection points with friends in-person, extra-curricular activities) that created the framework for work, friends, diet, exercise, and sleep. Without this structure, many children and teens are struggled. And returning to the structure, for many, is proving difficult.
- Ambiguous Loss – the “losses” are immense. Without minimizing actual death and long-term impairment for so many people in the world from the impact of COVID (and the impact on children and teens who are in relationship with individuals that have been impacted), there are so many other losses that young people are grieving. Friendships have disappeared, teams that were so important disintegrated and the skills that kids had have atrophied, important relationships with mentors never formed (teachers, coaches, etc.). Special events and milestones that were once an important part of growing up were altered or did not occur because of the pandemic (Proms, birthdays, getting drivers licenses, religious ceremonies, Quinceanera’s. The list of losses is likely infinite.
For those of us adults called to lead young people through a pandemic as a parent, or other loving caring supporter, there has been no preparation! We all have been reacting to the developments that each day brings. This puts us all in a “reactive” leadership position.
As we attempt to lead children through these struggles, part of our job is to stay focused on proactive strategies. First and foremost, we cannot lead if we are dysregulated. Finding our own calm, connecting to our values, reconnecting to a sense of purpose and hope. If we are ourselves living in a place of fear, we will not be able to lead. We will only be able to react out of our own “Fight, Flight, or Freeze” place.
Assisting children in reconnecting to what is good and what is inspiring can reorient them to a call to live their values. This provides a greater feeling of control over how all of us respond to the myriad of things which we cannot control. Having an understanding of where I have agency (I have control over what I can control) reduces fear and anxiety. As parents, guardians, school counselors, teachers, school administrators, therapists, and all of the many other people that nurture young people in their lives, we can assist children in identifying what the can control, what their values are, and how they wish to respond to stressors when the do not have control.
Assist them in grieving the many losses. Sometimes we choose to ignore grieving because we worry it will keep us stuck. But not grieving is what keeps us stuck. Especially when that loss is not easily defined. Defining the loss and allowing time and space to say goodbye is an important part of the grieving process.
Finding humor is an important part of processing painful and difficult life situations. If you’ve ever been to a funeral, you are aware of the flow between tears and laughter. Finding playful ways to acknowledge the difficulty without minimizing the pain. Allowing the flow between the pain and absurd creates space for healing to occur. Using humor to minimize the pain will have the inverse effect, so being conscientious that your job is to make space for pain and make space for lightness and then to make space for more pain.
This is a time that requires great leadership. Although we did not sign up to be leaders in a time of a pandemic, we are receiving the call now. Our hope is that coupled with your care for young people, the principles above will support you in staying in a proactive leadership position. If you wish to know more about this or have our team present on this subject to your team, you can find more information by clicking the link below.