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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Beacon Bits -- The World is Our Community Now

Lessons to Learn for Children (and Adults) @ Home 
During the Coronavirus Pandemic

For some time now, people have heard about ‘resilience’. Sometimes the term is used correctly and sometimes it is a bit expanded vis-à-vis its intended meaning; it seems to have become the fastest growing catch phrase used in our current day vernacular language.

The sense of resilience as being able to bounce back from hardship or trauma or extreme and even life-threatening events is one aspect of resilience. Think of a rubber band that can be flexible as it rebounds from the stress of being stretched beyond its limit. Contrast that with a dried-out rubber band that will just snap.  Another important and understated aspect of resilience is being able to go beyond the baseline that you hope to bounce back to and to have the events that you have endured transform you to a new level that you may not have reached before. In this case, think of the rubber band as a muscle that gains strength from being stretched repetitively; it becomes better and stronger than it was before.

Therefore, in these dire times, I propose the idea that we all need to build our ‘resilience’ muscle daily. Everyone enduring the hardships of the impact that the coronavirus is observing it from a different perspective and everyone has varying degrees of pre-existing resilience. There is no one size fits all solution to the problem of how to cope and deal with the increasing levels of stress and anxiety that have only just begun. But we can all learn new skills and build upon our existing strengths in order to persist and overcome our predicament, thereby increasing our resilience reserve.

One rule of thumb for managing stress is that predictability and control influence the perception of stress. That is, if something is predictable, it is less stressful. If someone can exert personal control, there is less stress. In the case of coronavirus, every individual is limited because there may not be an overwhelming sense of predictability or control over the matter. However, the focus of someone who is willing to use new strategies to build resilience, may indeed have a sense of predictability and control in a very personal and meaningful way. So, by focusing on becoming more resilience, you will feel less stress.

Let me give some examples about how to deal with schools being closed with the ensuing disruptions to daily living and work routines so that one could imagine the experience of this unique and overbearing related to the pandemic may lead to personal transformation and perhaps even improvement in the lives of children, parents and adults.

Old Fashioned Values and Lessons
Families will have enough time on hand to do a ‘fact check’ about existing manners and degree of etiquette that are prevalent in their attitudes and actions. Practicing tables manners and discussing various topics that are in the news about social distancing vs. social isolation and how the elderly are particularly at risk is a good starting point. Asking relevant questions (e.g., How do we respect the elderly? What makes a good neighbor?) and focusing on actual behaviors will take the discussion beyond concepts to determining how the value is demonstrated, executed and carried out. The actions that are brainstormed may lead to prosocial activities (e.g., shopping at local stores, sending text messages, making phone calls, collecting mail or walking a dog) and by practicing such behaviors, they are more likely to become internalized for future actions.

Nature’s Way
What better time than spring to note how resilient nature is as one witnesses the first bloom of crocus and daffodils, the birds building nests, and damaged bushes returning to life after the hit of winter. Create a scavenger hunt or “I Spy” game that makes being outdoors and in nature purposeful so that observation skills are honed, and hope begins to take root. Plant seeds indoors that will be ready to plant later in the spring. Re-pot house plants. Plan an outdoor community garden. Get ready for the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day on April 22 by reviewing why it started in 1970 (e.g., the impact of the classic expose written by Rachel Carson in her book Silent Spring) and how much more relevant Earth Day is in light of climate change and actions that must be taken to reverse the irreversible, both on a global and personal level. Practice composting. Review household use of carbon. Determine how the family can reduce its carbon footprint. 

The power of gratitude should never be taken lightly. Much has been written about the positive effects of regular accounting of things that are worth celebrating with gratefulness. On a daily basis, list 3 to 5 items that each person in the family feels grateful about. Post the lists on the refrigerator or keep them in a journal. Have children write ‘thank you’ cards for health care workers and first responders that can be sent by snail mail, email or posted on websites. Bolstering hope and inspiration results from the expression of gratitude and helps to build the resilience muscle because it is a reframing of what one might otherwise feel hopeless about.

“Hands-On” (clean and sanitized ones, of course)
While it used to be called ‘arts and crafts’, the ‘maker’ movement today has taken hold because of the need to balance what we do with our hands and how we create as an antidote to all the technology we use. What better time than to teach children how to write in script? Take out samples of letters or cards or find samples online and review why it may be important to read and write manuscripts written in cursive writing. If a school district has already returned to teaching the skill, do some investigative reporting on deciphering what grandparents and/or parents had written in script. If everyone knows cursive writing, learn some calligraphy and practice the strokes with uplifting messages that can be decorated with collage materials to make some folk art.

Real Life Math
Without relying on calculators, return to basic mathematical problem solving. Cooking lessons using kitchen measurement tools, budgeting activities with actual invoices and determining the relationships of miles and travel times to reach the destinations that the GPS is programmed to do. There are many readily available tasks at home. Proposing an allowance or ways to save money (e.g., put away a quarter plus one for every week of the calendar year) can be used to demonstrate delaying gratification for a purchase that can be made once the pre-determined amount of money is saved.

Staying in place and being home can lead to boredom. Introduce ‘novelty’ – the brain needs it and will seek it out, so channel the energy for doing something new in a productive way. Use Duolingo or Rosetta Stone to select a language that is new for all family members and learn it together. This could include American Sign Language.  Assign each person the task of teaching a skill to everyone after learning it for the first time using YouTube videos that are readily available (e.g., crocheting, knitting, making bread.) Change up your music listening habits. If you listen to hip hop, try an opera. If you listen to classical, try bluegrass. Opening a new door of listening choices may forever expand your options. Regarding dietary habits, you may be eating less meat incidentally with shortages at the market, so it could be time to explore vegetarian or vegan recipes, which may be good for health reasons. Purchasing local produce is a way to increase fruits and vegetable consumption and you may be ahead of the curve in supporting communication supported agriculture (CSA) initiatives in the area.

Self-Soothing Activities
Everyone can benefit from new ways of relaxing and managing stress without indulging in destructive or negative ways of avoiding stress or numbing the discomfort.  Learning deep breathing techniques and practicing it throughout the day with a special signal or buzzer to alert someone that they need to breathe, not just at times of distress, is a healthy strategy to self sooth. Deep muscle relaxation, yoga, hand or foot soaks or bubble baths, listening to classical or new age music, exploring mindfulness meditation or centering prayer are additional tools for managing stress.

Better Balance
Without the usual routines (e.g., going to school/work), places of recreation (e.g., the movie theaters, restaurants, gyms, athletic events) and community gathering space (e.g., lack of congregate worship services, libraries, cultural centers), one might begin to use the internet, explore online sources, stream entertainment, and otherwise resort to television and smart technology to a level that might actually have the rebound effect of overstimulation and information overload. Intentionally and specifically unplug at designated times. Practice quiet time. Learn to be comfortable with silence. Place signs around the house that the house is in ‘silence’ or ‘unplugged.’

Community Mindedness
Without the usual go to places, you may feel more cut off and isolated. But it may also be a time to make list of your favorite places you usually shop and then decide to support the small business in multiple ways. Decide to do take-out or buy a gift certificate from your favorite restaurant(s), make a donation (goods or money) to your favorite nonprofit, make other local purchases from stores that offer curbside pick-up or delivery rather than ordering from Amazon, and wherever possible, donate or volunteer at your local food pantry to help neighbors in need.

Food for thought: The ‘tips’ above are not all inclusive, and do not include healthy eating, exercise and good sleep, which are assumed as a basis for resilience, but they are the beginning of small steps for taking personal responsibility for one’s own capacity (or one’s family capacity) for being resilient. These tips do not include volunteering in community efforts that are assisting others. Avenues for altruism, social support and outreach are popping up each day on a local (e.g., Mutual Aid Beacon), regional (e.g., Hudson Valley Help) and countywide basis (e.g., Dutchess County’s Dutchess Responds and Medical Reserve Corps) and are important to investigate and engage in within one’s own personal constraints. ‘Doing for others what you would like done for yourself’ is a valuable mechanism for improving positivity and self-esteem, but it is an important time to remind ourselves that what one can and must do for oneself is also imperative at this time of crisis.

1 comment:

  1. The STRESS over this coronavirus is overcoming intake of wine has been exercise routine helps too. Thanks for your suggestive ideas!