Coronavirus-19 arrived in Indiana unannounced and uninvited. Like an unwelcome guest, it has stayed too long, exhausted resources, and does not have a timeline for leaving. For children, adolescents, and adults, daily routines vanished overnight. Children, adolescents, and college students were sent home with no clear guidelines about if and when they could return to school. Many parents were forced to adapt to working from home while also providing supervision and instruction, as well as nonstop childcare. Others have continued to work in the community facing anxiety and fear about infecting their families and struggling with managing home, education and childcare. This quarantine has been especially challenging for a child’s mind – a parent at home means the parent is available. Others have lost their jobs and are facing financial insecurity. There may be those who have lost beloved family members or suffered through a disabling illness. Throughout these challenging times, children have looked to parents for help in knowing how to respond to so many changes in their routines and family life.
The crucial factor in how children react to a stressful event is how secure they are in the family system. Children look to parents for guidance and knowledge about interpreting their world and reacting to it. Early attachment research shows that children who have received warm and responsive caregiving while growing up will be able to keep fear and anxiety away. “The reactions of children to painful events are largely determined by how calm or stressed out their parents are” (Van Der Kolk, 2014). While parents may be feeling stress and anxiety themselves, their message to their children should be that they will do whatever they can to keep them safe.
Children, adolescents, and adults will experience the pandemic as a landmark event. They will measure time as before the coronavirus and after. They will always remember how they spent time during quarantine. For some it has been a relaxation of hectic schedules – a reprieve from constant activities and demands on their time that has given them a time to explore family life in a new way. Although there have been times of conflict, shortened tempers and irritation with family members, parents also model how to resolve conflict – an important life skill. Siblings have likely disagreed but may have discovered how to help each other – maybe older siblings assisting younger family members with homework or activities. If there has been a major illness or death of a friend or family member, children also watch carefully as parents navigate the grief process or supply support to a family member. There may have been more time at the end of the day for family time – watching movies together, playing outside, and engaging in time-consuming board games. Parents may have been able to say yes more often to requests for their attention. Hopefully family dinners have become a mainstay with children taking more responsibility. While parents may be feeling overextended, children have been given the gift of boredom – it is up to them how to fill their day. In the process, children, adolescents as well as young adults may have discovered resources in themselves – valuable tools to use for the rest of their lives. Throughout these months, parents have modeled how to adapt to unexpected changes and stress. Reassurances and support from parents have given family members the knowledge that they will get through tough times together.
Monahan, C. (1993). Children and Trauma: A Guide for Parents and Professionals. Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco.
Van Der Kolk, B. (2015). The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Penguin Books, New York.