The reality of a COVID-19 vaccine has given many people a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.
It has given us hope of seeing an end to the illness, social isolation, business disruptions and great energy we must spend in keeping ourselves and our families safe.
Parents are also beginning to ask about the long-term impact this experience will have had on their children’s well-being as well as their academics.
Psychologist and author Lisa Damour has a terrific podcast on this topic. She discussed where the pandemic has had a profound impact. Children have lost one or both parents. It has permanently derailed the academic trajectory of some students. Some kids do not do well in online school. Many kids are not going to school. Learning issues may have gone undiagnosed. We may see an uptick in teen depression and anxiety, especially among middle school students.
She also acknowledged — and I think this is vitally important — the amazing job that teachers and students are doing.
One immensely helpful concept that she introduced is “ordinary magic,” based on the work of Dr. Ann Masten, who studied the impact of long-term chronic stress on children. Masten found there were three things that served as buffers between children and the stressors, allowing children to rebound, to be resilient and to often thrive even under dire circumstances.
The first key is a highly connected relationship between parent and child. The love generated in this relationship acts as a “force field.”
Damour said that happens when parents are just nuts about their child. Kids feel that energy of support, hope and love.
The second key is doing something meaningful. The children who were resilient felt that they had a purpose. They felt tapped into something larger than themselves. Damour said it could be “school, sports or religion.”
It could be diving into the world of books, creating something, learning something new or assisting around the house.
The third key was a sense of predictability, reliability and control, especially when things outside the home seem so out of control, such as in a raging pandemic.
During times like this, I encourage parents to refocus on rituals and routines. Rituals — which involve eye contact, touch and a heart connection — create safety.
Routines — around getting up in the morning, mealtime, study time, playtime and bedtime — provide structure. Together, rituals and routines provide comfort and security. Children know what to expect in a world that is so changed.
These three keys fulfill needs that we all have — the need to be loved and give love, the need to be valuable and the need to be powerful.
In 2021, let us all commit to creating some ordinary magic in our families.