Updated: Sep 23, 2022
By Dr. Joanne Foster
“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
~ Thomas Paine
It is exactly one year since my home city (Toronto, Canada) went into its first lockdown due to the COVID pandemic. Now, as I write this, we are in the throes of yet another. The world has changed significantly in the past 12 months as people around the globe struggle with a virus that knows no boundaries, disrupts family life, invades bodies, and makes everyone feel vulnerable. A year seems like a very long interval, although it is really just a minuscule blip relative to overall conceptions of time. However, because we are actually wrestling with that blip, it is all-consuming. We are in the midst of an unprecedented fight with an invisible, shape-shifting, evil foe.
We can talk to young children about how brave they’ve been over the past while, how proud we are of all they’ve accomplished, and why changes continue to occur. But we don’t have to put it in the context of “a year in the life.” That may be too difficult for them to grasp. And, a year is just a small segment of the fullness of what will, hopefully, be a long and meaningful life. Talking about a year may seem like an eternity to a small child. (After all, it’s 525,600 minutes – and a long time between birthdays!)
Parents might consider how to conceptualize the events of the past year by focusing on all that their particular family has accomplished so that the year that has passed is perceived as a collective triumph, and the one that lies ahead is framed as something to anticipate. It’s important to be honest with children and speak to their concerns, and answer their questions in ways that suit their levels of understanding. Above all, let them know that power and strength emerge from family togetherness and love.
Here are some additional and readily doable suggestions to help young children feel confident in these turbulent times.
PHOTOGRAPHS. Seeing is believing. Visual representations of good times can be reaffirming. “Look at all the fun we had…, neighborhood places we visited…, games we played…, books we read together…, songs we sang…, holidays we celebrated…, pictures we painted….” The coronavirus is NOT the only thing that transpired during these past several months. Children can also draw their own pictures of what they liked to do so they can look forward to doing it again in the future.
YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW. Focus on small segments of time. Rather than thinking about the amorphous long term, think about the short term. This can be comforting. For example, what did your child enjoy yesterday? What makes them excited today? What would they like to do tomorrow? The breadth of the long haul (a year in the past, the expansiveness, and the uncertainty of the future) can be daunting and confusing. Chatting about understandings in the context of now, and maybe just an upcoming day or two (then), is simpler and potentially reassuring. Making the most of a morning, afternoon or weekend can be a reasonable goal.
POSITIVES AND MORE POSITIVES. People often look at things as contrasts: hot and cold, young and old, fast and slow. However, there’s really no need to make such comparisons or to talk about good and bad. Why not talk about the good, and just as good—or even better! Fun, joy, and excitement can be foundational for building new positives. Negatives (like COVID) can be kept at bay during discussions about moving forward.
COLORFUL BLOCKS. Setting out things that are easily counted is a way to help children understand the concept of time passing. Four represents seasons. Can they think of pleasant occurrences for each season? Twelve represents months. What holidays, family occasions, or joyful activities took place in December? January? February? And so on. Recall happy times, and talk about why they matter. Those moments, as well as pleasant changes, can eclipse distressing ones.
Confidence comes from encouragement and from a sense of security. When we help children understand occurrences in ways that are authentic, but we position understandings in relation to their previous experiences—and provide an upside, too—then challenging times may seem less challenging. Focus on opportunities.
“We will not march back to what was but move to what shall be.”
~ Amanda Gorman
Spring is a time for growth. Perhaps you can plant a small vegetable garden with your child. What (if anything) will grow? It may take a while and be frustrating (and life can be like that!), but there is something to look forward to as time passes. Let’s help children think about the COVID situation like that, and arm them with hope. One day perhaps we’ll be able to mingle again, share hugs, go to concerts, act spontaneously rather than guardedly, and experience new and exciting opportunities together in the broader sense. In the meantime, a triumphant-oriented retrospective of the past year—and a purposeful and optimistic outlook of what might lie ahead—can be reassuring and fortify the emotional energy that kids need to get through 2021 and beyond.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dr. Joanne Foster is an award-winning author who writes about child development and gifted education. For information about her work and her books (including her most recent, ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids )—and for access to many articles and timely resources on children’s well-being, creativity, intelligence, productivity, and learning—go to www.joannefoster.ca. (COVID-related material is marked with a red asterisk.)