Nurturing Resiliency, Not Fragility

Our community is beginning our fifth month of dealing with COVID-19. It has been a very challenging few months for most folks and especially those with young families. Parents have juggled working from home while providing their own childcare and homeschooling their kids. And summer has brought its own challenges. How do we keep the kids entertained when we continue to try and social distance appropriately? And how to we keep them from staring at screens all day? Tension between teenagers and their parents is often high as adolescents, especially the extroverted, social ones, want to reconnect with their friends and are not especially motivated to follow the mask wearing and 6-feet-apart guidelines. Adolescents, whose developmental task is to figure out “Who am I?” and “Where do I belong?” are temporarily stuck , not able to work through these questions in the context of their very important social structure.

And now everyone has to begin planning for the new school year that will begin in about a month. Our community will be doing remote learning but other nearby communities are planning to do in-person school and trying to figure out how to do that as safely as possible, which will require mask wearing and trying to keep kids 6 feet apart. Either plan is fraught with challenges. The folks who want to keep kids home believe that having them in school is not safe and that wearing masks, staying apart, and perhaps having plexiglass partitions is traumatic for children. Other folks believe that having kids continue staying socially disconnected is traumatic.

My belief is that our culture has become too flippant with the notion of trauma. We toss that word around as if it is a common, everyday occurrence and it is not. Trauma is felt when an overwhelming amount of stress exceeds our ability to cope, leaving us feeling helpless. It’s really important to see that challenge and trauma are not the same thing! All of us are experiencing significant challenges, but most of us and our children are not experiencing trauma. Let’s don’t make this awful situation worse by making up a story that all our kids are being traumatized if they are not. Certainly there are some who are and I don’t want to minimize those experiences…if families have lost loved ones, are dealing with very ill family members, have abusive homes that they can’t leave, have anxiety disorders, are first responders, etc. These families need support and definitely need professional help. But the vast majority of us are experiencing challenge and stress and we can handle it with healthy coping skills!

Times are definitely hard. But we can do hard things! And that is the message we need to be sending our kids. “Yes. This is awful.” “Yes. It really sucks that you can’t go hang out with your friends in the same way you normally do. But it’s not forever and I know you can handle it!”

When my father was 18 years old he and all his friends went off to fight in WWII. We’re asking our 18 year olds to wear a mask and sit 6 feet apart from their friends! Let’s keep this in perspective! Let’s teach our kids how to be resilient, not fragile. Let’s be that example to them. We don’t need to deny our feelings. We can express our frustrations and allow them to do the same. And then we concentrate on what we can control, make a plan, and move forward, focusing on what we can still do not on what we can’t do. Let’s teach our kids that they can handle challenges and that we have confidence in their abilities to do so. Let’s nurture their resilience, not their fragility.

If you need help putting this into action in your family I am here to help.

About Gretchen Derda (Woosley), MSW, LCSW

I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in a private psychotherapy practice where I specialize in work with families and children. My focus is to help families improve their functioning so that each member of the family can reach their full potential, becoming the persons they were meant to be.
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