When I was in the sixth grade, the “Weekly Reader” magazine predicted flying cars by 2020. Few imagined that the world would be as turned around as it is today. In the past seven months, we have been consumed with COVID-19, politics, chaos and change, often pushing us to our limits. It has not been an easy year. Struggles were compounded by job losses, isolation, sickness and even death. We fear for our youth; how will they adapt? Will depression increase? Will we be OK?
Despite this year’s ample dose of discord, we have also seen resilience, strength, adaptability and hope. We can go on, and have the protective factors in place to do so. Daniel J. Reidenberg, Psy.D. and executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, identified three things we need to keep us safe in trying times: Connection, Life Skills and Resilience. These are ideas we can build on for ourselves and our youth.
Connections can be hard during COVID. As restrictions have lifted, some gathering spaces have adapted to encourage connecting with others safely. Connecting becomes strategic, meeting friends in outdoor locations, physical distancing, elbow taps and fist bumps, instead of hugs and handshakes. Zoom and FaceTime help maintain friendships. Calling people on the phone isn’t a thing of the past; it is good for our mental health. Kind words in person or through social media are vital. We are social beings, and the more connections we have to others, the stronger we will be. The more connections we have for our children, the stronger they will be as well.
Life skills are essential for survival. If we were lucky, someone taught us how to fry an egg, make mac and cheese, cook a pizza, change a flat tire, and check the oil in our car. The more we learn, the better we are. Playing card games can teach us math, turn-taking, being a good winner and a graceful loser. We should be continually learning new things and expanding our knowledge base. When we take on a new craft, read an article, learn a language, try a new recipe, experiment with technology, we are stretching our abilities, and weaving a safety net. A child’s exploration goes beyond gathering facts; they learn how to adapt and become self-sufficient.
Resilience is a powerful thing. When I was going through a divorce with a soon to be 2-year-old, I was terrified of blazing this unexpected path. I asked her pediatrician, “how do I not screw her up? This wasn’t supposed to happen.” Her answer was the best advice I’ve received to date, “Adapt. If you take care of yourself and adapt, she will learn from watching you. It will be OK.” The doctor was right. We learn from watching others, especially when they get knocked down and get back up again. They learn that failing is a part of life, and starting over can be a beautiful adventure. When a child is rigid or restrictive in their thinking, we show them paths and possibilities. We provide options, and options provide hope.
While we are not exactly where futurists predicted we would be back in the ’80s, we are forging new territory and are making history. As Americans, we rise every time we fall. As humans, we work together, transcend hardships, and find a new way. If COVID has you down, as it has so many, look to the positive things around us. Look for the connections, skills to learn, and feel the power of resilience. Hope is there.
Kelly Brevig is Suicide Educational Services Coordinator for Evergreen Youth & Family Services, Inc.
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