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On Kids and the Trauma That Has Been 2020

The Child, a handful of years ago, when we were doing some "mindful coloring," which we still do it today. She's always liked putting her fruit-water in a festive glass! She has consented to the posting of this photo, and loves her little teeth!

Walk a Block in Their Shoes

There you were, riding your bike to and from school, playing with the neighborhood kids for hours, running in and out of everyone's houses, going on school trips, family vacations, and not to mention going out to eat when no one felt like cooking. You got dragged on errands and to the grocery store.

One day, maybe it was after spring break or maybe it was overnight, after a bunch of grown-ups were suddenly all hush-hush about something or maybe in a panic, or maybe even annoyed that other people were in a panic . . .

  • you weren't going back to school

  • you didn't even get to say goodbye to your friends or return your library books

  • you weren't allowed to go on errands

  • playdates were cancelled

  • parties were canceled--including your birthday party

  • people had to wear masks

  • there was a bizarre search for toilet paper

  • grown-ups were on edge

  • school was done in a way that was even less helpful than before

  • people were in the house all of the time when some of them used to leave for the day

  • there were no more in-restaurant meals

  • maybe you were going back to the school building maybe you weren't

  • people were getting sick

  • people were dying


Social unrest is added to the mix. PS, if you have not been racialized white, and particularly if you are Black, this is not the first time that you have experienced trauma as a result of the racist history and present in the US. Protesting the killing of Black men and women cannot wait, not even for a pandemic. Right now, you might even be thinking, "Why Now, White People?"

This is What Trauma Looks Like

Life is suddenly very different due to the pandemic. People are behaving differently. And we don't know when it will end. And we do know that things are going to get worse, because we know that the most important election of our lives here in the US is mere months away.

Regardless of what kids know about elections and R-naughts, they do know that their lives have changed, and in the ways that impact the things that are most important to them. And just because they don't articulate the effects of the dramatic shifts around and inside them doesn't mean those shifts aren't occurring and wreaking emotional havoc, destabilizing them and damaging their sense of security and groundedness.

3 Things You Can Do With and For Your Kids

  1. Name it. Traumatic, destabilizing, weird, bizarre, whatever. Hopefully you have been talking to them since March and you have a sense of how they characterize their experience. Use their words. Name what they feel, name what they lost. Maybe even come up with a fun name for the whole year, like: 2020 - The Year of The Dumpster Fire, or 2020 - The Year It All Turned to Shit.

  2. Normalize their feelings. In order to normalize them you have to be talking about them, so get on that if you haven't. Are they upset about having to go back to school wearing masks and knowing they might be coming back home soon? Why wouldn't they be? Although it's tempting to say, Buck up, Buttercup--life can get a lot worse, don't lose sight of the fact that their worlds have been turned upside down and, unlike you, their brains aren't completely developed yet. They won't have the cognitive ability to be reasonable about this and make good decisions until they are about 25. Years. Old.

  3. This last one is kind of its own bundle of goodness. Cultivate well-being by creating family rituals/habits/routines that have been shown to increase life satisfaction, well-being, and happiness. Among them are:

    1. Savoring. Be on the lookout for pleasant experiences and savor them together. Take a walk outside, for instance, and notice the clouds, the sun, or the turning leaves. Watch the birds, take a few deep breaths together if that feels good. Spend a solid minute or two just experiencing the internal goodness, and then at bedtime, relive those moments. Visualize them in great detail and also invite the feelings that accompanied them.

    2. Kindness. Decide to be kind. Literally make a plan. In addition to deciding to be kind to one another in word and deed, expand . . . One of the biggest bangs for the buck is to do something for someone else. For instance, make Kindness Bags, which The Child used to say "are for people who are having a tough time." She would put a granola bar, a bottle of water, some hand wipes, a dollar, a travel-size toothbrush/toothpaste combo and a card with the phone numbers and addresses of local resources for all kinds of help. We get in the car and drive to the places where we see people asking for help. We look them in the eye and say hi. She uses her own money for this, which is important, as giving money away has been shown to make people happier than spending it on themselves.

    3. Bedtime rituals. A mindful-coloring session followed by reading together parlayed into a body scan, then savoring a moment from the day and then top it off with gratitude. Mindful coloring involves being intentional about everything from which page to choose to color, to which markers or pencils to use, to which colors to use, to how to hold the marker and how much pressure to apply. Even being intentional--or at least paying attention to--the ways you apply the color. And of course, enjoying the color and being fully present for it. The body scan simply involves noticing what's present in the body as it winds down at the end of the day, and the gratitude should be not a mere list, but should include how the object of gratitude as well as the actual gratitude feel in the body.

We become what we practice.

Here's Self-Care 10-minute practice for parents and kids over 13 (kind of random-listen first and then decide).


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