I Was Afraid of Communists (Teaching Our Kids to Be Happy in Quarantine and Life)
When I was 6, I overheard my parents in the kitchen talking with friends about how Russian Communists wanted to take over the United States. They shared stories they had heard of Christians being imprisoned and beaten to death. I knew my parents were Christians and reasoned that they would be thrown into jail leaving me an orphan. I remember many nights lying in my gold daybed with my lavender comforter pulled tightly under my chin as I pondered what I was going to do when the Communists came. Should I run from them? Should I find a good hiding spot so they can never find me? Night was not the only time I was afraid. Sitting in my little wood chair in my first grade classroom, I remember a voice coming over the intercom asking me to report to the school office. Tears welled up in my eyes, and my palms became sweaty as I walked down the long yellow hallway waiting to hear the news that my parents had been taken by the Communists. Turns out, I had forgotten my lunch, and my dad had dropped it off for me.
What’s interesting is that I never shared with my parents the suffering that was taking place on the inside. All children have fears and experience anxiety that is very real to them. There is a lot going on in the world right now that is causing many kids to suffer depression and unprecedented worries as we linger in this quarantine, but this is such an incredible opportunity to teach them that our circumstances do not control our happiness or joy. There will be many times in their lives where circumstances will be out of their control, things will cause them worry, and at some point, everyone who lives long enough will lose something or someone that brings them companionship, love, security or comfort. If we can teach our little ones now how to be happy, they can carry those lessons all throughout their lives. Here are 7 ways we can help foster their well-being (and interestingly enough, the same things that make children happy also make adults happy meaning these are good lessons for us all):
Acknowledge their feelings. Understanding what we are feeling and why we are feeling it is an important skill in learning to manage our feelings. Don’t assume they will tell you when they are afraid or worried. Ask them regularly about what they are feeling...“How do you feel about your grandmother being sick?” “When do you feel happy?” “What are you afraid of?” Have them identify their feelings (lonely, excited, nervous, angry). Verbally validate them by saying “I understand that you feel disappointed soccer was canceled” or “I remember being scared of monsters under my bed too.”
Help them choose positive thoughts. Focusing on what is going right instead of what is going wrong makes life much more enjoyable. Learning that we cannot choose our circumstances but can choose what we do about it is empowering them. Help them replace “I am sad I cannot see my friends” with “I’m excited I get to try making my own silly putty today,” or change “I’m afraid someone is going to break into my window tonight” with “Mom and Dad are right down the hall and will protect me.” Direct them to repeat the new thoughts over and over.
Encourage your child’s unique creativity and gifts. Having hobbies and interests makes us happy. The more interests we have, the less likely we will feel devastated if one is taken away. Learning new things also increases their confidence as well as stimulates the part of the brain responsible for well-being.
Provide routine and structure. The certainty of our routine can help us manage the uncertainty that life can bring. We can add a sense of security during unpredictable periods of time by knowing what to expect each day. Make sure social time be it through video calls or other mediums is part of the schedule. Planning fun things gives us something to anticipate and adds excitement.
Block off time to give them your undivided attention. Working from home and schooling from home can be challenging for us parents, but our children will understand their value to us if we put down our phones and computers in order to focus on them. We are also modeling how to have healthy relationships, something important for their long-term happiness. Giving a few more hugs and touches will also increase their sense of security and worth.
Provide opportunities for them to help others. Placing the focus on others has a unique way of causing us to fixate on our problems less. Studies have also shown it is one of the top ways to release endorphins, the “feel-good” chemical in our brains.
Teach them gratitude. Being grateful increases optimism and reduces stress. Make it a routine each day to start the morning, end the day or sit around the supper table stating things for which you all are thankful. Encourage them to choose different items each time to expand their awareness of how awesome life can be!
All these years later, the Communists still have not taken my parents, and despite the very real concerns of the pandemic, experts say most kids will likely bounce back from the challenges they’re facing right now, especially if they have warm, supportive adults around them. Let’s assist them now and for the rest of their lives in choosing happiness every day!