Taking off my drabby attorney hat, and replace it with my multi-colored former kindergarten teacher hat for a moment to say this: Children, particularly small children, need to understand the sudden transition in their daily routines because of COVID-19. And they need our grace, support, and respect (yes, respect, as a human being), especially during times such as these.
A core function of the sustainability of children depends upon routines. Before attending Loyola Law, I was a kindergarten teacher. There was one day that I will never forget, when I accidentally changed my students’ daily calendar by swapping the order of recess to music class (to music class first and recess second).
For the entire day, the entire class was in an inexplicable behavioral uproar! Even my most reserved students were vocally frustrated with me and they could not figure out why I would do such a thing.
I bring up this example to raise four key points on supporting children during this particularly unique time that we are in:
- If you observe that children are unexpectedly or continuously acting out, know that it is a direct response to the uncertainty that is going on right now with school closures. We all struggle with processing our fears of uncertainty. So PLEASE don’t be accusatory or make children feel bad for expressing feelings that they cannot understand themselves, as that is what I would consider to be “doubly traumatic” — having to deal with the trauma associated with uncertainty and then being punished for how they express their fears.
- Ask children how they are feeling. Parents, randomly tell your children that you love them. The other day, I noticed that my otherwise jovial five-year old daughter was really upset, randomly crying and very strangely yelling at her mother and me. When I asked her if she wanted to talk, she said “I’m not ready to talk, I am still processing!” “That’s right, my girl!” I thought to myself. Like all human beings, children deserve space to process as best as they can the uncertainties they encounter in life. Especially little girls, for whom society sends so many messages against speaking out.
- Assure children through direct and indirect messages of stability. Say, for example, “So here’s what we are going to do today. Is there anything you’d like to do?” The same schedule they have in class is the same schedule that we should try to stick to as closely as is feasible. Do not be hard on yourself if you can’t duplicate the classroom or playground setting, though; just doing the best with what we have goes a long way.
- Be as transparent as necessary, but don’t overshare to the point of scaring children. Avoid having conversations regarding deaths surrounding COVID-19 in or around the presence of small children. “There will be no school for a while because there are so many germs out right now” is what my girls’ mother said to them. I thought that that was a really accurate and age appropriate way of communicating to our daughters what is going on.
- Observing any and all governmental and other publicly issued precautions, remember: This world belongs to children as well..
How can we be angry with children when we ourselves have been acting out?
I have learned the greatest lessons in perseverance from children. With all of the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19, school closures, and not being able to do all of the activities they normally engage in, children still have the desire to keep their normal lives going, and the audacity to smile. Let us grown-ups therefore never forget that this is their world too.
Victor Jones is a civil rights attorney for children and young adults based in New Orleans. He holds a Master’s Degree in Education from Harvard University with a concentration in Prevention Science & Practice; and is a former public school kindergarten teacher. Victor and Nikkole are the doting parents of two girls, Nola Grace and Zora Olivia.
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