Rose Marie Ahrens
The journey of transformation
As we learn more about COVID-19, we learn to accept its existence and to respond to its impact. We continually make discerned adjustments to contain its spread, which have asked our children and us to be resilient, to examine our beliefs about ourselves and our world. It has led to greater insight about ourselves and our societies - and how we can continue to lead meaningful lives and contribute towards making a positive difference in the lives of others.
Barn's burnt down,
Now I can see the moon.
This post is a follow on from my earlier post: And this too shall pass...
I hope this post-quarantine offering will alleviate some of the worries you may have, to affirm what you are already doing or help you and your family to continue to thrive as we transition into the next phase of returning to school and/ or to our places of work, knowing that this, too, is ever changing bringing both opportunity and challenge.
1. Autonomy: Circles of Influence and Concern
During the quarantine, I met with my student everyday virtually. Life for her was unravelling as remote learning progressed. She would shift the device frequently, press multiple buttons on the screen, but never the 'leave' button. The expression of her anxiety heightened when family members were having an altercation in the background. I stayed with her during that altercation - reassuring her that she was safe, as we took deep breaths together. We then discussed what she could do when family members had another altercation. It seemed at that point, life stopped spinning out of control for her.
In later lessons she taught me how to use the emoji buttons- our lessons from then on were punctuated with her clap and thumbs up emojis to me. She was also asked to press the 'leave meeting' button to end our lessons. Interestingly, through these small gestures, I saw my student take ownership of her learning, re-gain personal autonomy and flourish, even though her life circumstances remained at status quo.
Personal autonomy is the capacity to decide for oneself and pursue a course of action in one's life. It is very much linked with self confidence and grit. How do we help our children regain personal autonomy in uncertain times? An understanding of Stephen Covey's circles of influence and concern, commonly known as circles of control, may be helpful. In which areas of our lives do we have influence over and in which not? A regular reflection on the circles of influence and concern may help us to pause the internal dialogue or rumination, to take notice of the ongoing emotion with compassion, to label the emotion and then to discern the appropriate response.
Here are some resources that you could use to begin the conversation with your child:
Alexander and the Terrible,
Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
by Judith Viorst
Alexander knew it was going to be a terrible day when he woke up with gum in his hair. And it got worse...
Alexander's day was going to be filled with problems some of it within his
circle of influence and some of it in his circle of concern. At times he considered running away to Australia, away from his problems.
After reading the story with your child make a list of which problems fall in Alexander's circle of influence and which fall in the circle of concern.
Watch '5 Things You Can Control' (below) with your child, then download and print My Circle of Influence. This craft activity encourages your child to reflect on their circle of influence and serve as a visual keepsake for especially when they are in problematic situations.
Forgiveness is choosing to accept what happened as it happened rather than what could or should have happened. It means that we step into and live in the present rather than dwell on the past.
Forgiveness is the cornerstone in building personal autonomy, it allows us to recognise what is within our circle of influence and what isn't, i.e., what we need to let go of in order to move on.
Forgiveness is the intentional transformational process by which we release the stronghold of our negative emotions with an increased ability to extend kindness and compassion to ourselves and others.
A scene in the movie, 'The Mission', illustrates forgiveness poignantly for me.
Mendoza was a slave trader and mercenary, who killed his brother while in a fit of rage. He is guilt ridden and refuses to be consoled. He is challenged by Gabriel, a Jesuit priest, to extend and accept forgiveness by accompanying him and his Jesuit brothers to a remote jungle mission. Mendosa agrees to go with him. He drags behind him a heavy sack of armour and weapons he used during his life as a mercenary. He refuses to let it go, endangering his life and those who travel with him. They arrive at the mission and meet with the Guarani, the people who Mendoza captured and enslaved. A Guarani man cuts off the sack and pushes it off a cliff into the river. The weight of his past life is lifted, Mendoza weeps.
What burdens are we and our children holding on to? How can we let go?
How can we help our children to let go and move on?
More on forgiveness can be found in one of my earlier posts: Forgiveness
Resiliency is the ability to bounce back from a negative event and to bounce forward to seek and take up challenges as opportunities present themselves. There is a growing body of evidence that resilient people who adapt and overcome difficulties have had at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive adult in their lives.
Who is that person for you? Who is that person for your child? Who are the persons for your family?
Here is a resource that you could use to begin the conversation with your child:
The Giving Tree
by Shel Silverstein
The Giving Tree is about the ways of a boy and tree's loving, the ways of their belonging to one another, through the passage of time. The Giving Tree is that supportive adult who is present to the Boy and who the Boy would return to because her love was unconditional.
A few years ago, I read 'The Giving Tree' to some of my first grade students. We discussed Shel Silverstein's purpose in writing the story. Then we reflected on the Giving Trees in our lives, their parents and other family members
were identified and each person expressed gratitude for the Giving Trees in their lives.
The following day, of their own accord, they picked up and huddled around The Giving Tree taking turns to read and to listen to each other.
The joy I experienced, in witnessing this, was indescribable.
Some parent resources on resilience:
Building Resilience in Children
10 Tips For Raising Resilient Kids
From Action for Happiness: The Resilience Calender
More on resiliency and optimism can be found in one of my earlier posts: Good Stuff
It takes genuine effort finding something original and kind to say to someone. Unexpected generous comments activate brain networks linked with pleasure and happiness. If someone was kind to us, we are more likely to be generous with the next person we meet. Kindness spreads, and spreading it makes happiness spread.
By examining the characteristics of happy people, researchers have been able to pinpoint activities that increase people’s happiness if deliberately practiced. They have found the practice of gratitude, performing kind acts, cultivating personal signature character strengths and visualising ideal future selves contribute towards increased well being by 6 months and decreased depression by 3 months.
There is a strong connection between well-being and the use of personal signature strengths because recognising our strengths helps us make progress on our goals and meet our basic needs for independence, relationship, and competence. The most prevalent character strengths in children are love, kindness, creativity, curiosity, and humour.
Here are some resources that you could use to begin the conversation with your child:
by Pat Zietlow Miller and Jen Hill
Be Kind examines what kindness is and what it is to be kind. Being kind goes beyond being helpful or being polite. Kindness is a discerned sincere act to benefit another.
Try one of the tips for Kindness together: Top Tips for Kindness
Or do an act of kindness each day using the Kindness Calendar from Action for Happiness.
Some parent resources on Kindness from Greater Good:
5. Prepare, Prepare and Improvise
My students and I watched in awe 12 caterpillars change into painted ladies in my living room. One caterpillar took his time developing into a pupa. He worried and fretted and bumped into the other cocoons. We worried that he would never undergo metamorphosis. His siblings turned into butterflies and left home. He remained a pupa. Three days later, he emerged, a beautiful painted lady. On the day that we broke off for our summer holidays, my students watched me release this butterfly with a great amount of coaxing as he refused to leave. His departure was applauded with joy!
Transitioning back to school after a long quarantine, then, perhaps, a period of blended learning and followed by summer holidays may be challenging. It would be accompanied with a certain amount of anxiety. The return to school involves a paradigm shift in how we interact with each other to contain COVID-19. Uncertainty causes anxiety. Most of our children will be returning to a different grade level and some to a new school. Here are some suggestions:
Moderate expectations: Speak with your child about what school might be like and how it might be different. Respond to questions that they may have honestly. And reassure them that you will find out if you don't know.
Strengths: Describe your child's character strengths and how these strengths can help them maintain safety protocols, meeting new teachers and making new friends.
Meeting the unknown: Arrange for your child to meet with your child's teachers, school counsellor or school principal, to see their classroom and to have a walk around the school before school begins.
Play: Create opportunities to play together and for your child to play with their friends. Some ideas: The Family That Plays Together
An article from UNICEF
‘What will a return to school during the COVID-19 pandemic look like?’
How to say Hello without Touching
Here are resources that you could use to begin the conversation with your child:
by Patricia Polacco
Babushka takes in and cares for an injured goose and when it is well she says,
'Soon now you must fly off with your flock...
You are a wild thing.
A miracle sent you to me.
It would not be right to ask you to stay here with me.'
It is a story of love, gratitude and getting ready to move on.
The Journey of Transformation
I have created a workbook to help you and your child as you transition on. This workbook guides us to savour the good, identify our character strengths, reflect on how we have met challenges and how we can use our strengths to meet future ones. I suggest that the exercises be done gradually, having a space of a couple of days before another is approached.
The Journey of Transformation Workbook
More on transitioning back to school can be found in one of my earlier posts:
Calming Back to School Jitters