5 more lessons from the School of Life in Lockdown

Not too long ago, I was chuckling to myself as home-schooling parents across the country let out a collective ‘Hallelujah!’ and enthusiastically ushered their little darlings back into the classroom. Alas! The joy was short-lived. School holidays arrived way too soon.

Now, just as the clock begins ticking down to the start of Term 3, we see a dangerous spike in COVID-19 infections in Victoria. And, hi ho, hi ho, back into lockdown we go! 🤦‍♀️ Remote learning becomes a reality once again, as widespread parental angst supplants the eager anticipation of a return to school. How quickly things change.

We’ve got a lot on our plate at the moment, and home-schooling adds another layer of complexity. But let’s not put unnecessary pressure and expectation on ourselves. We don’t have to do it perfectly now. Our kids will have many more chances to learn and master most skills in the months and years ahead.

As freelance writer, novelist and ‘recovering’ teacher, Gabbie Stroud pointed out in a recent Sydney Morning Herald interview:

When they reflect back on this, our kids are probably not going to remember the units of work that their teacher sent through, but what they learnt is how we deal with a crisis. That is a massive life skill … and that’s what matters right now.

So, perhaps it’s time to borrow from that classic marketing catchphrase of the 1950s and 60s … time for a cup of tea, a chill pill and a good lie down. Let’s give ourselves a break. Because formal education is not the be-all and end-all. And because we’re more capable and qualified than we realise.

In fact, we are our children’s first and forever teachers; the family home, their first and forever classroom; and daily existence in that classroom, full of teaching opportunities. 👨‍🏫 👩‍🏫 Capitalising on these opportunities may be as simple as listening to our kids and engaging them in conversation. And there’ll never be a better time to do this than when the kids are captive.

In my previous post, I suggested five lessons that children might learn from the School of Life in Lockdown. But wait! Here’s more!

1.    Adapting to change

The only constant in life is change. ~ Heraclitus

The seismic shifts wrought by COVID-19 are testing us in ways we could not have imagined just months ago. And it’s OK not to like what’s going on; to feel overwhelmed, anxious, angry or sad. That’s normal. But to survive and thrive, we have to learn how to tolerate change and go with the flow. Adapt and grow.

This can be challenging, but research shows that talking makes us feel better. So, let’s get kids talking; labelling their uncomfortable feelings and thoughts. Around the dinner table, in the car, while walking the dog or cuddling on the couch – it doesn’t matter.

And while the kids are talking, we need to listen. Then, gently probe. Try to get to the bottom of their discomfort; understand why they’re struggling with the changing circumstances. Are they clinging to what was BC (Before Coronavirus)? Or what they hoped for, rather than what is right now?

Once we know this, we can help them make peace with the things they can’t control. Empathise, then switch their focus. Get them thinking about ways to adapt and move forward; about what can they do, instead of what they can’t. And walk the talk ourselves, to ram home the message.

This shifting of perspective requires practice, but it’s an important life skill. Studies have shown that successful adapters, who can move forward in the wake of traumatic change, are more well-adjusted – weeks, months, even years later.

2.    Appreciating significant relationships

While no amount of money, power, popularity or job security can protect us from COVID-19, familial relationships are helping us deal with the fallout from the pandemic.

For some, particularly adolescents, spending extended periods in lockdown under a watchful gaze is a fate worse than death. Survival depends upon successful negotiation of freedoms and responsibilities, new ways to share time and limited space, deal with conflict and manage heightened emotions. Circumstances call for patience, tolerance and compromise. Give and take. Because, like it or not, we’re in this together. And now, more than ever, we’re appreciating the comfort and security that harmonious and supportive family connections provide. Even if some of us won’t admit it. 🙄

It’s also a good time to think about the people we can’t be with. Ask: Who are we missing during the lockdown? And why? For many children, it’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. Our kids are realising, perhaps for the first time or with a new appreciation, who holds a special place in their lives.

3.    Valuing meaningful connection

When it comes to embracing technology as a lifeline to distant family and friends, kids are leading the pack. But they’re also discovering it’s a poor substitute for personal encounters. Playing a game with teammates; licking the spoon after baking a cake with grandma; holding the screws for grandpa while he assembles the [thing]. All meaningful connections; once taken for granted; impossible to replicate through a screen.

4.    Developing or renewing a sense of self

It’s a paradox that lockdown is liberating for some – a legitimate and welcome reprieve from associations and activities that we may otherwise feel compelled but reluctant to continue.

The enforced break from peer group certainly gives kids a respite from daily judgment, comparisons and pressure to conform. A chance to simplify social connections and let go of constant contact.

With space, they can reflect on their own core values, needs and wants in the context of relationships with friends/peers. With guidance, they can learn to distinguish between those friends/peers who support and enhance their wellbeing and those who don’t. And with practice in a safe home environment, they can develop self-advocacy and confidence in this renewed sense of self before returning to the schoolyard jungle.

5.    Practising gratitude

Despite all the social and financial deprivations, stresses and hazards of pandemic life, there’s still a lot to be grateful for. 🙏 And science is increasingly validating the benefits of gratitude as a tool for maintaining good physical health while promoting resilience and wellbeing.

It brings to mind one of my favourite quotes, attributed to various people, including Eleanor Roosevelt:

Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present.

We reinforce this message when we encourage kids to appreciate the present and express gratitude for what they have, instead of focussing on what they don’t have. This shouldn’t be too hard, since kids are generally happier with much less than we think they need or want. And by noticing the positives, they get little rewards throughout the day, which in turn makes them more inclined to be kind and helpful to others. Win, win! 🙌

Researcher and educator, Mark K Smith sees learning as both a process – part of living in the world – and an outcome – a new understanding or appreciation of something.

It follows then that merely by living through this pandemic, our kids are learning valuable lessons from the School of Life. And the outcome of these lessons will inform their attitudes and behaviour in the post-COVID world – hopefully, a better world. 😊


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