Being well and doing well have always been an important part of life in school and beyond. And now it is more important than ever. For many of us adults, the COVID-19 pandemic is the most wide-ranging and longest-lasting crisis of our lifetimes. Though many of us have previously dealt with earthquakes, fires, military conflict, or even shorter epidemics, this is most decidedly a unique time and experience for us. And we are all feeling it.
This past weekend, I went grocery shopping. I prepared myself well by packing up all the recycling in our home - plastics, metal, drink containers, refundable and non-refundable glass - you know the drill. I also had a package to mail from the PostNL station at the supermarket. I loaded everything (I thought) into the car and headed off. I got the shopping done, and the recycling, but completely forgot the package I had painstakingly taped and addressed ready for mailing at home on the dining room table. Then, when I left the supermarket, I saw that I had left the tailgate of the car completely open during the whole shopping adventure. It’s a good thing the weather was so nice! This is not like me. So what is going on?
We are all likely to be experiencing an increased cognitive load during the current pandemic. In other words, our brains are working overtime to try to sort out the huge amount of input related to the virus, our sense of safety, our responsibility to others including family, neighbors, co-workers, AND (as we are pre-programmed to do) strive as much as possible to maintain or assert normal routines. It’s tiring! At the same time, it is all important. We need to keep working, caring, and striving for the best, but we also need to pay attention to our state of well-being. We can focus on what is going well and the many ways in which we have stepped up and overcome circumstances in which it would be much easier to complain or despair. And we need to build within ourselves and our community the resources we can use to foster well-being even beyond the present crisis. This will help us to thrive in all circumstances.
Shorter History Means Fewer Resources
Let’s also remember that our students and children learn from us when they see how we respond, but also from how we interact with them specifically around their questions during uncertain times. When in conversation with a parent the other day, he told me his elementary-aged child had asked him, “Papa, is coronavirus my life now?” to which, he said, he responded plainly and truthfully, “Let’s just say it is part of our lives for the time being.”
His answer reminded me how important it is for us to validate our young students’ questions and engage them honestly. It is also important for us to think about the way in which they must be seeing the world right now. As I said, many of us have endured and overcome other crises in our lives - whether in our families or even wider impact. But for our youngest students, the current crisis may seem even more catastrophic. With fewer tangible experiences as resources, their cognitive load is pushed to even greater heights. Almost every aspect of their lives has been changed by the virus, and they don’t have much history that tells them things will eventually be OK. Even if we adults in their lives do not know when “eventually” will be, we owe it to our children and ourselves to be calm and consider their point of view, even as we ourselves feel flustered and forget to close the tailgate on the car occasionally.
There is a lot going on in the world right now that can be particularly unsettling. Let’s continue to be good to ourselves and each other. In addition, we will be rolling out more and more resources for students, parents, and staff to help us focus on and build up our well-being. This is not just part of a pandemic response, as families clearly cited this as a need even in a busy pre-COVID world. Building psychological capital now can give us all resources to tap in the future - whatever comes our way.