As a child growing up in New Jersey in the 1950’s and 60’s, one of my favorite things to do when school let out for the year was to get up, ride my bike to the candy store, meet up with friends, pick up a newspaper and check out the baseball box scores from the previous night’s games.
I liked reading about my favorite players. I’d check their batting averages, earned run averages, runs batted in, stolen bases and home runs.
I cannot fully imagine what it is like to be a kid today, at a time when school let out for the first time I can ever recall for reasons other than the school year coming to its natural ending. Rather, it came to an abrupt end for reasons of health, safety, life and death.
That’s a lot for a kid to handle.
The end of school was always bittersweet for me. I was happy and relieved to get a break from the daily routine, and sad to say goodbye until September. It was a ritual that was a normal part of growing up. It was also a far cry from leaving with no decent goodbye and no baseball or box scores to look forward to—only an inescapable sense of incomprehensible dread.
Riding one’s bike to a store of any kind today requires, in addition to a helmet, wearing a mask and gloves and staying six feet apart from everybody else, including your best pals.
As for box scores, the only one you can find in print or on social media these days is a list of states, cities, towns and villages and the corresponding number infected and dead.
Our children left school unceremoniously amid a global pandemic. Whether they say it in so many words or express it through their behavior, don’t lose sight of the fact they are experiencing loss and are grieving all that has been taken from them.
Our kids fear for the future. And you don’t have to say a word for them to see how this is affecting you and how you are managing your own stress and uncertainty.
Although keeping routines at home can help, to whatever extent our kids experienced a sense of normalcy in their lives, their lives are no longer the same. If there was tension in your home before the shutdown, it has likely intensified. Where there were little or no fears about mortality, they may now be pervasive. Loss is a key theme; the loss of normalcy, a sense of safety and hope.
What to do? Try your best to be attuned to and manage your own anxiety. Remain calm. Don’t force, but encourage your children to express their feelings. How? By striving to be a good listener. Do your best to provide them with honest and accurate feedback and information. Be reassuring and hopeful. Limit media exposure (box scores included). And, finally, don’t hesitate to seek outside professional help, which is now available by phone and video conferencing through North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center.
If there is an opportunity, model and encourage kindness wherever and whenever the opportunity presents itself. To paraphrase Mother Teresa, acts of kindness may seem simple, but their echoes are endless and hopeful.
Andrew Malekoff is the executive director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, the leading children’s mental health agency on Long Island. The Guidance Center is seeing new and existing clients via telephone and video during the COVID-19 crisis. To make an appointment, call (516) 626-1971 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.northshorechildguidance.org for more information.