Building grit, supporting emotional well-being during a challenging time

Apr 02 2020

Building grit, supporting emotional well-being during a challenging time

“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”
Maya Angelou

As we finish our second week of distance learning at Keystone, and it appears that the end of the COVID-19 situation is far off, the discussions educators have held for years on how to build resilience in children may be more pertinent than ever. For almost a decade, writers and speakers have called for schools and parents to teach a generation of youngsters grit, “stick-to-itness,” and determination. The TED talk from “Grit” author Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania has had almost 20 million views since it came out seven years ago.

Screen grab from Angela Duckworth’s TED talk

As with other societal phenomena, there has been hyperbole mixed with truth. (To be honest, I have done my share of writing and speaking on this topic.) Some people pointed out rightly that a sector of our society and our world do not need lessons on determination; they fight to survive on a daily basis, and the last thing they require is a grown-up telling them to “suck it up.” At other times, teachers and parents justifiably appeared slack-jawed at the way young adults crumbled when they were criticized for an opinion, turned down for a job, or rejected by a school.

Today, though, we find ourselves in a different place. The world for all children can feel unstable and unpredictable. As a pandemic rages around the world, their routines have been thrown to the wind. As much as we would like, we can’t promise a quick return to normalcy for our children or ourselves.

Now more than ever, we need to help our children develop coping strategies. One valuable resource is a post from ChildTRENDS called “Resources for Supporting Children’s Emotional Well-being During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Among the recommendations to support and protect children’s emotional well-being during the pandemic are to:

    • Understand that reactions to the pandemic may vary.
    • Ensure the presence of a sensitive and responsive caregiver.
    • Social distancing should not mean social isolation.
    • Provide age-appropriate information.
    • Create a safe physical and emotional environment by practicing the 3’R’s: Reassurance, Routines, and Regulation.
    • Keep children busy
    • Increase children’s self-efficacy.
    • Create opportunities for caregivers (which may mean yourself!) to take care of themselves.
    • Seek professional help if children show signs of trauma that do not resolve relatively quickly.
    • Emphasize strength, hope, and positivity.

This piece also offers some sites for helping children understand the virus in an age-appropriate manner.

Regarding the tip “social distancing should not mean social isolation,” a dear friend and colleague renamed this necessary tactic “physical distancing” to emphasize the importance of people maintaining connections with others online. Children need to socialize, and even though online is not the same, it does provide them a way to interact with peers or extended family members.

If the discussion of grit may have seemed theoretical in the past, today it’s key to getting through these challenging times. We need to teach our children to be realistic and hopeful; we also must guide them to see that they can and they will overcome this situation, and the tools they develop to surmount the difficulties posed by the coronavirus will serve them for whatever problems they encounter down the road.

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