We are living in a very confusing and uncertain time, which has been incredibly hard for families to process. To better navigate this time, I spoke with personal development expert and Best-Selling Author Laura Gassner Otting, who shared some tips on how to turn kids into community upholders during COVID-19 quarantines—and some ways to save yourself some stress in the process.
Read on to check out some of her tips and the full interview below:
How to Help Kids Become Community Upholders During COVID-19
Weekend Jaunts: How can families help kids to become community upholders during this time?
Laura Gassner Otting: We all derive value and self-worth from being of needed, wanted, of service to other people. And, yet, in our homes, we forget this and prostrate ourselves to the Gods of Martyrdom, taking it all on the chin, self-inflicting stress and responsibility and anxiety.
The current crisis brings this dichotomy into stark relief; never has there been a time when we’ve all needed to pull together more to support one another. In our homes, it is a perfect opportunity to teach our children about the value of service to their community – the one right under their own roof – and allow them to opt into any number of the various chores that need to get done around the house. Allowing them to uphold the community allows them to live as full members of the community, and alleviate some of the burden off of our parental shoulders, too.
Weekend Jaunts: What the best way for families to explain what is going on?
Laura Gassner Otting: I think kids are like dogs; they smell fear. There is a lot of good news that is out there, and a lot of heroes and first responders working hard. Yes, it is bleak, but we will get through this, we will recover, and we will be stronger for it. I can’t advise people on what to do in their own families, but I can tell you what we’ve done in ours. We simply laid out the facts – this is a contagious and very dangerous illness, science is amazing, and the medical world is working overtime. We must lock down, not just for our sakes, but for the goodness of all. It is our responsibility to take care of our neighbors, coworkers, classmates, and friends. For them, we can do hard things.
Weekend Jaunts: What does sharing responsibility mean for families?
Laura Gassner Otting: Arthur Ashe once said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” In our home, it means that each, to the level of his or her ability, knowledge, interest, and experience, takes on whatever tasks need to get done. Everyone can do something. But where it breaks down is when we try to be the jail warden, doling out tasks without input from the prisoners. You like to have choices, right? So do your kids. Make a list of the tasks, give them a choice. I was shocked that my teens volunteered to do the weekly “backyard dog poop sweep” rather than the “deep clean stove top.” Let your kids rise to the occasion. They will surprise you how high they jump.
Weekend Jaunts: How can parents deal with emotions of their kids and the emotions they may be facing during this time?
Laura Gassner Otting: Our children aren’t experiencing this crisis the same way as us. They might be less scared because they are someone oblivious, and only just inconvenienced. They might be sensitive to our worry. Or, they might be teenagers, like mine, and accessing the news 24/7 but without my 49 years of life experience and perspective. It’s hard to know.
So, when in doubt, don’t tell, ask. Asking them questions about where they are experiencing pain, sadness, fear, loss, or even joy – my 17-year-old is pretty bummed about missing his Ultimate Frisbee season, but it’s sad about the fact that I’ve overstocked the fridge and am making home cooked meals every night. Don’t assume that you know what they are going through. Meet them where they are, and spend a little time and space just listening. Because, let’s face it: even on a good day, they don’t want a lecture, they want a listen.
Check out Gassner Otting’s book, Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life is a Washington Post #2 Best-Seller.