Yesterday, both of my children had quarantine meltdowns.
The older child (aka The Teen) is an extrovert. She loves people, she loves school, and she loves helping her friends, be it tutoring them in math or just giving them a hug to brighten their day. The younger child (aka The Preteen) is an introvert. She initially thought that distance learning would be AWESOME. Now she’s not so sure.
The Teen’s quarantine meltdown was because I wouldn’t let her go over to a friend’s house. Other parents are ignoring the stay at home orders from the city and allowing their kids to hang out. Why am I so mean? The reason for The Preteen’s meltdown was more nebulous, but the result was just as loud as The Teen’s.
The quarantine affects our children differently than it affects grownups. Our lives are vastly different now, and typically children rely on routines more than adults do. They need the reassurance of a strict schedule to let them know that they are on track. In addition, adolescent brains are programmed to begin the breaking away from family process, and now, we’re on top of each other. Now wonder nerves are fraying and the kiddos (and parents) are melting down.
So what do we do with the quaranteens in our lives? How do we help them through this strange time without selling them for medical experiments?
Children, no matter their age or developmental level, really want to know three things:
- Am I safe?
- Are you, the people caring for me, safe?
- How is this pandemic going to affect my life?
The best way to answer the first two questions is to teach your children about the way the novel coronavirus spreads and how we can avoid it. Handwashing tutorials are a must. The last question is harder to answer. Our lives are affected. They just are. But there are ways to make quarantine less onerous.
First, create a schedule and stick to it. While the Fort Worth Independent School District has declared that these last two six weeks will be pass/fail, our little darlings still must pass in order to advance next year. School doesn’t have to start at 8 am, but having a set schedule which includes school, meals, and bedtimes will give structure to this essentially structureless time. (It will also help parents structure their days – homeschooling for part of the day, work for another part, home for another.)
Allow your teen to interact with their friends through technology. The Teen and her friends are videoconferencing experts. They play online video games together, watch movies together, and talk. And talk. And talk. Remember how important your friends were when you were in middle and high school? They need to be connected.
Answer their questions. Adolescents are going to have a lot of questions about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19. Do research with your older children on the WHO and CDC websites. Go to the UNTHSC website for local information. Answer their question honestly, without sugar-coating the answers. You don’t need to be brutal, but just as you know when your children are not telling you the whole truth, your children know when you’re being evasive. Listen to what they are asking and answer that question.
Let your children see your emotions. If you keep your emotions from your children, they will learn to hide theirs. Yes, you have to moderate your reactions to those emotions, but allowing them to see that you’re frustrated or sad or scared or angry shows them that it’s okay to be not okay.
Finally, allow your adolescents to mourn the loss of the known. This is a particularly hard time for them. Just when they’re beginning to define themselves as an individual without reference to their family, they’re stuck with that family 24/7. Additionally, older teens are missing important milestones like graduation. Their grief is valid. Acknowledge their emotions. Give hugs as needed. Give space as needed. But above all, give them love.
There’s no blueprint for handling this pandemic. There’s no one-size-fits-all advice. It’s new, and it’s scary, and yes, it’s annoying. There will likely be a second wave of COVID-19 and possibly a third (this has happened in almost every pandemic in history). We’re going to be together a lot, and it’s going to take honesty, communication, and tolerance on everyone’s parts. But we can make it. Together.
P.S. Both The Teen and The Preteen are back on track today. We took a break from homeschooling and snuggled on the couch as we watched a movie. Yes, there are times when I dearly want to put them on the curb with a sign saying, “Free to a Good Home,” but I wouldn’t trade yesterday afternoon for anything.