There’s an old West Texas saying, “Find the good that camps out in every storm.” Although it may be difficult to see at first, that good is always there for us to find. The pandemic known as the coronavirus is no exception. In the midst of great human anxiety, suffering, and loss lurk possibilities for good.

You may ask, “What are you talking about? Schools are closed. All the major sporting events have been postponed or cancelled. My children’s athletic and social activities have been suspended. What’s the good in any of that? My answer: The threat of COVID-19 (the disease caused by the coronavirus) offers us a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to become the best we can be as families.

Social Distancing a Family Blessing?

The world’s last pandemic was in 1918 when the Spanish flu killed around 670,000 people in the United States alone. Following the advice of the medical authorities of that time, many cities across the country sought to contain the virus through a strategy called “social distancing.” In St. Louis, for example, Mayor Henry Kiel issued an emergency order closing schools, theaters, playgrounds, pool halls and other public places. The result was that St. Louis had the lowest death rate among the nation’s 10 largest cities. The strategy worked.

One hundred years later, America is dealing with another pandemic; and our health authorities once again are strongly recommending social distancing. Cities and entire states are closing their schools. And, as our kids will quickly learn, the situation is vastly different from their summer vacations. The social isolation –without the distractions of the mall, or soccer practice, or swim meets––is unlike anything our young people have ever experienced. If we parents handle it rightly, our kids may look back on this time as comprising some of the warmest memories of their childhood. The truth is: Our families will never have a better opportunity to bond.

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Taking a Lemon and Making Lemonade

Here are seven possibilities for taking the burden of social distancing and using it to build closer relationships among your family members.

  1. Calm your children’s fears. 

The first task is to deal with your children’s fears and anxiety regarding the coronavirus. Folks can’t share fun and meaningful experiences together if they’re anxious.

Meet with each child to talk about COVID-19, making sure that what you share is age-appropriate. They receive all kinds of information from television and social media, and it’s important that they can trust you for the truth. Answer their questions; don’t overload them with unnecessary information. Using age-appropriate vocabulary, inform them that:

  • A very small percentage of children are contracting the virus.
  • For the vast majority of those who do become ill, the conditions are similar to those experienced with a case of the flu. And those conditions go away after a few days.
  • Families are being asked to stay at home for a while so that we can cut back on the chances of spreading the disease of becoming victims of it.

Gather the family together, and tell your children that your family is prepared to handle the situation and that you are going to be fine. Tell them, “There will be some times when you are going to feel bored. So we are going to figure out ways to have fun and spend some wonderful time together.”

  1. Devise a schedule.

Children need structure in their lives. It’s a comfort to them to feel like there is order in their universe. Bereft of the schedule imposed by their schools, they will need a family schedule that conveys a sense of security and stability.

Have a family meeting to solicit your children’s input regarding the family schedule. Regarding “fun time,” ask the children what they would like to do. Schedule the time for meals, academics (if you plan to do some home-schooling), recreation, family walks, bedtimes, etc. Since every verbal member of the family has a say in constructing the schedule, ask for consensus in adhering to it. Tell your kids, “This will be our schedule for the time being. However, we’ll be flexible. We’ll review it from time to time to make sure it works for us.”

  1. Plan some fun times.

Calendar a couple of times a day for family recreation. Cook together; learning how to cook will be an invaluable skill for when the kids get out on their own. Take on a Lego project. Set up an “arts and crafts area” where, at the same time, family members meet to paint, do macramé, mold clay, or engage in whatever creative pursuit––as a family or as individuals––they  choose to do. It’s important to take time to admire each other’s projects and for the artist, young and old, to describe to the family what he or she is creating.

Sing together! Sing some old hymns. Sing silly songs that make you laugh,  and choose one of them to be the “family song.” For three generations, my family’s song is “Old Dan Tucker.” To this day, we sing it at family gatherings and break up laughing. The shared music brings us joy.

Put on some music. Dance! Do some line dancing together. Invent a family dance.

Play games together. I repeat, Play games together! There are all kinds of games that adults and children can enjoy playing together. I don’t know what his “secret” is, but my five-year-old grandson beat me 16 times out of 20 hands of “Old Maid.” After we finished playing, he said, “In the future, Daddy Glenn, maybe we can let you draw twice.” Games allow us, in the words of my kids, to “hoot and holler” together. They provide wonderful opportunities to create lasting memories of having fun together as a family.

  1. Schedule a reading time.

Set a time aside each day for family members to read. With the help of the kids, come up with a list of books that members would be interested in reading. E-books can be accessed online; and, for kids who don’t like to read the actual print, audio books are a great alternative.

Read stories and books aloud to your small children. This period affords an opportunity to help children form a reading habit that will enlarge their world view, enhance their knowledge, and combat boredom for a lifetime.

  1. Spend some time outdoors.

For a couple of reasons, it is important to schedule some time to be outside of the house. First, it will help relieve the boredom or the sense of confinement. Second, and even more importantly, it is therapeutic to be outside, walking and breathing fresh air. Take walks around the neighborhood. Stroll through a nearby park. Stop and admire the birds and the trees. Communing with nature will give your children an appreciation of the order and beauty of God’s creation. It will help assure them that the present situation, while difficult, is temporary and will pass.

  1. Schedule some time to be thankful.

Whatever your religious inclination, it is important that you help your children develop a deep appreciation for the gifts of life. Without a sense of wonder and a reverence for the mystery that cloaks the shoulders of the Creator, they will pass through this life without an awareness of the beauty and the potential for joy that accompanies their daily existence.

All children are spiritual beings, and we can help them expand their spiritual potential by teaching them thankfulness. Schedule a daily time for the family to read some scripture or devotional material aloud. Ask everyone to tell one thing for which they are thankful. If at first, all the kids simply repeat the same thing, “I’m thankful for my family,” that’s alright. You can model thankfulness by sharing your own gratitude for the gifts of nature and the presence of certain people in your life, and your children will soon expand their own repertoire for giving thanks. You can conclude with a prayer. Be creative. Develop your families own unique ritual for giving thanks.

As they grow older, a sense of appreciation is one of an adult’s greatest tools for finding purpose and meaning in life. Use this time to teach your children a habit of daily thankfulness.

  1. Pile on the unconditional love!!! 

Far and away your most important task is to provide unconditional love to each and every child. Unconditional love is different from romantic love or filial (brotherly love). It doesn’t just happen. It requires conscious decision to love a child for who she is rather than for what she does.

Unconditional love means saying to a child, “When you misbehave, there will be consequences. However, please know this: You are my child; and  I love you. And there is nothing you could ever do that would keep me from loving you!” This gift of unconditional love will allow your child to value herself in spite of her imperfections. It is the key to building high self-esteem and a positive self-concept and is a parent’s greatest gift to a child.

Here are three ways to show your child unconditional love:

  • Individual attention.

One of the products of close and constant proximity is the heightened potential for conflict. Kids get bored and pick on each other with the subconscious intent of simply making something happen! It is helpful to remember that, in the majority of instances, sibling fighting is an attention-getting device. Unless there is a potential for physical injury, we can ignore the “Bobby is picking on me” plea and simply let the kids work it out. Try not to give attention to negative behavior.

One way to help keep fighting to a minimum, however, is to give each child attention “when we catch them doing something good.” Even better, we can be proactive in giving individual attention to each child “for no reason at all”; it is a primary way of showing children unconditional love.

Make it a point to give each child a minimum of 10 minutes of individual attention each day. Giving a child our full, undivided attention helps a child feel wanted and special. Take a walk with him. Shoot some basketball hoops with her. Ask him how he is feeling, and then listen! Give each child the personal time that makes him feel he is vitally important to you.

  • Physical touch

Psychologists tell us that an appropriate, loving touch of nurturing adults (especially parents) is an important element in building and maintaining children’s emotional health. Studies of infants in orphanages reveal that untouched children become emotionally disturbed, and some even die. A child’s need to be touched in positive ways is as real and necessary as her need for food, water, and air. Touching may take a variety of forms, from playful wrestling or a pat on the back to hugging and kissing. A caring, loving physical touch confirms a child’s sense of being wanted and loved.

  • Eye contact

I am an expert at reading an article and, at the same time, carrying on a conversation with my kid. However, I have noticed that, when I’m smart enough to lay aside my book or mobile device and give my child my eyes, it’s almost as if something electric courses through her body. Making eye contact when my child is talking conveys to my child that what he is saying is important to me–and that he is important to me.

So, instead of watching television and at the same time trying to carry on a conversation with your child, you can either say, “Please give me fifteen minutes to finish watching this program, and then we’ll talk,” or you can turn off the television immediately and establish eye contact. “Giving your eyes” to your children is a primary means of giving unconditional love.

The coronavirus pandemic is occasioning tremendous tragedy in the lives of many people. One seeming tragedy is the loss of freedom of movement demanded of us by social distancing.  For many, the prospects of having to “stay at home until the virus is under control,” seem daunting. Now is a good time to remember: There are redemptive possibilities to be found in every tragedy! One such possibility is to use this time as an opportunity to create a sense of family bonding that will set a new standard for our families in the future. It very well may be the proudest family moment that our children will recall and share with their children. We can make it so.

Dr G

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