Each morning when I wake up, I feel like I have a few blissful moments before I remember the current state of the world. A wave of what I can only describe as a combination of dread, uncertainty, disappointment, and sadness washes over me as I remember that we are essentially in lockdown.
That I am now a homeschool mama.
That I am now working solely from home.
That I haven’t seen toilet paper on the shelves at our local supermarket for over four weeks.
That our weekly family get-togethers have been cancelled.
That we can’t just mosey off to the lake for a picnic.
That people are sick and dying.
That our world is so completely and utterly different from what we have known.
That wave washes over me and I can almost guarantee that I will shed a few tears. And then I hear footsteps in my hallway. The small footsteps of my five year old (always the first child awake in our house) coming into my bedroom for a snuggle. She climbs onto my bed and snuggles in beside me.
She still smells the same as she always has.
Her hair is still wildly sticking up.
She still wears a random combination of pyjamas or undies or socks that makes me smile.
She still places her little hand inside mine.
And, it’s these little things that take that wave back out to sea. These little moments of familiarity, these anchor points.
I’ve been practicing gratitude for a long time. But let me be clear – it is far easier to be grateful in good times than in hard times. When you’ve had a lovely day at the beach watching your children play, it’s easy to think “I am so lucky.” When you’ve had success at work or been recognised for your effort, you can say to yourself “I am so grateful to have a job that I love.” But in hard times, it can be so much more challenging to find things to be grateful for, particularly when the world around feels negative and bleak.
But this is why we need to practice gratitude right now – for ourselves and for our children and the children we care for!
We have a set of Gratitude Cards at our house. They sit in the middle of our dining table and we usually do one (or three… because, you know – three children and they all have to pick one!!) each night after dinner. But lately, I have found us reaching for the cards more often. We select a card at random, read the prompt and then take turns at answering. Sometimes the answers are simple, and other times they lead to deeper, connected conversations. But every time, they leave me feeling better (plus my kids always have a laugh at my husbands’ answers!)
Right now, children all over the world are struggling to make sense of this new “normal”. They may find it difficult to understand why they can’t just go to school, or the playground, or to see their friends. Even if you manage to shelter them from news coverage, they are picking up on conversational tidbits or the general vibes and anxiety of the adults around them. Taking time to stop and talk about what is good in the world, what they are grateful for, is more important now than perhaps ever before.
So, how do we practice gratitude?
There is no hard and fast way to practice gratitude, you need to find what works for you and your children. But, here are a few simple tips:
1. Point out the wonderful things in the world. Lay on the grass in your backyard and watch the birds, talk about the different trees you see, be glad that the sun is shining… whatever!
2. When children are frustrated, angry or sad, validate their feelings and support them to shift their perspective. Yesterday my ten-year-old was sad that he couldn’t see his friends and that we couldn’t just drop everything and go for a picnic with the family. I responded that I understood and that I was feeling sad about it too. I then started to talk to him about how lucky we are to have a safe, comfortable house to stay isolated in. I didn’t dismiss his feelings but helped him to see the flip-side.
3. Make gratitude a daily habit. As I say, we use our gratitude cards to prompt discussion and they really help. The children feel a sense of empowerment as they select a card and everyone takes a turn sharing. Perhaps at bedtime, you could encourage children to talk about one good thing from their day.
4. Give extra thought to the language that we use around children. While much of our mental bandwidth is overloaded by COVID-19 right now, it is so vital that we keep a check on the way that we discuss this situation around children. Children are looking to us for guidance on how to feel, how to respond, how to make sense of the situation. Does this mean that we will keep it together all the time and should plaster a smile on our faces – Hell No! But, we do need to be mindful of what we say and how we say it.
5. Start a gratitude journal or a gratitude jar. Each day, write down something that you are grateful for. Perhaps you might start a “lockdown jar” where you write down all of the good things, funny moments, etc. while in lockdown (we’re going to start this today – I’ll be sure to share it!)
In addition to using these tips with children, it is so important to take care of your own mental health and wellbeing. Our Inspired EC team uses an online communication system called Slack. We have always used it to do more than just share work information and questions, we have always shared successes, celebrated one another and offered words of kindness and support. But in the past few weeks, this has been more important for us than ever. We are all working hard to stay connected, to stay calm and to stay positive.
The world might feel like a vastly different place to the one we are used to, but when we draw on gratitude it really does help to send the wave back out to sea.