Melinda Macht-Greenberg, PhD
follow on Instagram @Dr.MelindaMG
What a year!
Although I wrote about the Phases of Emotional Response to the pandemic last year (https://www.educationalconsultingpc.com/phases-of-emotional-response), it was difficult to anticipate the significance of the collective anxiety and malaise we would all be feeling mid-way through 2021. This past year has been traumatic on so many levels. So many people are coping with the effects of chronic unmitigated stress that has accumulated over time. It has left us weary, if not completely exhausted.
This year has been especially challenging for kids, teens, and young adults who are naturally in the developmental process of becoming interdependent individuals. They are figuring out who they are and what kinds of relationships they want to have outside of the family unit. Yet, in this year, as they are growing and changing, they have been faced with a reality that is based surrounded by fear, anxiety, and social isolation. Every decision and action has been met with a degree of mortality that young people are not supposed to think about. If I visit with friends or go to school, will I get sick? If I socialize without a mask, will I bring illness into my home and put others at risk? Even small decisions carry risk, and with risk comes an underpinning of fear and anxiety. As humans, we are not made for the level of chronic stress we have experienced this year. And for young people, who do not have the same breadth of life experience as adults, this year feels like it will go on without end leaving many with a powerful sense of bleakness.
My concern is that schools will push curriculum demands onto vulnerable young people in order to meet some arbitrary guidelines of where they think kids need to be academically by September. Instead, educators should be looking to realign curriculum and, in concert with families, help young people with age-appropriate developmental tasks in social and emotional areas.
It is incumbent on adults to help restore a sense of joy for young people and the feelings of wonder, love, and happiness that we all strive for throughout our lives. So much joy has been lost this past year and it is important to recapture that feeling as we heal from the past year.
Find ways to notice moments of joy each day. Look for the small things— flowers that are blooming, a trip to the beach, sitting with friends, a moonlit walk, or your favorite foods. Appreciating the little things can lead to renewed joy.
We need to give kids room to play this summer. Kids need to be with others in ways that are effortless and they need to be with other people who make them laugh and feel unburdened. This will be the best way to rekindle joy. Camps and summer programs can offer so much of this in safe and organized ways with staff that are ready to help kids form connections, learn and explore through play.
Schoolwork will be waiting for kids in the Fall. But for the summer, the focus needs to be on healing our collective trauma. Connection is the cure for the havoc caused by social isolation this past year. Doing something fun with people we like, will help to rekindle joy for our kids and for ourselves.
Let us all take time to heal from the very difficult year and seek joy where ever possible.