This post, part of our special series on the Coronavirus outbreak, was written by Omar Guessous, BGCA National Director of Evaluation and Insights.
A bad dad joke a day keeps the doctor away. Okay not really, but let’s try anyway.
Today, my son asked “Can I have a book mark?” and I burst into tears.
11 years old and he still doesn’t know my name is Omar!
As Boys & Girls Club professionals, we are all caregivers. We all care for and take care of our Club members, whether directly or indirectly. But in this post, I’d like to speak directly to those of us who also care for little (or not so little) ones at home. Before this whole pandemic, I was still figuring out parenting. That’s truer than ever now, as things have only gotten more complicated.
As parents and caregivers, we’re all having to adjust to new circumstances. And as I’m sure you’ve noticed, there are a TON of lists, blogs, articles, and so on that are meant to help us figure out how to support our kids in these times. My goal here isn’t to rehash all of that. Instead, I’d just like like to humbly share some of what I’ve learned so far as a single dad.
- Set some bumpers.
Just like us, our kids are zig-zagging through life right now, trying to negotiate their way through change and uncertainty. But let’s try to put up some bumpers on the side so they don’t hurt themselves.
Routines are good for all adults and for all kids. Let them reflect your home culture and personalities. My son and I are both introverts, so most of ours have to do with winding down: ‘tray dinners’ made up of healthy and unhealthy foods that don’t require cooking, going for walks to chat, and giving the cat back massages. One tip is to use one of these routines, like our walk-and-chats, to check in with each other emotionally. Other ideas would be to cook together, play a board game, or do hair. Our kids are hearing and feeling a lot of things right now whether they know it or not, so we need to create spaces where we’re fully present and attentive. Even if all they’re going to talk about on some days is Pokemon or the latest dance craze.
Try to work with your kids on a structure that makes sense to them, and that they understand. Remember that one size doesn’t fit all. Have them help you create it, so they can feel ownership and a sense of control. As with good youth development, establish clear expectations and reinforce them daily. Also make sure to recognize and name all the ways in which they’re stepping up, because our kids need all the love and positivity they can get right now.
- Care for your child’s emotional health.
Our kids know that things are different right now. Their own lives are changing and being disrupted. They see and hear things on tv and in conversations. Some of them may be grieving lost experiences and milestones like prom and field trips. And they can probably see some signs of stress and anxiety in the adults around them. We need to guide and support them through this, so their sense of security isn’t uprooted.
Social distancing shouldn’t mean social isolation. This applies to all of us, including the kiddos. Technology today makes it easy for kids to come together for a play date, to chat, or to play a game virtually. My son connects with some friends regularly to talk and play Dungeons & Dragons, which gives me a much needed break. Our children’s need for belonging and connection hasn’t gone away while they’re stuck home
Try to model emotion regulation. Yes we are all feeling all kinds of things—and it’s a lot. But I think that one of the most important things we can do is to help our kids see how we’re managing our emotions and maintaining control. I’ll be the first to say that I’ve already failed at this a few times, and I’m sure I will continue to. But I’m using them to reflect on what I could have done differently, and then sharing that with my son, so he can learn from them as well.
- Take care of yourself!
Be kind to yourself. Practice grace. The people we care for need us to be well, both physically and emotionally. In this ClubX Blog series, we are sharing lots of ways to do this. Give yourself time to be in your feelings. Take deep breaths. Get your body moving.
Give yourself and your children leeway. You will make mistakes along the way, and that’s ok. But if you find yourself getting overwhelmed by everything you’re trying to do, scale back and forgive yourself. And yes, that means we might need to lower our expectations for a while. Both of ourselves and of our children (yes, really). Sometimes I let my son stay late on electronics because I need some time and space alone. I keep reminding him that it’s ok if he misses a school assignment by mistake, because we’re all still learning how things work. And I apologize—a lot.
We’re all in this together. And I literally mean that literally, because every single one of us is being impacted in life-changing ways.. But let’s continue to try our best. Let’s make some adjustments here and there. And let’s make time to truly listen. The kids, and us, will be alright.
Check back in with the ClubX Blog often for more ideas and resources on how to maintain your mental and emotional well-being during this challenging time. Stay safe. Wash your hands. Take care of yourself. We are in this together!
Get the latest updates from BGCA at BGCA.net/Coronavirus, find programming ideas at MyFuture.net, like the BGCA Youth Development on Facebook for YD updates including video from Sarah, and join the brand new BGCA Youth Development Community also on Facebook to connect with other Club staff on programming through coronavirus.