Stay Calm and Parent On

Resourceful adults help children stay active, bring joy to others during crisis
Artwork By Rivers
A pandemic-inspired work of art, The Germ, by Rivers Bornhoft. Photo by John Russo

For my 3-year-old grandson, Miles, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been slight. He is aware that people don’t stop by his house like they always had, but he is conducting himself as usual, playing with stickers and inspecting small objects with his favorite gift from last Christmas, a magnifying glass.

Miles’s brother Rivers, 5, is far more apt to demand explanations for why things are as they are. And, he is given to a sort of energy fairly described as reckless. The other day, he ran the length of a playroom with his arms extended, collided (deliberately) with a window and reduced it to shards, while sustaining not a scratch.

His parents are struggling to keep the elder son occupied and he now knows, even if he does not understand, that a pandemic is to blame.

Of late, my daughter-in-law Haven called upon Rivers to produce artwork that they would then send to others. Artwork recipients have included the boy’s great-grandmother, Marg, who lives at Allegro Senior Living in Tallahassee.

There, to this point, Marg has not been confined entirely to her room, but no visitors are allowed at the facility, and the dining hall, the social center of the place, has been closed. A boy’s artwork helped brighten her day.

Rivers also sent a creation to a good friend of mine, who is a graphic artist and whom the boy respects as The Art Man. So moved was John that he is framing the piece, titled The Germ. It is, at least in part, an effort by the artist to interpret his world and to reduce the virus among us to Sharpie ink on paper.

I was delighted to receive a photo with Rivers in the foreground and a great blue heron a few yards beyond him, standing near a water-filled ditch. The boy has a clipboard in hand and was engaged with his dad, Nick, in a Nature Scavenger Hunt, another pandemic-induced activity.

Rivers knows of my love of birds.

Haven credits her father, a pastor, with introducing the germ concept to Rivers. At that, he did well. I had been thinking about how I might handle that talk, and stumbled upon advice by author Wendy Thomas Russell, writing for the PBS News Hour.

That advice, 10 tips in all, can be found here.

Among the tips, two resonated especially well with me because one is highly appropriate to Miles and the other to Rivers.

Try to maintain a normal routine.

It is not easy to stick to routine when school closures and other disruptions have upended our lives massively. But try to establish a new routine, as best you can. As well all know, some kids are frightened and overwhelmed by big changes in their environments. For these little ones, allow plenty of time for them to adapt to the new system. It may help to make a calendar, perhaps with pictures, that helps kids envision how things will go.

Model the behavior you want to see.

Children look to us for guidance and support, especially in trying times. “We are their North Star on how to respond,” Hatfield says. “Model a positive confidence about the topic, and stay grounded.” That goes for issues like hygiene and social isolation, too. You can’t expect a 6-year-old to wash her hands or a 10-year-old to isolate from his friends if their parents aren’t willing to do the same.

Categories: Family