As a walked down Lark Street in Albany this week, something was different from the past few months: I was actually able to enter a store (gasp!), look at items (woah!), and leave with my purchases in hand (wow!).
Yes, all very shocking things in these continually strange times.
I would never consider myself a person that loves to shop (although I did write a previous piece about the benefits of shopping small), but there was something that felt extra special about being able to go into a local store and support a small business without having to order online and pick-up curbside. Although, unlike before, I was more aware of my surroundings and how many people were next to me.
I wrapped up my hour or so of shopping by doing another activity that seemed so normal, yet also a bit out of sorts… I ate at a restaurant. Sitting outside on a patio, my order taken by a server in a mask, and food brought to me in a to-go container… an experience that felt like the ‘old normal’ and the ‘pandemic normal’ had a fist fight and agreed to this ‘somewhat normal’ of an experience.
Posting a photo on social media of my out-of-the-house adventure, I was surprised by the messages from friends and acquaintances. Some said that they, too, were out to dinner, whereas others had said it was nice to see locations open but that they would not be going anywhere in public for the near future.
For the past few months, we abruptly changed our entire way of living, and now as businesses being to reopen, we need to shift again. It is hard enough for adults to process all that is occurring in the world today, but it can be even more challenging for children who were not always exposed to all of the facts about the pandemic and may not have been able to fully process this event.
For example, one day it was okay to play with friends; the next day it was not because of a virus. And now, we can sort of play with a mask on our faces and six feet apart, but the virus is not gone so we still need to be careful.
Being a mom to a seven-year-old, I find myself helping her to manage her own worries by having her understand the situation as best she can and find ways in which she can combat those fears so they do not overwhelm her.
An activity that I use, which despite being kid-friendly can also be used for adults, is The Worry Cloud (a great template is available via The Social Work Toolkit). This activity helps to break down a fear or anxiety so it is manageable. For example, if my daughter was worried that I could get sick by going to a store, we could go over the things that I was doing to be safe such as wearing a mask, socially distancing, and washing my hands. As we discuss the worry and break it down, it can help ease the fear while also providing the child with information that can help them understand the situation a bit better.
As children head into summer and eventually back to school, there will be fears that appear. If masks need to be worn and socially distant measures are still in effect during the school day, if teachers are stressed or anxious with the new protocols, if children cannot sit next to their friends at lunch or play freely at recess… these are all events that can cause some anxiety. Taking the time to have these conversations can help to ease anxieties while also teaching children how they too can be safe.
Lastly, there are many ways that we can help children develop their own coping skills. In my previous article, I mentioned some tips and tools to help children express their feelings during this time. Another way is to help children identify their own coping skills when upset, angry, frustrated, or scared (an example can be found here). Running outside, coloring, reading a book, writing in a journal, doing yoga… all examples of possible ways to calm them body and clear the mind. What works for one child may not be the same choice for another child, so sitting down and helping them identify their own ways to calm themselves can be a great resource for them.
We all have our worry clouds, but when we can break up the clouds and see that sunlight, things just seem a bit brighter.