MLinsights_JULY2020 (1)

Coping with the vicissitudes of life

“How are You?” “Good, thanks, how are you?” I have recently caught myself out asking this automatic question and giving such an automatic response when asked. The reality is that we are living in an extraordinary time and our feelings are likely to be far more complex than the monosyllabic “good”.

During this period we have all been under increased stress and have had to manage risks, restrictions and radical changes to our normal lifestyles, work habits and social lives.

This is, of course, true for our students too. At whatever age or stage, our students are likely to be feeling some worries and despite the best of efforts of our wonderful staff and supportive parents, it is to be expected that some will more frequently be experiencing a range of negative feelings.

While our students have benefited from the emotional intelligence lessons inherent in our wellbeing program, it is understandable that there will be a significant range of expressions of feelings. Some will be quite open with their worries, some will keep them bottled up and some might express them through different behavioural manifestations.

With all of this in mind, I thought it might be useful to once again consider some ideas that may help children of various ages cope with the difficult circumstances that we find ourselves in at the moment.

In addition to being a KDS grandparent and Chair of the Friends of KDS Association, Associate Professor Erica Frydenberg (PhD) AM is Australia’s leading psychologist in the field of adolescent coping. Erica defines coping as ‘our way of dealing with our world and the problems it dishes out.’ She identifies a number of ways that we can assist our children to cope with the vicissitudes of life.

Erica explains that strong relationships and a sense of belonging are important protective factors. Having warm relationships in childhood are a strong predictor of our capacity to hold close relationships when we are adults.

An inevitable downside of Stage 4 Lockdown is increased social isolation, however, in many families this may be offset by increased opportunities for genuine familial interaction and connection. It seems that trying to make the most of the situation for more quality together time can be useful in both enhancing our comfort now, and in helping our children to develop the necessary skills to sustain their relationships in the future.

Such relationships can be enhanced through providing opportunities to actively listen to children, for example by asking their opinions and by marking and reflecting on positive occasions. A slide show of past holidays might be a lovely thing to do during this time. Sharing a laugh together is also invaluable as a well-developed sense of humour is another factor in heightened levels of resilience.

While setting and maintaining appropriate boundaries can occasionally lead to some conflict, their existence has been shown to actually promote a child’s sense of safety and security.

An optimistic mindset and a belief that we can grow are also key in developing our coping strategies. In the current context it may prove beneficial to discuss positive developments like news of vaccine breakthroughs and also to make post-lockdown plans. It can be very beneficial for students to be able to openly discuss their worries and concerns, these should not be dismissed but should be acknowledged and then contextualised with a positive framework wherever possible.

Erica also explains that advanced language skills, better reading and well-developed problem-solving skills have all been seen to be protective factors in enhancing coping, so during lockdown it would be beneficial to spend time in discussions, encourage healthy reading habits and engage in puzzles and games.

While research such as Erica’s can be very useful in developing strategies to enhance adolescent coping, it is important to recognise that we are all in a novel situation and that there is no playbook for this. As such, we should all trust our instincts and try to harness as much positive time with our children as possible and do our best to make the most of the extra family time that may be gained during this lockdown.