Last January, I began this column by writing, “My family overindulged during the holidays. We dined at our favorite restaurants, enjoyed decadent desserts at family gatherings and grazed on leftover foods.” Other than some decadent desserts, this year, sadly, none of the above rings true. There was no dining at our favorite restaurants or gathering with extended family members.
Many years from now, I do, however, believe that our family will view the 2020 holiday season as memorable. Yes, because of the pandemic, but also because the novel coronavirus has taught us to be thankful for what is good in our lives: Our oldest started college (on campus), our youngest continued to do well in school, and our family’s resiliency reached new heights.
In the last nine months, my articles have focused on surviving the pandemic. Recurring themes such as health, flexibility and communication were threads that wove their way through most of my writings.
It has always been a good idea to nourish oneself with healthy habits, but this philosophy took on new importance throughout 2020 as many of us struggled to battle the lethargy and boredom of our stay-at-home routines. One of my first articles about the pandemic encouraged families to structure their households to follow a productive routine: Eat well-balanced meals, regulate sleep cycles and get outside. As we start the new year, we all should make these habits permanent.
The pandemic also provided the opportunity my wife and me to have thoughtful conversations with our kids. I have many positive memories of lengthy dinnertime dialogues during which we discussed the state of the world, talked about our fears and shared our hopes. If parents ask thoughtful questions, give kids time to speak and encourage them to have their own ideas, communication can reach truly deep levels. My wife and I plan to keep having these conversations with our sons.
My favorite column of 2020 was about parenting in the pandemic. As a family therapist, I still do believe that teens need routine. In these turbulent times, however, flexibility became as important as structure. This does not mean forgoing expectations; rather, it is about understanding the needs of our children. Playing video games with friends until 2 a.m. is not necessarily a bad thing as long as our kids meet their academic goals and have a good attitude. Most kids won’t take excessive advantage of some additional freedoms as long as parental expectations are communicated clearly.
As spring approaches and businesses slowly start to reopen, I do worry about the lingering effects the pandemic will have on our mental health. Many children (and adults) have not left their homes in several months. Personal anxieties may reach new highs as adolescents start to interact with one another, worry that the coronavirus will return and/or experience some other type of post-COVID-19 stress.
Make sure to check in with your kids regularly. With a well-timed question, most will share their feelings. And if your parental instincts tell you that your child is more effected than he or she should be, consult with a clinical professional.
Last, I encourage everyone to remember the lessons we learned in 2020. Reflect on your struggles and focus on your strengths. Although it may be hard to believe, COVID-19 actually fostered some positive changes. Most families learned to be flexible and adaptable, and bonds grew stronger as we learned to navigate our unique circumstances. Wishing a happy and healthy new year to all!
Prior to going into private practice as a psychotherapist and learning-disabilities specialist, Russell Hyken, Ph.D., Ed.S., M.A., LPC, NCC, worked for more than 15 years as an English teacher, school counselor and school administrator. Visit him online at ed-psy.com.