When Rebecca Swanson told her two sons that school, trips, and many other events were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, she feared that they would be devastated.
But the way her children swiftly adapted to the disappointment and uncertainty surprised the mother of two, and helped Swanson to manage her own anxieties.
Experts say children are innately resilient and equipped to handle trying situations.
Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
When my husband and I made the difficult decision to pull our two sons out of school, before they officially closed in March, I dreaded telling my children the news. I feared meltdowns, angst, sadness.
Our family dog had recently died, so we were already on emotionally shaky ground. Both my children are also prone to anxiety, and often don’t do well with sudden change or real-world fears.
They loved the movie “Togo,” for example, a film about a dog-sled team that delivers medicine to people in need during an epidemic in 1925. Still, they covered their eyes and ears during the scenes when children were in hospitals. They often want to know the plot before they read books. Like all children, they thrive with routines, and schedules.
I worried that the disruption to their lives would all be too much for them and they would wind up in same tailspin I was experiencing.
What I got instead was the chance to witness the stunning resilience of my children.
When the pandemic hit, I was worried about how my kids would adjust
Over the past couple of months, they have taught me how to face a challenge with strength, wisdom and leadership.
When I told my sons, who are 10 and 7, that they were not returning to school, their questions came at once. They didn’t ask about COVID-19; I’d already explained community spread and our role in flattening the curve. I told them we were like Togo. We were the mushers, or the dogs, trying to help the village. They accepted it as calmly as they could.
Instead, they asked about the ordinary details that shape their days: “What about our state testing, and the 5th grade opera?” My oldest asked.
“Will I still get to present my Ruby Bridges Leader project? What about my field trip?” My youngest, a first-grader, chimed in.
Both children chewed quietly on the news that all of those things would be postponed, or even cancelled. They were sad, contemplative.
“Will we take our trip early, to see grandma and grandpa? Are we still going on our trip in three weeks?”
They had so many valid and pressing questions, and I had few answers
“I don’t know yet, but I’ll tell you when I do.” I answered, in those uncertain times when none of us yet understood what this would look like.
Finally, as my own anxiety was spiraling about our futures, they caught me off guard with the simplest question: “What will we do then, during the days?”
They didn’t protest staying home from school, which they love, or missing many of their favorite things. They asked about movies, restaurants, outings, to which I said “no, no and no,” even as I began to ponder how I would keep their days filled inside our walls. But still, they didn’t protest.
I thought about my answers carefully. What would they do? They get along well, as brothers, but they are, still, children, with needs and arguments. Both my husband and I have jobs that allow us to work from home, but we lack the financial stability to take extended time off.
I explained that mommy and daddy would be home, but that we would be busy. I told them that they could make up games, play in the backyard, read, or do some Reflex Math on the computer to keep learning.
My older son’s dream is to be a teacher, so homeschool was exciting to him
“That’s it! We can homeschool!” My 10-year old cried out. “In fact, I can be the teacher! I can teach the classes!” In that moment, my oldest child let go of his worries, and instead, became the leader I didn’t even know we needed.
His little brother jumped up and down in excitement, thrilled that the big one so interested in spending time with him.
For the next two hours, they were off. Planning, typing up lesson plans, printing out news articles for science class on natural disasters, specifically hurricanes, which occur far from Colorado, where we live. They wondered whether they could get away with an hour-long recess, and two PE days in a row.
“Yes! Yes!,” I said emphatically, remembering my childhood with daily gym classes and long breaks.
They couldn’t wait to start.
I recognize that my sons have extraordinary gifts when it comes to both academic and self-guidance skills. It also helps that my oldest wants to be a teacher, like many other members of our family. He considers this to be great practice. He has had terrific role models in his public school program, talented teachers who focus on project-based learning, problem solving, and fostering creativity.
All by themselves, on that first day, my boys made school happen—with homemade lesson plans—for six glorious hours. They set timers for classes, and stuck to them. They got creative. They learned. They laughed and giggled as my husband and I furrowed our brows, attempted to work, and tried not to spend all day refreshing the news or sending out angry tweets. They were excelling while I tried, and failed again, to order a COVID-19 test from my health clinic for my cough.
Still, “Brother School” carried on. They rarely asked for help.
My children showed me how to remain calm in the face of an unprecedented crisis
When it was time for recess, they stomped out to the backyard. When it was time for math, they logged onto their computers and pulled up their lesson plans. Big brother helping the little one. They were in charge. They were calm, and they were setting an example that we could all learn from.
When their real school started remote learning a few weeks later, they were ready, in ways I could never have imagined. The oldest still takes charge of setting and enforcing schedules, troubleshooting computer issues, and leading “recess” and “free time.” They are strengthening their relationship with imagination games and countless hours alone together, without adults hovering over them.
This is when I remember, in times of fear, grief and uncertainty, the magic of children, and their strength in the face of adversity.
This type of resilience is something we can expect in kids, according to Dr. Sarah Davidon, an expert in children’s mental health.
Kids have an innate ability to adjust to trying situations, experts say
“Children hold a mindset of resiliency,” Davidon told Insider. “Kids naturally have awe, wonder, and joy, and moments of joy can help them recover from the physiological and psychological effects of stress. They become creative, and this creativity can help children express and cope with their feelings.”
Weeks into quarantine, it hasn’t all been rosy. There have been plenty of fights, and some days are better than others. I’m fortunate that my children enjoy school to start with, and enjoy each other’s company. We are privileged to have food on the table, shelter over our heads, and a backyard for sunshine and exercise.
On our harder days, the children interrupt us constantly. They need help with their computers, want to know if they can have a snack, or simply crave some extra attention. On the easier days, interruptions are rare, and schoolwork flows smoothly. On many days, I can’t focus on my own work, so I join them in the backyard, to try to find my own strength.
When my children are stressed out, they know when to take a break to unwind
When they do face moments of stress, or boredom, my kids ask for a break from the rigors of school and structure. Then they escape into the magic of movies. They play board games or they invent games that involve racing with wands, battling the dementors and death eaters of the world of Hogwarts.
Recently, they faced another disappointment, which they handled thoughtfully.
We had to cancel our annual family trip to the mountains, which would have been our eighth year at a duck race festival. I was sadder than I should have been about this one small event, during a time when people are dying, and healthcare workers and other essential workers are putting their lives on the lines daily. Perhaps it was particularly upsetting because it was also Mother’s Day, my birthday and because I am now facing uncertain employment. Maybe it was because there are still so many unknowns about the future.
But again, my children took it in stride. They set up their own duck race, in the backyard, with 20 rubber ducks, a hose, and a Slip ‘N Slide. They planned the race, the prizes, and made sure everyone’s duck was, eventually, a winner. Despite everything, my oldest child summed up the makeshift race with the simple, yet profound, wisdom of a child facing down adversity.
“It was really fun,” he said.
Read the original article on Insider