Top 5 Life Lessons to Teach your Child in 2020

The challenging times in our lives are typically the ones in which we experience the most growth. What life lessons are being presented to us this year as we live through COVID-19?

1. Empathy.  One of the first steps to learning empathy is perspective-taking, or the ability to imagine another’s point of view. You don’t have to look very far to find someone whose experience of this time is quite different from yours. Point out these differences so that your child can learn that people can and do view even the exact same event very differently. For example, your child may simply be annoyed that they have to wear a mask at school, while a classmate may have lost family members to COVID-19. Learning empathy will help your child for life - in work, play, and relationships.

2. Grieving is Important.  This year has been a grief-filled one for people, both individually and collectively.  Although the term grieving is typically associated with death, grief occurs any time a person suffers a loss that is significant to them. In a typical year, children experience grief when their parents divorce, when a family member or pet is very ill and/or dies, or when they relocate to a new area or school.  

On top of these “typical” losses, here are examples of additional losses kids have been experiencing: financial security of the family, loss of feeling of safety, loss of in-person learning and connection with peers (for online learners), loss of close friends in school (for in-person learners whose friends are learning online), sports tournaments, summer camps, vacations, special events (prom, graduation, local events), visits to family member(s), playdates/sleepovers with friends, and so on.  

Many well-intentioned parents inadvertently stifle their children’s necessary grieving process with remarks such as, “Count your blessings” or “Don’t be upset, it’s not that big of a deal.” Of course, it is important to be grateful and have perspective, but grieving does not preclude either of them. As parents, it can be difficult to see our children feel sad, angry, lonely, or scared.  We may want to rush to cheer them up, distract them, and/or solve the problem.  While there is a place for cheering up and problem-solving, it is important to allow children to experience unpleasant emotions (in a way that doesn’t harm anyone or anything) -- and in doing so, children learn that these feelings will pass.  In this way, children learn resiliency.  No one enjoys feeling unpleasant emotions, but they do serve a purpose in our lives.  It may feel counterintuitive to “allow” your child to experience unpleasant emotions, but it is necessary. Watch the Disney movie Inside Out for an entertaining illustration of this concept.

3. Most Problems are Temporary (even if long-term).  When a problem arises, teach children to ask themselves, “Is this fixable?” and “Is this temporary?” Problems can ultimately be broken down into two categories: ones we have control over and ones we don’t. If we have a fixable problem, great -- let’s jump into problem-solving mode! If we don’t have control over a problem (e.g., COVID-19) or if the problem is (or seems) permanent, it is helpful to focus on parts of our lives that we do have control over, as well as ways to adapt. This will help children feel more empowered in situations where they may feel powerless.  

4. Perseverance. It may be helpful to view times like this as marathons instead of sprints. Students who are engaging in remote or online learning, especially, are having to learn or develop skills of time management, responsibility, organization, and self-discipline. They are having to “lean in” to schoolwork (often without much home support).  Be cognizant that in some cases, we are expecting children to work as independently as college students! Have realistic expectations. You can help your child persevere by setting them up for success. Make sure they have a quiet space in which to work, with supplies handy. Create a schedule for the school day -- teach them to use planners and “pomodoro timers” (time management system--25 minutes work, 5 minute break). If you help your child learn these skills now, they will continue to serve them throughout life.

5. Ask for Help.  We all need help at certain times in our lives. Teach your child that self-advocating is a skill we all need to learn. Asking for help when we need it is a sign of maturity, not weakness. We want our children to come to us when they have problems and raise their hand for their teacher when they have a question in class. If a child has existential questions (“Why does God allow bad things to happen?”), there are religious and spiritual leaders to help. Doctors, nurses, and other professionals stand ready to help with physical challenges. If a child has social, emotional, or family concerns, there are school counselors and therapists in the community to help. Children will feel happier and safer knowing that their community is full of people who care and can help them through life’s challenges.

Christi Cawley is a PreK-8th School Counselor at Pinecrest Academy, a private Catholic School in Cumming, GA.  She holds an MS in School Counseling from Marymount University and a BS in Psychology from Virginia Tech.
Pinecrest Academy is a private PreK-12 Catholic school located in Cumming, South Forsyth, just minutes from Alpharetta, Johns Creek, Milton and Suwanee. We serve families of all faiths seeking a Christian education for their children. To learn more about our unique educational philosophy, visit our Welcome page.

The mission of Pinecrest Academy is reflected in the word Integer, which is Latin for “whole,” or “entire,” and reflects our goal of forming the whole child as an authentic “Person in Christ.” The school motto Semper Altius, means “Always Higher,” and challenges our students, parents, staff and faculty to strive for excellence in all areas of Integral Formation® - intellectual, spiritual, human and apostolic.