Our Family’s Decision to Take Risks During a Pandemic Has An Off Switch

Jan 20, 2021

When my daughter first heard about COVID and grappled with understanding what it meant — that we were living through a global pandemic — she became anxious.

She asked questions about what it meant. When she asked us questions, we tried our best to give her the information in a way that was developmentally appropriate and still reassuring.  

One of the biggest challenges for our daughter during this pandemic has been finding ways to socialize with her friends. She misses indoor playdates and sleepovers the most. 

In the summer, it was easier because she could meet them at the park or go for bike rides. But she still craved having kids over to our house and crafting with them. 

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So, we set up a craft station outside on our back porch and that’s where she cobbled together things with hot glue and made slime.

For a while she and a close friend would make gift boxes for each other and deliver them.  

In fact, we have allowed her to interact over technology in a way we never would have if there wasn’t a pandemic. 

She has chatted with friends and crafted over Facetime, and they’ve even made videos for each other that they’d send back and forth. Also: she texts them all the time. 

How I see it, being online has given her a variety of new skills. Texting has made her learn how to type. She’s become skilled at video production, and software like iMovie.

I’ve overheard her talking to friends in her bedroom, and she sounds like a much older child — a teenager.

"She even adapted to the new safety protocols such as wearing masks and sanitizing, but they also made her quite anxious."

When school started, it was hard for her to accept that she couldn’t play with her old friends who were in different classes at recess.  She’s in Grade 4 and has switched into a gifted placement, so all of the students in her class were new, many from different schools.

She came home, frustrated by the new protocols. At the same time, I could see how engaging it was for her to be back in school. So, it was a relief when school started in the fall. 

I think she needed the structure and routines. 

Being able to see other children in-person, in a routine daily way, made a big difference to her mental health.

She even adapted to the new safety protocols such as wearing masks and sanitizing, but they also made her quite anxious.

Once she began to make friends and build community with the children in her new class, she started asking if she could invite them over to our house.

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We decided to compromise and see if this were possible.

We calculated that the additional risk was not so great given that they were already eating lunch together every day in the same classroom and the benefits from a mental health perspective were worth it.  

We reached out to several parents of children in her class and asked if they’d be comfortable with their children coming over. We assured them we’d all wear masks indoors.

Our decision to prioritize mental health by taking small risks was arrived at as a family. Having her classmates over to our house with masks seemed worth it for us, because of the positive impact it had on our daughter’s mental health. 

What we’ve found for our family is that as long as everyone is communicative, transparent and prioritizing our health and safety as we are theirs, mental health can be prioritized too.

This lasted until the holidays. 

At first, we suspected that at least some families had gotten together over the holidays, so we didn’t allow her to have indoor playdates anymore. And now with new information about easily transmissible variants, and guidance to keep to our own household, socializing happens masked, outdoors and with one friend at a time. 

"Despite being in the throes of the second lockdown and not being able to interact with her friends indoors, she seems to be doing a lot better this time around."

As for school, when it went online after the holidays, it was a much easier transition than it was last spring.

Mostly, this is due to the fact that her teacher is offering synchronous lessons which are engaging. But also because she has become so much more comfortable with virtual learning and technology. I suspect it was a bumpy road for many families, and perhaps still is, but through trial and error, and some regular practice, my daughter isn’t sweating it as much.

She knows how to use the technology now, and her early pandemic experience texting means she is able to type on the worksheets the teacher posts and she is familiar with online interactions.

From my office next door, I can hear her speaking up and asking the teacher questions. She tells me that she and her classmates even developed a Google doc so they could text while the teacher was teaching and not get caught in the group chat. 

While we love the new confidence in technology, and we love to see her excelling in an e-learning environment, we do insist that she spend her lunch outdoors. She is also allowed to meet a friend in the neighbourhood at a park or go for a walk, distanced with masks.

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When I look back at the past year, I am amazed at how much she has adapted, how she has coped with the anxiety and changes in such positive ways. It makes me a bit sad that she has developed ways of communicating that are so advanced for her age, but I am impressed and proud of her creativity and resilience.

Despite being in the throes of the second lockdown and not being able to interact with her friends indoors, she seems to be doing a lot better this time around. I admire her resilience and creativity and the ways she has learned to socialize despite learning from home.  She calls her friends at recess, goes to meet them on the street to scooter or talks over Facetime. 

I know that for many families this lockdown has created a lot of stress and that they are dealing with concurrent challenges, like raising young children or children with learning challenges. Many are teachers themselves, or are essential staff heading out into the world everyday. 

This time is erratic, and ever-changing. But employing the tools at her disposal, my daughter has managed to challenge her anxiety and find ways to socialize and connect in ways that are not only conscious of safety, but also her mental health.

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