• Jody Kussin

#61 Family Matters Jump Right In

In These Times by Dr. Jody Kussin, May 14, 2020

“I can’t wait until this is over. I am so sick of this. The first thing I’m going to do when we get back to normal is….” Of course, we hear, and say, these sentences all day long.

How refreshing it is, therefore, to spend time with various people who have somehow not yet internalized the inertia and pervasive sadness that has come before our usual May Gray and June Gloom.

Is it a coincidence that I most often hear “This is kinda fun. I’m mostly happy all the time. I like dinner time together every night. It’s okay if things are cancelled because we find new things to do.” From the littles?

Yes, I’m finding that the age group weathering this with the most optimism is the six to ten-year-old group. This is not science mind you, but, of the tiny sample in my practice and in my life, the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and sometimes 4th graders are pretty perky.

As a child psychologist, I tend to ask lots of questions. “What’s the biggest feeling you had today? Who’s bugging you the most? How much sad is inside you on a 1-10 scare? What dreams are you having when you’re asleep? What dreams are you having when you’re awake?”

The preschoolers seem to be struggling with having regressed to younger ages and stages, craving more touch, rocking, babying. Some have gone back to bed wetting even though it had been two years since diapers were last a part of their lives.

Older elementary school and middle school students seem to be struggling (still) with school and with the lack of access face to face with favorite teachers and favorite friends. “ZOOM sucks,” said one 12-year-old. “I don’t like having to be on it for school and then later in the day, on it some more for my virtual playdates.”

High schoolers are pretty (understandably) upset, and often able, albeit reluctant, to express it. “I am so pissed off. No prom. No graduation. No tours to colleges.” Some are even mad about the cancellation of the SAT and ACT standardized tests (“I’d already been studying the vocab flashcards for months!”) and the schools who moved to pass/fail grading (“My GPA was going to be the best ever and now it will just look lackluster.” Nice use of SAT word…)

But the 6 to 10-year olds, many are faring well. Back in the day we referred to this age group as ‘latency,’ meaning ‘not motivated by psychosexual desires.’ Freud thought of it as a time when children repress sexual urges and Erik Erikson thought of it as a time when children are on a continuum of ‘industry versus inferiority.’

It appears that these children are far from ‘latent’ or ‘dormant.’ Contrarily, they are not waiting for their lives to begin or to get better, they are stepping up and stepping into it and already inhabiting themselves. Nothing to wait on from their perspective.

For one thing, they often are in what appears to be constant motion. This is not an Attention Deficit Disorder, it’s simply that their sense of energy and wonder comes out physically and kinesthetically. They are still equally as likely to do a cartwheel or throw stuffed animals up in the air as they are to play the drums on the breakfast table and stack up whatever is in front of them on the dinner table.

In addition to their activity level, these kids also tend to be fairly expressive. They use the words we see in comic books and graphic novels. “AWESOME, Mom!” “AMAZING class.” “HILARIOUS Dad.” They actually may become so animated they lie and cheat, but they do so with more of a sense of innocence than sociopathy. And they are not yet good liars, so you can almost always tell, and call them on it without prosecuting them too heavy handedly.

Our children are not waiting for fun to begin at some point, they are making their own fun or discovering it every day. They are not counting the days. They are not sitting this one out until these days are over. Our children are more like TIGGER than EEYORE. They are bouncy and they jump right in. If you observe them, you may see this: When going to sleep, they snuggle in, lie down, stretch out, and smile. When they wake up and are just becoming conscious, they stretch out and smile.

In these times, let’s let our children teach us well.

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