In These Times #38, The Speed of Loneliness April 21, 2020
Dr. Mona Delahooke is a clinical psychologist and author of many books, including Social and Emotional Development in Early Intervention and Beyond Behaviors, describing behaviors as the tip of the iceberg, important skills that we should address by seeking to understand a child’s individual differences in the context of relational safety. To loosely quote her, she says “Currently, parents’ expectations of their children far exceed their capacity to reach those expectations.”
I have observed this to be true as well. I’m not sure what it is – we have more time to observe our children, for one thing. We are not necessarily education experts who know how children learn and how much they can take in and process in a given context. We are nervous about them ‘falling behind’ and ‘not being able to recover.’ And we are spending more time with them since their infancies. This combination, in addition to our shared free-floating anxiety, seems to translate into us earnestly believing our offspring should be ‘first trial learners,’ acquiring information on the first time it is presented, retaining it, and mastering it immediately. Our concept of how they SHOULD be functioning versus having empathy for how they ARE functioning is hard on them, and hard on us. It sets up a scenario whereby day’s end, we believe we have all failed.
Internalizing a sense of failure day after day is obviously not healthy for any of us.
Combine this trend with another regarding ‘loneliness.’ The U.S. only recently started studying loneliness in children, but the data, PRE Covid-19, is alarming. In 2018 a major research project found that 11.3% of children 10-15 years said they were ‘often lonely’ and 9.8% of teens (16-24 years) said the same. 19.5% of children living in a city versus 5% living in a town or rural areas indicated they often feel lonely. The respondents in the study differentiated between ‘being alone’ and ‘feeling lonely.’
In a time when we are all living in some form of isolation, it’s especially pertinent to ensure we can connect with those with whom we share space. It seems ‘obvious’ but it’s not. Scrutiny, criticism, judgmentalism on top of sheltering in place result in a sense of disappointment, sadness, anger, and loneliness.
In these times, cut yourself some slack, and cut your kids some slack. Yes, there is learning to be done and schoolwork to complete, but perhaps prioritize process and not product. In other words, mastery includes getting up and getting started, keeping some sort of organizational system in place, but not military precision.
You are doing fine. Catch yourself being good. Your kids are doing fine. Catch them being good.
Lower your expectations regarding what is to be accomplished each day. Because the accomplishment, it turns out, is making it through each day, one at a time.