• Jody Kussin

In Times Like These #9 3-23-2020

How long until we start regressing? By the way, it’s bound to happen to us all, regardless of our age or stage (even our pets are going to back up a tad.) Our little ones will go back to thumb sucking, refusing to sleep alone, exhibiting signs of separation anxiety, and wetting the bed, even if they’ve not done so for years. Our middle ones will likely become whinier, clingier, more irritable, and ‘less capable.’ They may need help for things they mastered years ago – shoe tying, hair braiding, bike riding, computer proficiency. Teens – well – teens may be a little less likely to regress initially, as many will be able to make this crisis ‘not about them.’ That’s a protective factor although it can present to you as a parent as selfishness. It’s developmentally appropriate so maybe enjoy it until it passes and no judging. Once their self-focus dissipates, they too may regress. And their regression may look like withdrawal, isolation, and/or irrational irritability and anger. Depending on the person and their innate temperament, regression can present uniquely for each individual, so knowing yourself and your children is helpful.

And what about YOU? You the young adult or young parent or middle age boomer or aging adult? What will regression look like for you? Well – think of the areas of mastery in which you’ve made progress and for which you are quite proud. Exercising well? Getting out and about and sustaining friendships? Doing well at school? Doing well at work? Eating healthy? Feeling proud of your work performance? Keeping your space clutter free and clear? Getting along with members of your family? Roommates? Significant others? Staying on top of work–life balance and not having more than 20, 200, 2000, 20,000 emails in you email in box? Regressing looks like slip sliding backward and falling into old behavior patterns. Regressing is not life/death but it is disconcerting because once you start down that spiraling path, you think, ‘well, I had two donuts this morning so, why not the box this afternoon?’ or ‘what the heck, I haven’t gotten out of sweat pants since Monday so why bother today, on Friday?’

Resilience has been defined as the maintenance of healthy ⁄successful functioning or adaptation within the context of a significant adversity or threat. So that’s the question – can we adapt? Can we move outside the comfort zone and fit into the new world regs and rules? Time to access our inner chameleon and increase our flexibility skills.

Currently we are a country attempting to cope with a new stress – sheltering in place. It’s unheard of for most of us, unless you are a survivor of the Holocaust or Japanese Internment or Armenian Genocide or Native American/Indigenous peoples forced reservation round ups….so, actually, it’s new for most of us, but not all of us. And for those of us for whom this is new, we may be lacking the ability to tolerate frustration at the levels we need – so not only can we not cope, but we are upset to discover we cannot cope!

So, what to do? Is it too late? Should we just accept the inevitable and assume this is as good as it’s going to get? Or, if not, what are the protective factors toward resiliency that we can adopt now, and which behaviors should we prioritize?

There are many wonderful studies on this topic (google, Siri, Alexa, pub med) so I am not going to provide those here. Instead, here is a summary of what we know. Remember that resilience is ‘the ability to manage and bounce back from all types of challenges that emerge in every family’s life. It means finding ways to solve problems, building and sustaining trusting relationships including relationships with your own child, and knowing how to seek help when necessary.’

The Center for the Study of Social Policies lists five protective factors: 1) Parental resilience; 2) Social connections; 3) Knowledge of parenting and child development; 4) Concrete support in time of need; and 5) Social and emotional competence of children (i.e., building and sustaining secure attachments.) All you need to do is choose one on which to focus. One a day or one a week, your call. If it’s parental resilience, make this the week you prioritize you. Go back to jogging. Or gardening. Stake out a claim for at least an hour of ‘you time’ (which may look like six different 10 minutes of ‘you time’ depending on your childcare responsibilities.) Or if you choose ‘concrete support in a time of need’, WRITE out a list of needs, like you write out a grocery list, and keep it handy and add to it. Then have a brainstorming session, including people in your house or friends online, and start writing out resources. If you are not on ‘next door app’ this may be a good time to download it. Check out your local public health pages. Join Facebook pages even if you have not done so before. Collecting concrete support is manageable, if not intuitive. And so on. One protective factor at a time.

This is HARD but not IMPOSSIBLE. To quote from Alice in Wonderland:

"Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things." "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." Alice in Wonderland.

In these times, let’s believe in six impossible things before breakfast. Or, given that we are all stuck at home, we can give ourselves all day to believe the impossible. Try it out. You will find that the impossibly, improbably, IS possible!

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