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Albert Einstein once said “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity”. A week ago, I had not considered writing a blog, but here we all are in the middle of very unusual times now that COVID-19 is around. If we haven’t met before, my name is Shannon LaValley. I’m a Registered Psychotherapist and Canadian Certified Counsellor. I practice at The Counselling Group of Jewish Family Services of Ottawa. This is my third year supporting OJCS with onsite counselling services. I feel truly privileged to work with the students and staff of this community as we grow together. I’m hoping to use this platform to share resources and hold important discussions about how we can all support one another and our mental health.
As we are facing an uncertain moment in history, I sincerely hope that you and your family are taking every precaution to keep yourselves safe, healthy, and happy. With public health encouraging social distancing practices, many of us are experiencing significant changes to our daily schedules. We know that a reliable schedule can be key for maintaining emotional regulation and mental wellbeing. With the launch of distance learning at OJCS this past week, students not only regain this important aspect of routine but also connection with their community.
In today’s post, I would like to talk about fear. In the news and at our dinner tables, the language of fear may be loud about COVID-19 right now. At the foundation of fear there is the sense of losing control, losing things of great value to us and losing the life that we know. Children don’t always know the words to put to the feelings they are experiencing. Children look to parents and helpers to help them understand the fear they feel.
We often use facts to fight fear. A challenge that many parents and helpers are facing is the fact that the world is still working towards understanding COVID-19. It is hard to guide others when you feel in the dark yourself. Instead of focusing on things we cannot control, we can name and pursue the things we can.
A classic exercise for understanding the things we can control goes like this:
Ask your child to imagine holding a rock in one hand and shiny/glittery putty (which I have on good authority is the cool stuff) in the other.
What does the rock feel like? Is it hard? Can you bend it or change it?
What does the putty feel like? Is it mouldable? Can you squeeze it and change it?
Thinking about COVID-19 may make you feel worried or scared. In these moments, you can think of the rock and the putty.
The rock cannot be changed but the putty can. You have some control over the putty.
What things in your life are like the putty? What things do you have some control over?
Your child may be able to name some things in their life that feel like the rock. These may include not being able to see friends in person, what other people say or do, or the big question of how long this may all last. We can surely empathize with these “rocks”.
Your child may be able to name some things in their life that feel like the putty. These may include the way they treat and help others, finding fun things to do at home, and being a part of their long-distance school community. How as parents and helpers can we support and encourage these examples of “putty”?
Fear can also create a strong sense of isolation. Consider the term “social distancing”. I recently heard social distancing described as a combination of physical distance and social solidarity. This week I attended a webinar with Dr. Kelly Wilson, the founder of Acceptance Commitment Therapy. He spoke of the idea that social distancing can make someone feel profoundly isolated and alone. He asked us to consider the purpose of the social distancing. If we are all committed to social distancing with the shared mission and goal to care for one another, are we alone? How can we highlight that we can feel lonely with social distancing and a sense of togetherness at the same time? Food for thought for your next dinner conversation to break down the language of fear.
I’m going to link to a post recently written by my colleague Gabrielle Wilson at JFS Ottawa. It tackles the big question of how to care for your child and yourself in light of COVID-19.
I have lots of content planned for the blog this week and I look forward to sharing it with you.
Wishing you well as you start the week.
Take good care,
Shannon LaValley is a Registered Psychotherapist and Canadian Certified Counsellor practicing at The Counselling Group and Jewish Family Services of Ottawa. Shannon proudly supports the OJCS community with counselling services.