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The question

My children are struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown because they miss their friends and their old life. You have recommended that we empathize with them about how hard this is. I appreciate this sentiment but I also want to teach my children to be grateful for what they still have and to think and care about others. Any suggestions?

The answer

I love that you have alluded to a concept that is so helpful for us right now: both/and. We, as individuals and as a society, can both suffer because of the pandemic and benefit from it. We can also use this opportunity to look around us and see what we can do to help others who may be experiencing different challenges than we are.

We both miss our friends and we are enjoying more time with family. We both miss being able to go out to do things and we are liking less hustle and bustle. Many of us are trying to work from home, and have no child care or support. We may be feeling isolated. We might be out of work and worried about putting food on the table. And there are bright spots.

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In my Facebook group, one parent wrote, “I love that there’s no pressure to do anything on weekends now. I never realized how busy we were. It’s been really nice to just hang out together.” Another parent shared that her children have had more time to bond since they aren’t away from each other all day now. Ask your children for their “both/and” observations and share your own to help them appreciate the good things in life through adversity.

To encourage your children to be caring of others, you can help them to understand that not all of us are having the same experiences through the pandemic. Ask questions such as: “What do you think we would do if we didn’t have a laptop? How would we do your school work or talk to grandma?” Or, “If we didn’t have any books and the library was closed, what would we do at bedtime?" Or, “If you lived alone and couldn’t go out, what would you miss?”

Talking about hardship without giving children an opportunity for action raises cynics. We want to ask questions that help our children put themselves in other’s shoes. Empathy creates caring. We can turn that caring into action.

If your child has any money of their own, they can supplement a donation to a food bank in your town. If they have any gently used books, games, craft supplies they could give away, make a Facebook post asking if anyone can connect you with someone in need for a drop-off without any contact. The same goes for any electronics or devices that someone else might be able to use. If you have someone in your neighbourhood that lives alone, your child could make them a card to accompany some cookies to let them know you are thinking about them.

Or maybe that neighbour would like to read to your child via video conference or play a virtual game with them? Maybe you can trade craft supplies for pie with another neighbour.

I love that you are recognizing the complexities of living through this pandemic, and the challenges and opportunities it presents for us as parents. We can help our children see the “both/and” of their own experience and think beyond it. We can help our children recognize that we are all in this together and we can help each other.

Sarah Rosensweet is a parenting coach who lives in Toronto with her husband and three children, ages 12, 15 and 18. Do you have a parenting question? Send your dilemmas to srosensweet@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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