Families find unexpected silver linings in cancelled plans during pandemic

MADISON, Wis. — Americans are in their fifth month of social distancing to stop the spread of COVID-19, and there’s still so much uncertainty about the future.

SSM Health child psychologist Dr. Kathleen Hipke said families can use this time as a learning experience for how to be flexible.

“Most people feel comforted by having a plan. And this has been the greatest exercise we probably have ever had as a nation, or as a global community, practicing how to be more present. And (decide) with what we know now, what can we plan for today? Maybe even next week? Maybe the next week, but we really can’t beyond that,” Hipke said.

She said being able to adjust is important, and it’s a good practice to point out to kids.

“As we go forward and we shift plans, we thought we were going to go this way, but we go this way instead. To really be able to name that is an opportunity for us as a family to practice that flexibility, because it’s a life skill, it’s a really important one,” Hipke said.

Similarly, families have become creative with this unexpected time together. For some, it’s meant pulling out favorite board games or making up their own games. It’s also given families the chance to get outside and explore nature trails they maybe haven’t been on before. While it can be uncomfortable to deal with the boredom of what to do next, Hipke said this time to be present together is a wonderful opportunity.

Hipke said showing such resiliency in the face of disappointment over cancellations, grief over missed events, and even anxiety around your family’s health is something families should be proud of and celebrate together.

She said if your child seems to “get stuck” or has difficulty getting past feelings of anxiety surrounding the pandemic, seeking out help from your doctor might be necessary. Things to watch for would be heightened anxiety over leaving the house or doing activities your family has deemed safe, sleeping too much or too little can be red flags that something is wrong, as can large outbursts of anger over seemingly small issues at home.