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Eyes of a Child

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Well here we are, and it continues. The impact of COVID-19 on daily routines, home environments, family livelihoods, how we move through our communities, how we educate our children and how we communicate with family, friends and coworkers — everything shifting in the dynamic landscape of "shelter-in-place." As a community, we come together to "flatten the curve" and reduce the risk of the spread of this nefarious invisible entity that is affecting so much of what and who we are.

As we are all immersed in this shared global experience, many of us are bearing witness to the kindness and compassion of those around us. There are sites on the internet solely dedicated to highlighting acts of kindness during this time. And during my essential forays out into the community to get supplies from the grocery and pharmacy, I have witnessed a profound sincerity and willingness to help by the HEROES who are keeping our community nourished, calm and healthy. It is my personal goal to thank each and every one of them I encounter for the service they contribute.

Additionally, we empathize by grieving what has occurred, and what may potentially unfold. Across the planet there are lives disrupted, at-risk and lost. In addition to the physical suffering, there's the loss of what we have grown to expect and look forward to. There are rites of passage that our seniors (and sophomores and juniors) in high school will likely be forfeiting this year, such as prom, theatrical productions and testing that could potentially impact college access and funding. Rituals like these are part of our culture and are highly regarded and anticipated. This is one part of a complex gem of expectations that will be postponed or cancelled all together. You may be wondering right now, "What about the Kinetic Grand Championship?!" Again, there are too many to name.

I have the honor to offer a few ideas and things to consider that may help foster positivity and healing during this time of global anxiety, and the losses that will touch all of us in some way.

Forgiveness

Alexander Pope shared these wise words, "To err is human, to forgive is divine." As we move into the unknown, it's helpful to ground ourselves in knowing that we can't change the past, but we definitely can change the future. It seems that every day one more recommended precaution is added to the list of things to do to reduce the threat of COVID-19 entering our homes. At first, it was social distancing. Then I heard friends are coming home from the store, removing their shoes and leaving them outside, walking to their washing machine, stripping down and placing their clothes in the washer, using wipes on keys and credit card and anything else that went on the outing. Additionally, it was recommended that all surfaces and countertops be wiped down frequently. Then came the information from my friends in Brooklyn that they are wiping down everything that comes into their residence, while removing the packaging and throwing that away before it enters the apartment. Then a local friend told me they are doing the same. Last week, our local TV news channel suggested the very same protocol of wiping things down, removing shoes, washing clothes and showering when returning from an essential outing. How does one keep up?

This is where forgiveness comes into play. It is natural to be hard on yourself and question why you hadn't been doing these things earlier — is it too late? Questioning yourself may breed anxiety and fear. We can change things moving forward — to each person's (dis)comfort level — and shifts happen as we learn. And while it may seem extreme, I'd personally rather reflect on having been too vigilant than wishing I had taken the advice to heart.

Forgiveness is as much healing as it is forward thinking. Allow adjustments as time rolls along and know that we are all learning together. And learning and adjustment are our imperative. We ask this of our children, and for us educators, our students. We provide them with information and guide them to practice new skills. This, in essence, is the educational process. We have the opportunity to model this and shift as we learn. It certainly gives us a window into the eyes of a child — a mix of joy, fear and shifting understanding to guide our practice. In that respect — there is beauty in the process.

The Psychology of Affect

One of the most influential pieces of psychological theory for me, is the work of Sylvan Tompkins and the psychology of affect. Affect (commonly confused with effect) can be simply explained as the experience or expression of emotion. A laughing person can be described as having a joyful affect. Similarly, being bummed out could be interpreted as the affect of sadness. I love Tompkins' theory because of its elegance. Tompkins suggests that a healthy intimate relationship (a close friend, family member, or a lover), a healthy family unit or a healthy community (i.e. a school, or a community organization) — all do the following: maximize the positive, minimize the negative and freely express emotion, and do these things as much as possible! Think of a close friend or lasting connection. It is likely that when you are with this person, you maximize the positive, minimize the negative and freely express emotion.

Two years ago, one of my best friends moved to Humboldt County. I've known this person since I was 10 years old. When I think of why we are such lasting friends, I can easily identify Tompkins' psychology of affect. I realize that when we are together, even if times are tough, we maximize the positive, minimize the negative and freely express emotion. These fundamental elements are what drive us to maintain connection and foster healthy environments. So, during these challenging times — consider this simple idea — highlight what is good, recognize what is hard and talk about it. Be open. It's not about avoiding what is hard, we must talk about that, but maximize the beauty of what is good when possible. It may very well be the salve that helps us stay emotionally healthy as we face these unpredictable circumstances.

In our homes

As a result of people staying in their homes, it is being reported by many counties across the United States that the statistics of crimes such as robberies have declined. Makes sense — people and their cars are home. The disheartening statistic is that domestic disturbances are on the rise. Some people, in this time of shelter-in place, are struggling to keep the peace. It's very important in this time to consider forgiveness and the psychology of affect and how they apply to your interactions and relationships. With our children, know they are sensitive to the events, and may show their anxiety by acting out. It's fair to say adults may do the same. As the days at home continue, explore how forgiveness of yourself, and those around you, is in essence a mindful healing practice. Additionally, the elegance of Tompkins' theory, when applied, may help as we do our best to foster healthy lasting connections with those we cherish most. Take good care and be well.

Dr. Peter Stoll is a credentialed school psychologist and administrator and prefers he/him pronouns. He is a program director for the Humboldt County Office of Education and the Humboldt-Del Norte SELPA.

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