By Carl Pickhardt, author of Who Stole My Child?
Once upon a time called ‘Today,’ a virus (a microbe so tiny you could not see it with your naked eye) came to visit human life all over the earth. Although most people didn’t catch it, many still became sick. And while most of those who fell ill recovered, a minority did not. So everyone knew that in some cases infected people died.
What everyone also understood was that the virus was infectious, but they never knew for sure if someone had it until the person showed signs of getting sick or was tested to make sure. Being in contact with a sick individual meant the virus might transmit. The contact person might become a possible carrier. So there were two categories of affected people to beware – the diseased and the exposed.
Although scientific people did their best to explain what was going on and what public health precautions to take, they were mostly ignorant because this virus was new. Engaging with this emergency, they dug in to find out what they could, making recommendations for social distancing as they discovered new measures to take. However, they didn’t know right away how to directly combat the virus, so they had a lot of work to do. They needed time.
Meanwhile, there was a second contagion going on almost as serious as the first. The first was biological and it was viral, but the second was psychological, and it was emotional. Its name was fear. Not only was there the pandemic going on, but there was also widespread panic. And now people struggled to manage their fears.
Parents, with family stuck at home, particularly wondered what to say and how to act with their children during an extremely anxious time. This was when they started developing a Family Fear Management Plan, some parts of which were these:
Respect Fears: Fear is part of everyone’s emotional awareness system and needs to be honored for what it communicates. Every emotion has a message. Grief’s job is to express loss, Anger’s job is to identify violations, Frustration’s job is to locate blockage, and Fear’s job is to warn of danger. To be without fear during a hazardous time can be insensitive to risks and threats that now arise.
Discuss Fears: Fear is nothing to be ashamed or critical of; it is to be talked about. Every fearful person in the family has specific and vague dangers in mind. By parents sharing their fears, they give permission to children to share about what frightens them. Humanize fear.
Sort Fears: For every fear that is expressed, measure the likelihood of it occurring. On a scale of 1 (least likely) to 10 (most likely), how realistic is it that each fear can actually take place? Give data or reasons to support each specific fear coming true. The most realistic fears are the ones to focus on.
Attend to Fears: To deal with the most realistic fearful outcomes, what strategies for coping might be used? Fears are imaginative: they ask “what if?’ and “just suppose?” In the form of worry, they allow people to take predictive responsibility and prepare for what might happen. Although it can be a bad master, fear can also be a good servant, alerting people about what to watch out for.
Channel Fears: Fear can be a very good informant because of sensitivity, but a very bad advisor because of overreaction. So when you’re afraid, that is usually not the time to think with your feelings; it is a time to pause and consult judgment about what might be best to do. When it comes to taking action during a fearful event, let reason prevail. So what is the end of this bedtime story? It is not, “and everyone lived happily ever after,” because life is not that way. Life is facing one challenge after another. And so, as families openly discuss the viral challenge and how to deal with it, children can be strengthened from this experience. Ten years hence, they can look back and say: “We remember how we made our way through a really scary time.”