Wellbeing and COVID-19'A Complicated Relationship
It is probably best to consider the COVID-19 path as a journey, and not a destination. With that in mind, whilst we are certainly not ‘out the other side’, it is perhaps a good time to reflect on the key challenges of lockdown and how these may have promoted the concept of our own wellbeing from a desirable life ambition to an essential one. In the process, we might also realise that our children have developed some of those key life skills that were always so difficult to ‘teach’.
Why the ‘wellbeing lesson’ comes before any other.
Now, ‘wellbeing’ is a conjunction of ‘well’ and ‘being’ – simple enough. Yet this little word belies the complexity and difficulty of achieving it. But often, this is not because it is especially complex or difficult to achieve a state of wellbeing, but rather because there is a perception that you either have it or you don’t…. you’re either ill-fated or you’re blessed. The consequence of that is that we sometimes do not feel we can influence our own wellbeing, and as a result, we don’t always consciously and consistently prioritize putting the key contributors to wellbeing into our life every day.
However, I hope that this period has highlighted that whilst we can cope without many of the things that are familiar to us, we cannot cope very well if we do not prioritise our wellbeing. At Cognita, we define wellbeing as:
The sense of feeling content: socially, emotionally and physically flourishing
Often, children and adults are intuitively quite good at knowing if they feel content, but not always what to do if they do not. We therefore outline 6 contributors to wellbeing, which are of course symbiotically linked:
- Adequate and restful sleep
Recharges both body and brain; improves the capacity to learn and retain information; and improves social and emotional interactions
- Healthy and balanced diet
Gives our organs and tissues adequate nutrition to work effectively and reduces risk of disease and ill-health
- Moderate to vigorous and regular physical activity
Decreases the risks of developing certain diseases and conditions
- Connecting with self and others
Develops moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations and gives
- Being engaged in a fulfilling activity
Provides a sense of engagement, meaning and purpose
- Giving to help a cause or others
Creates more compassionate and grateful communities and generates positive emotions for the giver as well as the receiver
Now, I outline these because even though they may seem obvious, they are really helpful in having a starting point for those conversations about physical and mental health with students and families and I hope might be helpful for parents having similar conversations at home.
If your child can tell you that they do not feel content, help them to instead of feeling helpless, look at the 6 contributors to identify which might be missing or not feature strongly enough in their lives. That begins to teach them how to take ownership of their wellbeing, prevents them thinking that there is something wrong with them if they don’t feel ok and it can also give you as their parents a steer about what they might need help with.
This period of lockdown has given us the time to look at our children’s timetables every day and show them how these contributors must go in first, before anything else…and that applies to parents too! If you can achieve this, it is more likely that the things that can pose a threat to wellbeing are minimized by default – screen time being a prime example. Taking from the bank of wellbeing – perhaps by cutting down on sleep, is a dangerous habit and paying back the debt can be long and complicated, so lead by example and show your children how to value and preserve their physical and mental health.
Having reflected on the centrality of wellbeing during COVID-19 and beyond, it is time to consider how this period might also have taught our children some other useful lessons.
Change is, by its nature uncertain, unsettling and can certainly cause feelings of anxiety. Even if you are a teacher by trade, it is certainly rather stressful trying to support your own child’s online learning, whilst simultaneously trying to juggle your own work and running a household! If you think you are/have failed miserably, then you are probably completely normal – but wrong. You will all have had to adapt to a new routine, a new way of working and learning and now, when coming out of lockdown, you and your child will need to adapt again. Embrace and value this opportunity, after all - ‘The measure of intelligence is the ability to change’ (Albert Einstein).
Trying to organise your own time or help your child to organise their own is in itself a lesson and deserves credit! Many children will have taken more ownership of their learning and become better at time management – both are incredibly important skills throughout school, further education and beyond.
Independence & Creativity
‘If you are in a position to diagnose a child’s happiness in all its intensity, then you cannot fail to notice that the highest level of joy results from having overcome some obstacle – from a goal attained or a mystery solved. This is the happiness of triumph and the bliss of independence’.
This wonderful passage by Dr Janus Korczak, the Polish-Jewish educator, children’s author and pedagogue captures beautifully moments that can be threatened by the understandably more cautious and structured environment we now raise our children in. Lockdown though may have allowed children additional opportunities for them to develop both their independence and their creativity.
Whilst at times, this process will certainly have been stressful, it is key to remember that not all stress is harmful. Indeed, opportunities for children to experience and cope with manageable stresses, with you supporting them really can help grow. They help enable our children to better cope with the challenges and adversities of life and ultimately develop their resilience.
It may therefore be, that although this period was and still is incredibly challenging, wellbeing has commanded the status is deserves and our children have, with your help, capitalised on the extraordinary circumstances by flexing in the wind and weathering the storm.