In May 2020, an image of children playing inside chalk-drawn squares circulated online. It was an image that caused ripples in the rising action of humanity's virus-riddled storyline.
The cause was rooted in a government decision to relax quarantine restrictions to reclaim a degree of normalcy, one of which is to allow in-person classes so that children can return to learning but do so safely. As such, 3—4-year-old children were allowed to do their usual school activities, such as playing outside, while distancing socially. The chalked squares drawn by teachers serve as an imposed boundary to limit each child's movement within the square's confines.
Around the world, children are also living in squares that restrict their movement. The four corners of houses become less of a home and more of a shape that breeds a mix of emotion because of isolation.
As parents quarantined at home, we're forced to see our children live their little lives in squares, helpless. Despite our own struggles, we can't help but feel the moral obligation to help them. We can start with simple things, such as understanding how the isolated life is working through our kids.
Plenty of little humans feel synonymous emotions related to being trapped in the boundaries of their home. Emotions such as loneliness, stress, and depression are the prevalent feelings that plague children who are isolated indoors, and it's often left unaddressed by parents who are also trying to cope.
If you're one of these parents and you want to help out your child, realize that your kid is capable of complex emotions. Helping them cope with these emotions means understanding and empathizing with them.
Children who experience loneliness often won't verbalize it. Younger kids below five years old can feel the emotion but don't have enough experience to identify it. The older kids above five wouldn't be as open to it as well. Instead, they act out.
In an article published by National Geographic, common acting out behaviors of children suffering loneliness include crying, a change in eating habits, disrupted sleep, or a lack of energy. Support of peers and social connection is important in order to mitigate feelings of loneliness in children. If your child exhibits signs of acting out, it might be a symptom that they're feeling lonely.
Being unable to cope with an unstructured life may lead to children's stress, especially for children who are already going to school. Things like sudden cancellation of classes, being unable to listen well to online lectures, and not having enough knowledge of an assigned work may lead to children feeling anxious and stressed about their lives and how they're doing at school.
Acting out behaviors of stressed children are whining, talking rudely towards you or others in the household, and other aggressive behaviors. Although stress-indicating behaviors aren't limited to these behaviors, it's still best to probe your child to get a good grip on what he or she is feeling.
Parents and children both experience stress related to being quarantined for long periods of time. The lack of structure and order means the level of uncertainty is high, and that's what's causing stress for the parent and may spill over to the child.
Older children and adolescents have a higher chance of experiencing depression than younger children. In addition, loneliness is more often a gateway to the downward spiral of depression, so if you have identified that your child is lonely, you should watch out for depression red flags as well.
Depression isn't exclusive to feelings of loneliness that become more intense over time. One popular root of depression is learned helplessness. When a person feels they have no control of the situation, it leads instinctively to inaction, and when situations that don't provide options remain consistent, they start to learn how to be helpless.
The prolonged quarantine can produce learned helplessness in your child's psyche. As such, depression can stem from them being unable to go out and make meaningful connections with friends that help them form an identity. The worst acting out behaviors of this emotion is being non-functional or having suicidal tendencies, although there are other less prominent signs.
Negative Parental Feedback Loops
Parents, being human beings, are also caught up in managing their own feelings of loneliness, stress, and even depression, causing them to overlook how children see them. This may cause a negative feedback loop that aggravates similar feelings they have inside. “If mommy and daddy are losing control of their feelings, then I suppose it's okay for me to lose control, too.”
Parents should become more mindful about how their children perceive them at home to avoid this feedback loop. How they act towards others and towards their children often becomes a monkey-see-monkey-do example that creates a cycle of misery.
As a parent, we can start by examining ourselves first. Let's identify what we're feeling and how we can better manage them in front of our children so that we can be a pillar of strength that they need. You can start by doing these simple things for yourself.
- Identifying controllable and uncontrollable things.
- Recognizing your behaviors in full honesty.
- Cultivating the right attitude that would result in positive behavior.
Taking these steps will not only help prevent the aggravation of negative feelings from your child, it will also help you in your own struggles in coping with the challenges of lockdown life.
Solutions in Circles
In spite of the limitation imposed by a life lived in squares, there are solutions that we can act on immediately. We look to another shape that we often see to find solutions for our children and even our isolation-related problems.
Bad behaviors and emotions aren't the only things children can see. Our habits can also spell their overall sentiment about whether they can regain control or remain helpless.
According to Charles Duhigg, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, bad habits can be replaced by good ones. You need to determine your cues— the things that trigger actions—, then replace the prevailing unfavorable action with another one that you think will lead to a similar fulfillment. See how you can apply this concept to your life.
The pandemic forced our children to stay indoors where they feel out of control. Allow them to regain some control of their lives by giving them the steering wheel whenever permissible. Let them suggest what they want to do for fun, what meal they want to eat, what stuff they want to learn while at home, or when they want to go out (while maintaining distance). This will help them feel some degree of control over their lives and keep the learned helplessness at bay.
However, this also comes with accountability. If your children are old enough to be taught, remind them and set their expectations on certain boundaries. Not only will they learn to regain control, they will also learn responsibility. This wards off depression.
One of our pandemic woes is being physically disconnected. It's true that we have technologies that connect us virtually with our colleagues, friends, and loved ones. But the prolonged virtual meet and greet only proves the value of face-to-face interactions, which fosters the line of connection between human beings.
Unfortunately, this kind of connection remains unattainable due to social distancing restrictions. That goes the same for our children, who may have stronger feelings about isolation than adults, considering they value their peers more.
But there's a way to help your children feel the same connection they can feel when personally interacting with human beings. A connection that can be bridged with one simple object: a bicycle.
Mountain biking encourages kids to go outside and remain safe. So the "going out" part of the entire activity is already a good start. A pedal bike eliminates the physical isolation and the claustrophobic feeling of containment of your child at home. But there are more benefits in kids mountain bikes when it's ridden.
If your child hasn't learned how to ride a kid's bike yet, you can get your child one of the best kids bikes and teach him or her how to ride it, especially in times when mountain biking is increasingly becoming more popular in a time of the pandemic.
Teaching your kid how to ride a kids' mountain bike provides a lot of opportunities for fun connections. In a time where it's difficult to make meaningful memories, give your child an opportunity to have a worthy one with you.
Another way for your child to get a sense of connection is by exposing them to nature. And what better way to do that than by letting your children roam free and explore the world around them.
This is an opportunity for you and your child to rekindle your relationship with nature. Guide your child to the nearest park or flora and fauna and spark his or her curiosity with the different botanical species present. Moreover, you can also put in that much-needed cardio and race your kid to the nearest open space park. Let your child breathe the outside air, because contrary to popular belief, people are safer breathing air in open spaces.
The activity of pedaling out on a bike to appreciate nature helps your child establish a connection to nature and to the world in which he or she lives. It'll help combat loneliness.
Being cooped up at home can lead to a sedentary life for your child. By buying him or her a bike, you encourage physical activity outside that keeps your child fit and active. The best part is, your child will fire up those feel-good hormones that would bring a smile to his or her face apart from the sweat. These hormones help battle depression and stress.
You can have your children exercise control by having them choose their bike. Sit down with them as they browse through an online catalog of specialized kid's bikes. Bear in mind that they would need your guidance in selecting the ride that would bring them the most fun. But just in case you also need guidance, here's a quick review of what to keep in mind.
Kids bike with training wheels - These types of bikes are for the ultimate beginner. If your kid hasn't ridden a bike in his life, lead him or her towards a mountain bike with a rigid fork or a cruiser bike with rim brakes and a steel frame. These bikes, however, should have training wheels. This will help him or her ride the balance bike until he or she learns how to hop on a good hardtail mountain bike and ride the rough terrain.
Kids 20-inch bike - Recommend this 20-inch wheel size kid's bike if he or she is between 7-12 years old and has learned how to ride a bike without training wheels but dropped it while he or she is growing up. This type of kids mountain bike has enough spunk and performance that will kickstart your child's curiosity enough to take for a spin and do so over and over again.
Kids 24 mountain bike - If your kid is 13-17 years old, this is the bike of choice. While this age is technically still a kid, it leans more into a grown one already. The 24-inch wheel mountain bike would have more appeal for them as these are the common bikes that look more stylish and nature-worthy.
This fun activity helps your child regain control and autonomy as you capitalize on the excitement produced by the experience of anticipating something good to come— a surefire way to fight loneliness, stress, and depression.
The Shapes of a Boundless Future
Ever since the pandemic, shapes have become symbols that restrain human lives. Lines tell us not to cross, squares limit our movements, and circles dictate where we stand and wait.
The image of children in chalked squares angered people. They see it as inhumane how these shapes dictate the boundaries of our freedom. Yet, these shapes can also be the keys that open doors to a boundless future. The choice to see it that way is ours.
Start the change for your children's sake. You can start with something as simple as buying a contraption with two circles attached to it.