Finding Meaning by Laura Rubin, Ph.D.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has caused a series of tumultuous shifts in the lives of parents and children in the last few months. Whether it has been the shift to learning from home and increased burden on parents to also be their child’s teacher while simultaneously balancing their own work load, struggle to manage our children’s increasing amounts of screen time, or helping our children cope with the loss of in-person social interactions with peers, there has been an incessant demand for flexibility, adaptability, and managing uncertainty. As a parent with three young children myself, I too have felt a sense of loss for the variety of disappointments children have faced during this time: missed graduations, no final dance recitals or athletic events, and the type of teacher-student engagement that no Zoom meeting can replicate. During this time I found myself thinking about psychologists who focus on resilience. In particular, I recalled the first time I read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist who was deported to concentration camps during World War II and upon his release learned that the Nazis had killed his wife, brother, and his parents. Frankl wrote the following:

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change
ourselves. Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human
freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”.

Frankl’s insightful reflections provide a source of inspiration to us during this challenging time. To move through uncertainty requires navigating a series of steps. While such steps are not necessarily linear, they are essential to allow each of us to create meaning out of this difficult time.

1. Face our feelings. We all have experienced a range of intense emotions during this time, including anger, loss, anxiety, and confusion. In order to create meaning one has to confront such feelings head on in order to move forwards.
2. Look for the Positive. A few ways you can stay positive during these uncertain time include: enjoying simple things that bring you joy, being grateful, listening to uplifting music, being creative, eating well, being kind, and knowing we are all in this together.
3. Find the Beauty. There is beauty all around us if we can slow down and take the time to really look. Taking a nature walk or hike is a wonderful way to find the beauty in nature. AllTrails is an app you can obtain on your phone which will point out local trails and hikes in your area.
4. Help others. There are many ways you can help others during this time. A few examples are: donating to food pantries, calling neighbors and family members, supporting local businesses by ordering take-out, and donating blood.
5. Foster Gratitude. Consider setting aside time during a family meal where each person discusses one thing they feel grateful for that day. You may also want to keep a “gratitude journal” where you can write down the things you are grateful for each day. This is great for kids to do as well.

Our children model the way in which we navigate stressful situations and look to us for guidance. How we react during this time directly impacts our child’s ability to cope. Trying some of the steps above can help us show our children that we can cope with disappointments and losses and still find meaning.

Rick Hanson, Ph.D and his son have a wonderful Being Well Podcast which offers weekly thought-provoking conversation and practical tips and tools for Being Well, as well as, resources for being resilient during COVID-19 .