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Op-Ed: And How Are the Children?

Photo by Laurent Peignault on Unsplash

This is a period of extreme stress, and West Hartford resident Amanda Aronson, secretary of the West Hartford Board of Education and principal of Aronson Consulting, has written a follow up to her previous Op-Ed on substance abuse with some advice on how stress impacts your children.

By Amanda Aronson

If you have tuned in to any Board of Education meetings when Dr. Roszena Haskins, director of Equity Advancement for West Hartford Public Schools, has presented, you may have heard her introduce her remarks with the African Masai greeting, “Kasserian Ingera.” When translated into English, it means, “And How Are the Children?”

The first time Dr. Haskins introduced this greeting to us, it stopped me in my tracks. What a powerful way to center us on our work in support of children. Dr. Haskins taught us that the Masai use this as a customary greeting when they see another person to acknowledge the high value their society places on the well-being of children and to recognize the connection between the health of the children and the future of the community. In response, people say, “All the Children are Well,” confirming that even when daily life is difficult, the struggles do not preclude caring properly for the young.

Last March, I wrote to you when we were transitioning to life in lockdown and the temptation to manage the stress with substances was significant for many. I urged you to Be Careful with Your Choices Right Now to heighten awareness of the dangers of managing stress with substances. Immediately following that Op-Ed, and every month since, I received notes from people throughout our community who are struggling. Some have slipped into routines that are worrisome, and some are worried about others. Most are doing the best they can, aware that the slippery slope into substance abuse is real – especially for young mothers.

I write to you now at another inflection point. We are once again experiencing a collective state of intense stress – and our children are still watching. They are watching how we react, and they are watching how we cope.

If you are open to one more thought from someone who knows this subject through lived experience: Please, be deliberate with your choices right now. Be very deliberate. The more intense the stress, the more important it is to be deliberate with your self care. This is not the time to wing it and hope it works out.

Decide how you will manage your stress. Decide what you will do to support your health. Decide what you will do to keep your mind straight and your body calm. Make a plan. Write it down. Narrate your choices for your children, so they can learn coping skills from you in real time. Don’t underestimate the impact of telling them what you are doing and why:

“I’m going outside for a quick walk. It’s important to get fresh air in the winter.”

“I’m taking a break from social media. There’s a lot of news to absorb, and I need some time away from it.”

“I’m getting some exercise to calm myself down; I’m feeling anxious.”

“I’m watching a funny movie, because I really need something to make me laugh and lift my mood.”

“I’m taking some time for myself right now. It helps me gather my thoughts.”

Be your child’s health teacher.

We are living through something immensely stressful, so our batteries are getting drained faster than ever before. Don’t be afraid to whittle things down to the very basics, so the energy you do have can be applied to the things that ensure you can meet your personal and professional responsibilities.

It’s okay for some things to fall apart right now, but it can’t be us. We are the adults on deck. We need to keep it together to keep the children well.

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