For parents, 2020 can't be over soon enough. Juggling remote learning and work-from-home, helping children deal with unfair pandemic protocols, and explaining racial protests and contentious elections has made family life this year something many would like to forget.
But as parents stepped up to manage crisis after crisis, one thing became clear: They were teaching their children crucial life skills that will stay with them throughout their lives.
For instance, parents helped kids find their resiliency throughout 2020 as they adjusted to at-home learning, overcame disappointing cancellations, and embraced the knowledge that even though their lives were being disrupted, their new way of living was helping to bring an end to the pandemic.
“The key is to be mentally flexible, learn how to problem-solve, and accept change as a challenge rather than an obstacle,” says Mary Alvord, co-author of the Resilience Builder for Children and Adolescents.
That resiliency taught children about kindness, empathy, and creativity. Thank-you cards were sent to healthcare workers and first responders. Drive-by birthday parties kept grandparents safe. Mysterious sidewalk chalk messages brought messages of hope.
“Children are instinctively empathic,” says child psychologist Lisa Damour. “We should build on those instincts by asking them to imagine what would make another person happy.”
Children learned about racial justice when protests erupted across the country after the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, giving parents an opportunity to talk to kids about race and racial discrimination, no matter how difficult the conversation.
“As parents,” says Ibram X. Kendi, executive director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center in Washington, D.C., “we should raise children who can express notions of racial equality, who can see racial disparities as a problem, and who can do their own small part to challenge this big problem of racism.”
Kids learned about tolerance and critical thinking during a contentious election season, as parents found teachable moments to help children process what was often an ugly campaign.
And it was a year that children learned that even their heroes aren’t invincible, and parents had to explain the deaths and illnesses of several famous people. But kids also learned about bravery after a year filled with natural disasters, in which parents helped kids face their fears as well as inspired them with heroic rescue stories.
Through it all, children learned that the world could still be an amazing place. Wildlife showed up in weird places. Pandemic puppies were adopted. SpaceX launched. And new species were discovered.
“Most kids are going to end up being fine,” says Lindsay Malloy, associate professor of psychology at Ontario Tech University. “The most important thing for kids who are adjusting is having loving, close, and secure relationships they can count on.”