It all happened so quickly.
We walked into our local community event, and my kids spotted the bounce houses. I blinked, and they were gone.
They joined dozens of other children bouncing around in delight. I love seeing my children have fun, but after the past 18 months we've had, this activity left me clenching my jaw and frozen in uncertainty.
COVID cases are still festering, and flu season is on the horizon.
"The germs. What about the germs!?" I screamed silently to myself.
I took slow, deep breaths to calm the reaction I was having. This hypervigilance is new to me. As my family has been venturing back out in the world, I find myself constantly assessing potential threats and probable germ factories. Some days it feels like a constant state of mental gymnastics weighing risks vs. rewards.
During last year's flu season, many of us were still living in a modified state of quarantine and/or cohorting.
Although this came with its mental health risks, we could rest easy that we were mostly in control of our exposure to outside germs—whether it was COVID, the flu, or any other virus.
Entering back into the world with kids has been a slow reckoning for most families.
As parents, we want to give our children opportunities to play, grow, and thrive. But we also want to be sure that they are safe. Here are three tips to keep your composure this flu season.
1. Recognize Your Own Hyper vigilance
The pandemic has been traumatic for us all. Trauma can cause us to overreact to perceived threats. If you feel triggered by bounce houses and intimate gatherings, know that you aren't alone. It's essential to be aware of this hyper vigilance when it comes up for you.
Your chest may tighten up. Or perhaps you quickly turn irritable. You may get overheated and talk rapidly. Or maybe you are like me, and you clench your teeth. What does hyper vigilance look like for you?
When we notice hyper vigilance, we can do a quick risk assessment. Ask yourself: Is this situation truly a risk? Or am I overreacting due to past experiences? With a risk assessment, you can decide how to move forward.
Do you pull your kid out of the bounce house to prevent illness? Or do you take lots of deep breaths and let them live their best lives? Only you can answer that.
2. Make a Family Plan
If you are co-parenting, you and your partner must decide on a level of risk that is comfortable for your family. Sit down together and write it out. Start with outlining the factors you can control, such as a healthy vitamin regimen, strong hygiene protocol, vaccine decisions, etc. Then talk about hypothetical situations such as indoor birthday parties, trips to the bowling alley, and outdoor playgrounds. If you decide in advance what you are comfortable with, you can also be sure that your children are aware of these boundaries. When everyone is on the same page with these boundaries, including the kids, they will be less surprised when you tell them 'no' to things like a crowded bounce house.
3. Be Ready for Sick Days
Rather than living in fear of sick days, plan for them in advance. Children thrive with routine, so I always start sick days by drawing out our schedule—using pictures to make a visual agenda accessible for even toddlers. Remember, not only will the kids benefit from this planning, but so will you. In our (loose) schedule for the day, we include screen time, quiet activities, meals, and snacks. You may consider keeping a pre-made craft kit or LEGO set in the closet that you save, especially for these occasions.
The pandemic has taught us a valuable lesson about embracing uncertainty. While we can control certain factors, there are also many variables that we cannot control. Viruses will continue to wax and wane throughout your children's lifetime, and you will have to decide how to handle them within your family unit.
In the past 18 months, we have felt a sense of urgency to take action and protect our children's health. For now, we have entered into a slow and intentional process of letting some of that control go. And I don't know about you, but for me, that feels hard.