Covid Recovery: COVID19; Varients, Trauma Effects, and Recovery

Late summer, 2021

I’ve been working on this post for a while.

First a couple of month ago, when vaccines first became available.

Then, variants began to appear by and I’ve started and stopped a few times with edits

This pandemic is frustrating.

So, today, I decide to push through and write again, as I work to track this pandemic and some effects I notice.

In good frustration fashion, I started and stopped this computer 3-4 times, and the blog is continuing to want to open as if I am viewing it instead of working on it.

Now, as I begin to write, I realize the wordpress.com app has an update so I did that and waited.

(that was a very short time, so I’m able to continue to write)

I participate in trauma recovery daily. I work in trauma, as a mental health therapist who listens to stories about trauma.

I am trained and informed to be a trainer in Trauma Informed Care (TIC); and am trained and practice Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral therapy, (TF-CBT).

Recently, I completed Lane Peterson’s course and exam for Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) through PESI.

and

I am also living in, through, and working together with those who are trauma affected by the pandemic we are currently experiencing. The pandemic is fairly traumatic, so I’m using the word frequently.

As the pandemic began in March of 2019, the effects were quite unclear to me.

My grandmother lived through the Flu (frequently referred to as the Spanish Flu) in 1919 and talked to me about it, a little bit, when I was a kid and I would ask her about it.

‘Grandma??’ I would say, with a question in my voice to show I wanted her to answer and was pretty curious…

…..’yessss……’, she would say, again, with pleasure in her voice because she talked like that.

‘How come you were born in 1910, but graduated in 1929, but you didn’t repeat a year in school?’

That last quesiton was because those of us born in the first year of the decade (ends in ‘0’) tend to remember our birth year and others’; and, like I said, I was pretty darn curious.

She would then answer me with a little bit of laughter in her voice, a little bit of frustration, and would then again be a little bit misleading; her experience with the pandemic in 1919 was not really my busines, nor did I need to know the answer, but eventually, she told me.

‘I was ill one year, or actually; I was ill later in the year. The schools closed for the first half of the year, and then I got sick.’

So she missed a year of school, which was true; did not repeat a grade, which was also true. And I, the granddaughter of Eva and a child with lots of curiosity and questions, had my answer.

So, I moved on to different questions, different thoughts, and different experiences as I grew up to be just right about 50 years old.

2020 is also a decade year, or ends in zero. And I, as a 50 year old rising, was busy getting ready for things like creating income as a mental health therapist/writer; my children graduating from college; and preparing to make income during the time that was just prior to COVID at the group practice I am contracted with, Blank Slate Therapy. (March 2020)

Emerging and Gathering in Crowds/Groups of People

So, as we begin to get together into bigger groups, the COVID 19 virus is mutating into a more able to travel form. For those who have chosen to be vaccinated, the effects appear to be less deadly. There also tend to be some health conditions which makes the COVID experience quite a bit longer lasting, which has been termed ‘long haul COVID.

Many hospitals are filling with people who have a diagnosis of COVID, many of whom are not vaccinated, from research I am informally conducting through health providers I know.

I’m fairly certain that the cold virus has been mutating and changing like this ever since people began to work to create a vaccination to it.

I see larger crowds, as a resident in Texas, a little more often than people in some other states do.

My son who lives in Wisconsin has had a very different COVID experience than my husband or me, since Wisconsin’s mandates related to the virus have been quite different than ones we experience in Texas.

My son who lives and goes to school in Indianapolis has had a different experience as well, as on-line courses were the norm for some of his classes last year, and professors and students in his law school continue to adjust and change as they work to provide structure/course and a safe learning environment as safely as they can while learning.

Indianapolis is different as well, and the local surrounding counties and farm communities have their own cultures around how wearing masks, being vaccinated, and responding to the pandemic tends to be perceived and acted on.

When I see a crowd of people on television, I al not as surprised as other people may be, who live in an area of fewer people or different. Norms and mandates.

I haven’t been watching much television for several months due to how often the warning voices of the newscasters get my attention. I prefer an upbeat tone, with optimism in it.

Some National newscasters, or perhaps those who guide and write for them, have determined that if you use a very scary, deadly voice people will listen. I do listen, but the fear that the voice induces in me is not pleasurable

I’m noticing that working to adjust and synching back and forth from COVID is as difficult for some people as synching into it was for others.

I would guess that many of the same people struggle with synching back and forth, which is a sensitivity, and also affected by the pandemic, routine shifts, and change.

Highly Sensitive People, (HSP) and Highly Sensitive Children, coined by Elaine Aron, are more sensitive than others and tend to be more affected by routine changes, as well as smells, fabrics, medications and anything else that can be classified as a sensitivity.

Reading Elaine Aron’s books about ‘Highly Sensitive People‘ and her book about ‘Highly Sensitive Children‘ helps with understanding how sensitivities can affect parenting and ourselves.

An Example

I have gmail accounts for different purposes; and this is a complication that can be frustrating to me.

That’s a frustration that I’ve been having at times, but not quite as often as I was, during the quarantining and trauma we’re experiencing during and through this pandemic.

If I log out of my gmail that is logged into one account, I have to take some steps to show gmail that ‘I’m really me’. This causes me to experience an amount of frustration.

The computer that I’m using is particularly impacting my level of frustration, regarding Google Suites and how it affects my MacBook Pro.

The computer example is that g-suites tends to take over and decide that the email owned by me, my place of work, or the place I work on a non-profit board, is my ‘primary email’. Every time that I fairly consistently use each.

What Can You Do

We are all living through this pandemic and have had some changes in our experiences in some ways.

As we work to stay healthy, emerge to experience those all important social connections, and continue to work, parent, and exist, there are some important things to remember.

Remember that we do not all have the same values, upbringings, or set of beliefs about health; whether that be mental, physical, or how we act during and post-pandemic.

It’s important to show respect to each other, and to recognize that each of us needs a level of respect as well.

If you ask an introvert who does not enjoy seeing people in person or interacting with others all that much what they have thought of the pandemic, you may get a very different answer than from someone who is quite social and enjoys moving around and changing their scenery.

As always, we remember the value of children and their own experiences which have been affected by the pandemic; what kind of changes that have been and are still being made to their daily lives and patterns; and their own tendencies to want to be around people or to leave their homes for activities.

I hope you, your family, and your loved ones work to recover from the changes we are continuing to experience, and I hope that you stay as healthy as you are able.

Mental Health: Everyone Makes Mistakes, Anxiety and ADHD

Remember the song from Sesame Street? (you may want to ask a parent if you are under 40)

“Everyone makes mistakes oh yes, they do…..

Your sister and your brother and your dad and mother too…

big people

small people

matter of fact, ALL People…”

well, you get the idea.

We all have a tendency to make mistakes. What we don’t all have the tendency to do, is to be aware of how to be tolerant of others when they make mistakes. Even more importantly, we have to learn to be tolerant of ourselves when WE make mistakes.

Maybe the song should have gone something like this:

“Please remember this when you type on your social media page

Or yell at your spouse

or your child

or….yourself”

I write a lot about leadership and how important it is to foster a trusting relationship. I write about encouraging questions and an environment of learning.

What I haven’t written as much about is how to be OK with our own errors, and to work through those anxious feelings when mistakes happen. For adults with ADHD tendencies, or diagnosed ADHD, those learned behaviors of feeling anxious about behaviors and actions can result in a whole lot of anxiety.

Ever think back on a social event and think ‘why did I say that?? I probably shouldn’t have. I wish I could go back in time and not say it’.

This rumination, or thinking about the same thing over and over again, is a huge part of attention differences. Anxiety co-occurs with ADHD with a really high frequency, and can have a real negative affect on social relationships, sleep, and our own self-talk and self-care.

I’m really fascinated by the ADHD brain.

The ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) brain is different from brains which may be more neurotypical.

ADHD isn’t really about not being able to pay attention.

It is a different wiring of the brain, which can be either over or under-stimulated.

Let’s take an example of someone who has been diagnosed with ADHD.

That person may be able to focus intently on a specific task at times (referred to as hyperfocusing), and struggle to give attention to something they need to focus on at others.

As a parent to a child with those behaviors, it may seem that the child focuses on what they like, or what they want to, but not on what they need to focus on, such as completing chores or schoolwork.

The parent may then experience frustration and express that to their child in a negative way, perhaps by using a loud voice.

The child may then become anxious and worried about forgetting tasks, which creates a cycle of lower success.

Here are a few things that can help a child who has an ADHD brain to have more success:

Provide structure. Have a routine of tasks that need to be completed. The child then has more predictability and may know ‘OK, after dinner I do my homework. After homework I take my bath and get ready for bed’

Another idea is to break tasks into smaller chunks instead of listing everything out at once. A child who hears ‘Take your shoes upstairs, then put these clean clothes away, then I need you to come back down to finish your homework’ may take their clothes upstairs, notice they left out their game from earlier, and begin playing it.

The caregiver may then become upset with the child for not listening, and the child may become more and more anxious as the parent gives them a list of tasks because of their fear of forgetting.

The ADHD brain fires differently, and as with all things, we are still learning about how this works.

I encourage you, as an adult reading this article who may have a brain with ADHD or attention differences, to continue to educate yourself about how your brain may work differently than someone who does not have attention differences.

I encourage you, as a parent who may be reading this who experiences frustration, to give your child structure and provide small chunks of instructions instead of lists of them. To say ‘I need you to go upstairs and do 2 things. Take your shoes up and put your clothes away.’

You have then told the child how many things to do (2), and what those two things are. The child has a better chance of remembering to complete them because they may have focused on the number of things to do, or they may have focused what their tasks are. Having listed both the number of items and the tasks help to increase their chances of completing the requested tasks.

I then encourage you to monitor your child for success. Encourage them to recognize that they did complete a task, and to know you are both seeking and expecting them to have success, and that you are seeking less frustration from both of you.

As you and they continue to make mistakes, as you and they both will, remember the song I referenced at the beginning of this article. In this time of COVID, we’re learning a little more about our own tendencies and our children’s as we spend more time interacting and learning new patterns and habits.

Everyone makes mistakes oh yes they do…..

Leadership: Using Empathy ‘I Hear You Saying You Are Frustrated’

So anyone who lives in the US (or really, in the world) knows that there has been a recent election in the US.

It was, or is, a very tight race, with lots of people voting for the candidates whom they feel best represent their interests, their level of comfort, and numerous other reasons that compel people to vote.

Record numbers of people have voted, which affects local races, the Senate, Congress, and the election for the next leader of our country.

As a leader, both in parenting my children and as a leader in my work environments, I tend to have a lot of opinions about characteristics of leaders and what I find useful in bringing out the work/change in others that we are working together to accomplish.

A story of when I was first hired to be a supervisor of staff:

I was 28, and my two children who were born on the same day were just about 1 years old. I had been providing mental health therapy to families who were involved with Child Protective Services, and had learned about a program called Healthy Families. A difference between Healthy Families and the work I had been doing was the timing of the intervention to assist kids who were at risk for being abused or neglected by their caregivers. The program is intended for families who have a certain level of assessed need.

Healthy Families targets families who are going to care for an infant, and has to begin within the first 3 months of the child’s life. The research has been pretty clear that children who receive prevention/protective services fare better in terms of lowering their likelihood of being abused of neglected compared to those families who do not receive that support. The criteria to qualify for services at the time period in which I was working was a pretty low amount of documented risk, and families chose to be a part of the program.

I was hired to supervise this program that was new to two of the counties in which I had been working. I was promoted from my position as home based therapist/caseworker, to Healthy Families Supervisor.

A few benefits to me were the following: I had a predictable time to finish work each day, which was generally before the day care my children attended closed; I was able to be a part of something which I truly believed in and wanted to support; and I could utilize my skills/training in mental health to supervise entry level staff. I went from being a peer to several other employees, to having no peers. I got to jump in and lead two staff who were fairly new to the company and learn with them how to implement the program. I was also able to retain just a few clients I had been meeting with for counseling and of course, continue to parent and lead my children to be functioning adults.

I noticed that utilizing empathy when a staff is feeling frustrated helped them to perform better.

If I had a staff who was stressed about trying to schedule the number of families that they were seeing, particularly taking into account the distance the families lived from each other, I could identify the emotion that the staff was feeling by naming it and then have a discussion with them about their interpretation of what could help.

Example: I hear that you are feeling frustrated about getting all of your families scheduled. It sounds like you are concerned about driving distances between each client, while you are also wanting to make sure to get them all scheduled. That must be stressful.

The above is an example of empathy. I’m verbalizing that I hear that they are frustrated, which they may have specifically stated, and I am summarizing what I am hearing that they are frustrated about. I am then stating the stress that I am interpreting that is causing them.

One difference that we have among us is that we tend to use different words to express our feelings. I might say frustrated, and the staff member may correct me and state they are not frustrated, they are irritated. Or angry, or sad about it.

Me naming the correct emotional label was less important than me indicating that I heard what they were saying, with an opportunity for them to correct me if needed.

Leading with empathy can be very effective in getting desired results both at work and in the home enviornment with parenting children.

With kids, I will give a different example, which involves my then 4 year old son.

He was hungry, or wanted to play something different, or had some sort of need.

I don’t remember specifically what we were having a disagreement about, but I do remember getting quite frustrated and raising my voice to a higher volume. I was repeating myself, and he was repeating himself, and we were not communicating well

He stopped and yelled my name:

Mom!! I get frustrated when you use that voice to yell at me!’

As you may be able to tell, he had spent four years of his life (so far) with a therapist for a mother. He wasn’t getting his needs met, which for arguments sake was a snack before dinner.

I wasn’t getting my need met, which was for him to accept that I had told him ‘no’ and to move on to something else

We both started using loud voices, which can be hard on our ears and unpleasant to hear.

When he yelled my name, I stopped and listened. He was able to express his feelings, and to name his own emotion. This story includes an ‘I-statement’ and it indicates that he was listening and hearing my loud voice.

As we all work toward having peaceful moments, I encourage you to think about how you can show empathy for others.

How can you, as someone who is hearing someone say something, indicate that you are hearing what they are saying and understand what they are saying about how they feel?

In graduate school, at the University of Cincinnati, we had a whole course on practicing reflective listening and using empathy. We practiced with each other, and it felt awkward at first.

As you are working to get your needs met and yourself heard, how do you respond when someone shows empathy to you? Do you feel more heard and listened to when the person you are speaking with names the feeling you have or reflects back what you have said?

I challenge you to work to increase the amount of empathy that you show. I encourage you to speak in ways that show the person you are talking with that you hear not just the words they are saying, but also the emotions behind it.

Phase 2, Coronavirus: Hitting our Stride and Moving Forward

We heard this spring that there may be a second wave of Coronavirus as people started to re-emerge from their homes.

Texas, which is a state with soooo many people, seems to be experiencing that at the moment.

There are a lot of debates and different opinions about why the numbers have gone up so much. There is certainly more testing than there was in March, that is clear. There are also more people who are younger contracting the virus than did initially. These younger people tend to be surviving the virus, which is a positive.

So some might ask: is it that older people are more likely to stay home and not be infected? Are young people more likely to go out in close proximity to others and catch it? Has the virus mutated and evolved to be less deadly than initially thought?

And then there is the mask controversy.

Some people, me included, have accepted that masks are a part of going out these days. Whether they protect you, or others from you, they certainly contain germs differently than not wearing a mask. Sneezing and coughing, once thought to be a part of life which could be allergies, getting over a cold, or any number of innocuous reasons, is now a part of a regime of questions you get if you go to a medical provider or appointment.

Others feel that masks are infringing on their rights. I have heard some state that they don’t believe that the Coronavirus is ‘real’. I’m not sure exactly what that means, other than that their opinion is that people’s cause of death is being attributed to the Coronavirus vs. some other reason.

Regardless of people’s opinions, people’s lives are directly affected.

Children have not been to organized school since March. They have spent time with their parents, or childcare providers, to a degree that they had not previously.

Each school system that I have read about, which includes the school systems near me (Allen ISD, McKinney ISD, and Frisco ISD, and those in Hamilton County, Indiana), have communicated that school will be held, but parents will have the choice of sending their children to school or having on-line school for their children.

This gives parents and children the ability to choose, which hopefully will reduce anxiety in children, parents and even teachers who may have smaller classrooms. I can remember after Noblesville had a school shooting in 2018, that many students were anxious about returning to school that next fall.

I had multiple parents talk with me about having their child go to online school. At that time, if a student did not attend school they could not play on a sports team. This caused a lot of stress to families who had a child who wanted to play sports but was feeling very anxious about attending school.

I’m glad that parents will have the choice whether to send their children to school or participate in online school. My guess is, many parents are hesitant to send their children to school for fear of their child contracting the Coronavirus.

For other parents, their children need to be in school, and their parents need for them to be in school.

I’ve noticed that there is a lot of variability in people’s nervousness/anxiety about contracting the virus. I think it would be interesting to know the health background of people who are more anxious vs. people who are less.

The fact that this has become a political issue seems very surprising to me.

For you, as you think about the number of people who have contracted the virus and your risk, what are some thoughts you have about how to stay safe?

What are things that are comforting to you, and what are some new restrictions that are frustrating to you and you do not find helpful?

How do you communicate to your friends and loved ones your level of need for protectiveness from contracting the virus and staying safe?

Are you someone who wants to support local businesses and tends to order carry-out food? Are you someone who is comfortable eating in a restaurant?

Have you widened your circle to beyond your house so that you can see friends and family?

I have many friends and family in Indiana, where the numbers appear to be going down, and I live in Texas, which is making national news for having higher numbers of people who have tested positive for the virus.

It is interesting to see, on social media and through talking with friends and family, the different responses that people have to the suggestions of masks and measures to take to stay safe.

I hope you stay safe today, and in the future.

Let’s Play ‘Family!’ I’ll be the Aunt: Leading Through Play and a Look at Generational Differences

Have you ever watched a group of children play together, as they organize themselves while they determine what to play and who plays what role? I’m pretty fascinated by group dynamics, and love to watch groups of people; adult, children, and in between; interact and make decisions.

We played a lot of kickball when I attended Jefferson Elementary School. For those familiar with Tipton, Indiana; Jefferson Elementary was initially named First Ward, and is was later torn down and re-built as the site of the C.W. Mount Center which houses the Boys and Girls Club.

It had a great playground behind the school, which included pavement for dodgeball, basketball, and 4square, and a grassy field for kickball with swings at the far end. There was a second grassy area on the other side of the pavement, where there were bars for gymnastic work or pull-ups, and a tether ball.

On days that we played kickball, we divided ourselves into two teams. The captains picked their teammates and we played during our recesses (of which we had two per day; one in the morning, and one directly after lunch).

I can remember learning to kick the ball away from 1st base toward 3rd base but not too close, as I was fairly small (as in slim and weak-ish) and not that great at kicking or fast at running. I would then book it as fast as I could around the bases trying not to get ‘out’.

We had ‘soak outs’, which occurs when the person fielding the ball throws it at you to get you out. We had to be continuously aware of a potential ball hitting us as we ran the bases. There was lots of trash talk, teams of kids yelling for their teammates to move up or back depending on the strength and speed of the kicker, and lots of fun was had overall, generally.

What I liked even better than kickball during recess was 4-Square. 4-Square (no, not the app), is played in a square which is divided into four equal squares (hence the name). The squares are labeled 1-4 and were located on the paved part of the playground. To play, the person in the number 1 square bounced the ball into one of the other squares, and the other player hit it back and bounced it into someone else’s square. This went on until the ball went out of the square or double bounced before someone was able to hit it back.

The skills needed to succeed at 4-Square included much less running and more hand-eye coordination and rhythm, which were more my speed. As long as you bounced the ball without error into someone else’s box, you stayed in the game and could eventually lead from the number 1 spot. This game probably helped prepare me for Volleyball and Tennis, which I played as a teenager.

These were child led activities, back in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Our playground had one recess attendant, who probably, if I were to guess, kept their eyes mostly on kids who tended to really struggle with following rules and left the rest of us alone. They watched for rule infringements and tried to keep warm on cold, winter, Indiana days. If you got into trouble at recess you had to stand against the wall, therefore incorporating shame in keeping the child away from interacting with others.

We played after school as well, particularly those of us who lived in town and didn’t have to rely on parents to drive us to a shared activity. Most of us had to go home when the church bells rang at 5pm. There were a couple of local churches with great yards, so we tended to congregate there if we played organized activities. I’m from a small town, and my elementary school was right in the heart of the town. A busy street (Jefferson St or Highway 28) was the boundary for our school, so we could get around on bikes or on foot without crossing busy streets fairly easily.

I love to play, even now, so recess and playing with friends was one of my favorite parts of the day.

I talked with one of my childhood friends recently, and we reminisced about different things we did during recess and hanging out as friends. We discussed how children of that time period had a lot of unstructured time. We led each other, and bullying was a term reserved for kids who were fairly abusive in their negotiating tactics. My guess is that the children who tended to bully were not treated as well at home as I would hope a child would be, and mimicked some interactions they had with some of their own family members.

My friend Cara and I spent a lot of time together, particularly during 4th and 5th grades, and remember how, as groups of kids, we negotiated for leadership in deciding what activity we did during recess. Some days we wanted to play as an organized group, and other days we played in smaller groups. As we talked, we shared some memories of playing together at recess, at each other’s houses, and after school.

The picture at the beginning of this article is of a group of us making a totem pole, which we frequently did at sleepovers. I am the one at the bottom, as I was relatively tall for my age compared to some others, and she is at the top. In between are our friends including her twin sister Sara, Wendy and Stacy. We are on Cara’s back porch, and their little brother is perfect porch height and grinning at being included. Cara and I look a little tired and cranky, so my guess is we were less enthusiastic about the totem pole picture than the other three, and especially Kurt.

Negotiating for who determined what we were playing, or who was the captain of kickball that day, or whether we played jumprope, tether ball, on the bars doing gymnastics, or whether we swung on the swings; depended on the day. All of us had friends that we were better or worse friends with, so allegiances changed as some of those friendships changed and evolved over weeks and months (or days…or hours).

Sometimes we played with boys and girls together, and sometimes we played more separately. All of us learned leadership skills, as we learned to coax our friends into playing what each of us wanted to each day, so we got better at bartering and bargaining for power and position. We recruited people to “be on our side”, which included things like “lets go for a bike ride first, then we can play SPUD” or “I want to play Chinese jump rope, so if you’ll play with me, we’ll do what you want later”.

To lead effectively, someone has to get people to follow. We have to motivate others and encourage them to do what we like, and be willing to speak up and not always get our own way. We learned to align with each other to get numbers, and we all had personal preferences of what games we liked the best as well as personal history of how we felt about leading and being led.

We weren’t led by adults, as the adults were there to monitor us for safety.

She remembers that sometimes the adult at the playground chose who was the captain for kickball. She’s naturally much more athletic than I was or am, and my guess is that she was chosen earlier in the school yard picking process and may even have been captain at some points.

I remember that it was a boy who was generally captain, or at least not me, and that boys were typically chosen first. Sometimes we (our group of friends who were girls) wanted to play, and sometimes we wouldn’t play because we got irritated at not being chosen as early. The boys who loved kickball the most recognized they needed to field the team, so they spent some time recruiting us on days when their numbers were low and they’d have to chase the ball as it went through holes in the field.

This was when Title IX was first starting, so we had ‘After School Sports’ for girls a couple of days a week, and of course had some really athletic girls.

I loved playing sports as a child and still love to be active. Gender roles were viewed a little differently during the late 70’s/80’s era than they are today. Kickball takes a lot of people, so sometimes we, as in my closer group of friends, negotiated whether or not we were willing to play that vs. something else that day. In terms of playground activities, girls tended to play all of the activities as I remember, and the boys tended to play kickball, dodgeball, swings, or basketball. I would say, at the time I went to elementary school, it was a little easier to be a girl who liked sports than a boy who did not.

I-Generation

I talked with one of my 22 year old sons today about how they choose teams for pick-up basketball. He also loves to play and be active, and frequently has a hand in organizing groups of people to interact physically.

He loves a pick-up basketball game, and we discussed how interactions frequently work with his friends.

With texting, checking in with a group of friends can be quite simple and easy. At one point, when he was in high school and early college, he had a group text specifically for getting together and playing basketball at a local court that had lights. I’m sure they discussed all kinds of things, but suddenly he would announce he was leaving, or planning to leave, based on a text he received due to wanting to play. They had to wait until enough people committed, so he’d be talking about it for a long time sometimes, and other times he didn’t mention going until the last minute.

I asked him today how they pick their teams, and he told me that they shoot the ball for being captain. Whoever makes the first two shots are the two captains. They always pick the Team Captains by merit, which is a definite change from the pattern of who picked teams for our kickball teams. My guess is each generation, mine being Generation X and him being a part of Generation Z or the iGeneration, has some norms when it comes to play, leadership, and organizing.

The Greatest Generation/Baby Boomers

My parents are right on the cusp at the end of The Greatest Generation and the beginning of Baby Boomers. I talked with them about their memories of playing with kids, particularly as it relates to leadership.

My dad’s recollection involves groups of kids playing sporting activities. He didn’t mention gender, but my guess is that, even though he had 4 sisters, these groups include mainly boys. He recalls that they got together and determined which groups would be fair for whatever activity they were doing. He is a leader, and remembers working to get the teams set up so that they would be fairly equal and be a competitive, or ‘good’ game. He recalls that he was motivated to play with friends he liked socially or possibly who he thought he would be more likely to win with.

My dad was pretty vertically challenged as a child, and he is also driven to win and succeed. He would have aligned himself with some players who were less vertically challenged would be my guess, while he was scrappy and tough, particularly with his verbal skills.

My mom remembers playing collaboratively. She did not have a memory of who was in charge, other than that her sister always wanted to be the ‘mom’ if they were to play house. She played hopscotch with her cousins, and remembers utilizing the sidewalk rectangles to create edges, and drawing lines to create triangles. My mom is not one to embrace conflict, and enjoys when others get along. She remembers the process of playing, not the conflict.

I find it interesting how kids figure out how to lead and to be led, even at young ages, and how these skills evolve over time.

Generation Alpha

I have an 8 year old niece, and my friend has a 10 year old niece. We discussed how their play works, from our perception, and who picks their activities.

The niece I’m referring to has been identified as having leadership skills (some might call her bossy) from a very young age. She is strong willed and knows her wants and needs. I was able to speak with her about the game of ‘Family’. We used to call it playing ‘House’.

She explained to me that her friends want her to be the mom, and sometimes it gets very confusing because there are lots of people who want to play, so they can create different families with friends, other families, cousins, etc.

I can remember that I never wanted to be the mom playing ‘House’, because I did not love to play that game and the mom has lots of responsibilities. I think I liked to be ‘sister’, or ‘Aunt’, but frequently had to play ‘Dad’, probably in part because I was relatively tall and someone had to play that role.

The dads, in our version of house, had fewer responsibilities. I enjoy a side conversation and do not always enjoy pretending. I can remember some strong feelings about who got to play each role and bartering and bargaining to play each as we determined our roles during our play..

My niece sighed as she stated that people always want her to be ‘mom’, and she did not have an answer for me when I asked her what they do when someone else wants to be mom as well. Her dad had previously told me that my niece is always the mom. It might be interesting to observe her with a group of like-minded leaders to see how that plays out.

I identify with my niece in many of her strong-willed ways, and she frequently likes to direct me as we play on FaceTime or in-person. If we were the same age, I can imagine both of us locking into position about which activity we wanted to do. I can imagine that we would cajole each other into playing our own versions, or type of games, or even what we were playing, so that we could both enjoy ourselves and influence the other.

My friend’s daughter tends to play collaboratively. She has some friends who try to pressure other kids into doing what they like, which is upsetting to her. When that occurs she may choose to play with someone else, or get upset about what she interprets as unfair due to her desires to play and get along. She works to find common ground with her friends so that they can all get their way. She is nearly 10, so puberty may change some of the ways that she and her friends play together in the coming years.

Leadership Roles

Children organize themselves into groups, and leaders emerge. Someone has the role of enforcing the rules, someone has a role of gathering people up to get a game organized, somebody or several somebodies want to be in charge, and some people want to be told what to do.

I have noticed, particularly during my 20 years of supervising staff (1998-2018), that people in general want to be led, and they want to be led well.

People tend to like clear rules and boundaries, and knowing clearly what the expectations are. Even people who do not like rules or consequences want to know what the rules are, so that they can determine if the rules are worth following or not.

There are people who have a natural inclination to lead, people who are experts at what they do, and those who can learn to lead. In my opinion, some lead more naturally and successfully than others, and enhancing skills through motivation and training can help most of us get better at anything we do.

In kids, we can watch them work things out through problem solving, ignore things they may not like, have side conversations and remarks that can turn into overthrowing the group, and observe adults intervening which sometimes is needed and sometimes complicates things further.

We can also watch children yell and scream and throw temper tantrums, and try to get their own way. Children are less refined than adults, due to fewer life experiences, but interact in ways to get their own needs met, as we all do.

We’re all just trying to get our needs met

So…I have mentioned in previous articles that I started supervising others when I was 28 years old. I began supervising staff just about 1 year after I gave birth to twins, so I was managing some staff, co-parenting two babies, and still figuring out life as a professional and emerging adult.

Leading doesn’t come from age. Just because someone has life experience or feels it is their turn to lead does not in and of itself give credibility to their leadership ability.

Along the same lines, just because someone is young and has fewer life experiences doesn’t mean that their leadership qualities lack or that their ideas don’t have merit.

Leadership doesn’t come just by having a position.

Effective leadership is encouraging others, motivating them, and accomplishing shared goals. A poor leader, who was put in a position of leadership that may not be a fit for them, may mistakenly think that intimidation, strict adherence to rules, and threats make people cooperate. While their result may be cooperation and an amount of success, this form of leadership may work for some and de-motivate others.

In Closing

As we think about qualities that we appreciate in leaders, I think it is important to think about how we teach our children as they are showing emerging signs of leading. Leadership can look like a child who doesn’t accept things as they are presented. They may be the child who says, ‘but what if we try it this way’, which can be frustrating, but also can result in some new ways of getting things done. It can be modeling appropriate behavior. It can be convincing their neighbor to come along and play.

As you think about qualities that you like about yourself, and the qualities that you appreciate in those you lead and those you are led by, what are some important qualities that you value? Do you value being told exactly what to do, and the security that comes with that? Do you value a general guideline with room for interpretation? Or somewhere in between?

When you think about how kids, of many different ages, have had a pandemic disrupt their activities, their schoolwork, and their daily interactions; some patterns of encouragement and attention for abilities and lack of abilities have certainly changed in the last couple of months.

A child who excels at sports may depend on that positive attention they get when they play and people watch them. This spring, that has been lacking.

A child who loves to sit and read may have had a great opportunity to do that during the last couple of months, and may have breathed a sigh of relief that activities were fewer.

A child who really struggles to sit still and stay on task may have a teacher who is very skilled at getting that child to cooperate, and a parent who is stressed and less tolerant of fidgeting. Or the opposite.

This has been an opportunity for all of us, at all ages, to sit back, re-evaluate, and establish new patterns whether we like them or not.

I encourage you, as you watch children around you lead and be led, and as you think about leaders you want to associate with and how you lead, to think about ways that are most productive.

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