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Maintaining wellbeing when the world is topsy-turvy

Today was my first day of working from home, while attempting to engage my children in constructive learning. Within 10 minutes my younger child (5) declared home school over for the day and my older child (8) hadn’t even got out of bed. Frankly, I think they had the right idea!

Teachers in the ACT, NSW and Victoria are imploring parents and carers not to get overwhelmed with the learning tasks, but instead, in the words of the year 3 team at my children’s school,

“…take care of your child’s and your own mental health and wellbeing…”

Many families agree with this, but it is hard to turn off the worries and focus on wellbeing, particularly if juggling other responsibilities as well.

Parenting author and educator, Maggie Dent, posted a quote from Fred Rogers earlier this week. He is the man behind the popular American television series, Mr Rogers Neighbourhood, which was critically acclaimed for how it dealt with children’s emotional concerns. The quote spoke to the heart of my frustration – how do I provide a calm environment, focused on wellbeing, when my head is spinning and my usual supports are not available?

“At many times throughout their lives, children will feel the world has turned topsy-turvy. It is not the ever-present smile that will help them feel secure. It’s knowing that love can hold many feelings, including sadness, and that they can count on the people they love to be with them until the world turns right side up again.”

This is such an eloquent reminder that a family’s wellbeing is not about always being happy and smiling your way through cabin fever, anxiety and home school! Sometimes it is about showing your kids that you are struggling too, and letting them see you seek constructive ways to restore your wellbeing. Sometimes it is about saying it is ok, not to be ok.

What is wellbeing?

Wellbeing is a word that is thrown around a lot,but what does it actually mean? Only a few weeks ago the ACT Government released its own wellbeing framework, which identifies a series of indicators that will assist in measuring the wellbeing of people in the ACT.

Definitions of wellbeing are subjective and almost as diverse as we are. However, it can be useful to have a common language when we talk about wellbeing, so

finding a definition together, that suits your family, is a positive process in itself.

The ACT government did this through broad community consultation and found 12 aspects of life that give people the opportunity to “lead lives of personal and community value.”

At CS#1 we focus on those aspects of wellbeing we believe we can support people in, and so have defined wellbeing as,

“Individuals in the community enjoy physical and mental health, they have strong social connections, are able to participate in their community, and they feel safe.”

We strengthened this definition by articulating two cross-cutting themes; 1. Connection to environment and, 2. Spiritual beliefs.

Both of these definitions show that wellbeing is multifaceted. In our current situation, this is a great strength, because when one aspect is faltering, you can bolster another. This ability to compensate in one area when another is lacking is called resilience.

Achieving wellbeing is considerably easier when our context is stable and safe. However, in times like these, that disrupt many of our protective factors, more attention needs to be paid to those we can still maintain. This is where resilience kicks in.

 

When looking at resilience in children facing adversity, Daniel and Wassell identified three things that are essential for a strong foundation:

  1. A secure base and sound attachments with carers providing a sense of security
  2. Good self–esteem providing a sense of self–worth and of competence
  3. Self–efficacy or a sense of mastery and control, along with an understanding of personal strengths and limitations

 

An additional six domains enhance this foundation and act as protective factors: Secure base, education, friendships, talents and interests, positive values, and social competencies. It is important to note that

“…positive effects in one domain can spill over to another. The six domains are not independent and separate, but should be viewed as interactive and dynamic.” (Fostering Resilience)

Assessing strengths and vulnerabilities can enable you to focus on those domains that can bolster others, and identify those where more support may be needed.  This increases the protective factors that contribute to resilience.

 

Balancing your buckets

When reflecting on strengths and vulnerabilities in your own resilience, it may be useful to view them as buckets and assess which are empty or full. When one bucket is empty, there is usually another that can compensate. For example, if your ‘social connection’ bucket is depleted, perhaps you can pay more attention to your ‘talents and interests’ bucket by doing a backyard workout, painting, or holding a living room dance-a-thon.

As a family, having an age-appropriate conversation about wellbeing and resilience will demonstrate to your children that even when our smiles slip and the world is topsy-turvy, they are still safe. By being explicit about your own aspects of wellbeing, you can collectively find strategies to deal with the difficult feelings that are inevitable in times of crisis.

Measures to support your resilience and wellbeing are important, but it is not about making the difficult feelings disappear completely and plastering the smile back on our faces. It is more about giving ourselves the resources to sit with these feelings in a healthy way and to bolster those aspects of our wellbeing that act as protective factors.

 

 

Amalia Fawcett
Wellbeing Hub Manager
Community Services #1

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