Lessons from the pandemic

Gavin Fish, Fish Hoek High School principal

There will be many lessons when, God willing, the universal threat of the global Covid-19 pandemic passes. Hopefully, it will make us more empathetic, more tolerant, more aware of our interdependence, less materialistic, more grateful for our health and more spiritual.

There are daily lessons as well, as we negotiate being in 24/7 contact with each other for these three weeks (at least.) We could quite possibly range in one household from over reacting to under reacting, from fearfully obsessing over the next news bulletin, to being nonchalant and glib of the threat. A recipe for friction.

As educators, we instinctively use everything that the school day and life throws at us, to educate. It is easier for us though as the pupils go home at the end of the day. When we are scratchy and irritable at home, at day’s end, it is that much more difficult.

One of the pieces of parental advice where I have been least successful, is knowing the difference between a reaction and a response. A reaction is typically off the cuff, without much thought, tense and aggressive a knee-jerk reaction.

A response is thought out, calm and non-threatening. It addresses real issues, not the first line emotional reaction. Reactions typically provoke more reactions. Man, is it hard to get it right!

“I told you so”, emphasis on “told”, and your teen will glaze over. Usually the event itself will be a lesson enough, don’t compound it when they are obviously angry with themselves.

“That’s what happens when you date a boy like him,”

“I told you to keep your cellphone on you at all times! Why don’t you just listen?”

“Don’t bother even talking to him, you know he won’t listen.”

Sympathise, empathise, but hold off on the advice until the emotions burn less brightly. Far more often than I am prepared to concede, my daughter knows exactly the lessons to be learnt, so I must just button up.

My son famously confided that although he responds poorly at the moment of confrontation, he does think through what has happened or what was said when he lies in bed at night.

I don’t think we will ever, or should ever, banish the reaction completely. There are times when our teens need to know exactly how we respond on an emotional level. Some of my best lessons have been learnt after a well-deserved barrage from my wife.