By Shayna Mace
When the coronavirus pandemic started last spring, Emily Mazzulla said she felt “helpless” listening to the constant news updates about the virus. But then the clinical psychologist, clinical assistant professor of psychology at Marquette University (MU) and the MU Director of SWIM Collaboration and Innovation started thinking about how her training in resilience and trauma could help families deal with the topic in an approachable way. Enter her self-published kids book that came out this month, “School in the Time of the Coronavirus,” a warmly illustrated tome about Maria, an elementary school-aged girl who shares her concerns with her mother on going back to school during the pandemic.
“I was feeling like there was nothing I could do, but I had this idea of [using] my trauma and resilience work in a … useful way. So I thought, ‘OK, I can contribute in this way,’ and that felt satisfying — and that feeling of helplessness went away,” explains Mazzulla.
Mazzulla is also the mom of three young kids, so she felt a personal tie to the topic of going back to school during a pandemic.
“As a mom, I read a lot of children’s books and I find that they spark conversation in kids — [they’re] a safe, engaging way to talk about difficult topics,” she says. “I thought, hopefully [a book] will be a helpful way for kids and families to start these conversations.”
In addition to being a great read for families, Mazzulla worked in actual coping strategies for kids within the text — a purposeful choice.
“[The book] is really less about schools requiring masks, or if they’re virtual or in-person — but more about how to have these conversations with your kids, and, here are things that can start to build those resilience skills. Resilience is our ability to cope in stressful circumstances. The thing is, we can build resilience. We don’t want to wait for a tragedy to start to learn coping skills.”
The book is also thoughtful in the characters she chose.
“The story is about a little girl and her mom. My work with SWIM (an organization that builds a trauma-responsive community and heals trauma and promotes resilience) is with people who are oftentimes on the front lines or are essential workers. They might not be a two-person household, and childcare is an issue. So, this could be about a single mom, or the second parent is an essential worker and not home. I tried to pull from my own experience and the community I’m serving.”
Here are Mazzulla’s Resilience-Focused Coping Strategies:
- Validate your child’s experiences and emotions. Tell your child that is it okay to feel their feelings and that they are safe.
- No feelings last forever. Both challenging and pleasurable emotions come and go. Remind your children when they are feeling intensely that they won’t feel this way forever.
- Coping techniques that calm the body are helpful in most situations! Deep breathing, grounding with your five sense, relaxation, focusing on the present moment, and taking a break are few strategies that help settle the body.
- Distraction techniques such as laughter, exercise, talking with a loved one, reading, singing, dancing, or drawing help to take your child’s mind off the coronavirus and calms the body.
- Help your child that problems have solutions even if the solutions are not obvious. When reading a story or discussing a real-life event, talk to your child about how you and others solve problems. Solutions become clearer when the body is settled.
- Remind your child that they can do difficult things. take it one step at a time.
- Provide support. Let your child know that there are many people who care about them and will help if needed.
- Keep things in perspective. Even the most difficult times are temporary. Although we do not know exactly when or under what conditions, the impact of the virus will lessen, social distancing will end and you and your child will be able to live the life you value with those you care about.
- Model these skills for your child in your own life and be compassionate with yourself when you have setbacks.