During the COVID-19 pandemic, youth have faced new social dynamics, disruptions in education, and loss or family hardships. While it would be easy to write at length about how these situations make being a kid at this time in history difficult, there is also a break in the clouds when looking at what life skills youth are learning now.

As youth 4-H members prepared to return to some face-to-face programs, they were challenged to consider what life skills they are building. They identified personal safety, concern for others and leadership as three of many. This has happened as the three W’s — wear, wash and wait — and other practices have become commonplace.

Personal safety involves understanding physical and emotional safety and exhibiting self-protection.

Taking preventive measures to protect themselves and others, youth have learned valuable lessons about personal safety. Learning best practices for handwashing is an excellent example of how a skill learned and practiced in 2020 can lead to benefits for a lifetime, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a October 2020 video.

“Keeping hands clean is one of the effective ways to prevent the spread of many contagious illnesses, such as COVID-19 or the flu,” she said.

Personal safety is also practiced when youth apply information to situations.

Older youth could track spikes in local case numbers or learn about lowering the risk of spreading the disease by meeting outdoors, and choose to change how they spend time with friends by meeting virtually or choosing an outdoor activity to do together, rather than an indoor one.

Moving onto developing a concern for others, some youth have chosen to participate in community service projects during the pandemic.

For example, some with 4-H’s 40 Hours of Service program made hundreds of Valentine’s Day cards in 2021 to share with seniors in Caldwell County during a time when more medically vulnerable populations have reported feeling an increased sense of loneliness.

In order to not only participate in community service projects, but also encourage understanding in youth, parents or caring adults can ask questions such as, “What do you like about serving others?” or, “Why is it important to be mindful of their needs?”

Taking action by serving others can help youth cope with the dynamic world around them, and intentional conversations draw attention to the importance of being sensitive to others’ situations and their well-being.

Thinking about leadership as a life skill, sometimes being a leader is as simple as setting an example for others to follow.

When youth wear their masks, wash their hands well and often, and demonstrate self-control by waiting six feet apart from others, they are community leaders.

Many youth have grown used to the disappointment of cancelled plans and living in a world of restrictions. What youth may not notice is that learning to be flexible and making the most of plans, even as they change, is a leadership trait they can carry with them.

Life skills are often not developed without guidance from parents or caring adults. Teachers, mentors and parents who regularly interact with youth hold a power to prepare youth for the future hardships in their lives.

Caldwell County 4-H is a member agency of United Way, and it enthusiastically supports its partnerships. Learn more about 4-H opportunities online at caldwell.ces.ncsu.edu

Sarah Kocher is the 4-H youth development agent with Caldwell County Cooperative Extension. The Caldwell County Cooperative Extension Center, 120 Hospital Ave. NE #1 in Lenoir, provides access to resources of N.C. State University and N.C. A&T State University through educational programs and publications.

Sarah Kocher is the 4-H youth development agent with Caldwell County Cooperative Extension. The Caldwell County Cooperative Extension Center, 120 Hospital Ave. NE #1 in Lenoir, provides access to resources of N.C. State University and N.C. A&T State University through educational programs and publications.