What Do Tigers, Meerkats, and Owls Have to Do with Coronavirus?

What do tigers, meerkats, and owls have to do with the Coronavirus?

Any experience that leaves you feeling scared, worried, and uncertain creates an involuntary stress response in your body. This means that despite logic, reason, and good coping skills, some of the reactions we have in times of crisis are largely out of our control.

Why does this happen?

Here is an easy way to understand the stress response and something you can teach to your students.

First, imagine that three animals live in your body. We all (at every age) have an imaginary meerkat, tiger, and owl living inside of us.

If you have ever seen a meerkat, you know that they have very large eyes and usually stand up on their hind legs. When meerkats sense danger they alert their pack by letting out a very loud screeching sound. Meerkats are like smoke detectors. The meerkat inside of us rules the stress response by directing the other two animals inside of us how to respond, depending upon the current level of stress.

When everything is calm, safe, and there is no danger, the meerkat tells the tiger to do what they do best – sleep, eat, and interact with their tiger friends. When everything is calm, safe, and there is no danger, the meerkat tells the owl to do what they do best – solve problems, read, learn, and make wise decisions. But, when things are not calm, safe, and there is potential danger or crisis, the meerkat tells the tiger to get ready to fight. And, the meerkat tells the owl that he better fly away fast to stay safe!

Make sense?

In the past weeks, maybe you have noticed your meerkat being more on alert? No doubt, the pandemic has made our meerkats more sensitive to worry, fear, and uncertainty.  Our tigers may be having trouble sleeping, eating, and getting along with others. Your tiger may be more irritable and argumentative than usual. That is likely because the meerkat is telling the tiger to be ready to survive.

What about your owl? If your owl has flown away you may be finding it hard to concentrate right now and to trust logic and reason. Despite hearing from others that the pandemic will not last forever, it might be hard to really believe things will ever go back to normal.

So how can use tigers, meerkats, and owls to help our kids? Use this script and worksheet to help them express the animals inside them:

Watch me explain the animals inside all of us in Children of Trauma and Resilience:

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Dr. Caelan Soma

By Dr. Caelan Soma, PsyD, LMSW

Dr. Caelan Soma, PsyD, LMSW, Chief Clinical Officer, provides oversight for all clinical operations and research at Starr Commonwealth. Dr. Soma provides trauma assessment and trauma informed, resilience focused intervention for youth utilizing evidence-based practices, including TLC’s SITCAP® model programs.


About Starr Commonwealth

Starr Commonwealth is dedicated to the mission to lead with courage to create positive experiences so that all children, families, and communities flourish. We specialize in residential, community-based, educational, and professional training programs that build on the strengths of children, adults, and families in communities around the world. To schedule a training or consultation, please contact info@starr.org or call 800-837-5591.