Everyone is talking about what it will look like as children go back to school. We all have different concerns; for the kids who are going back into school buildings, and for those who will be attending entirely virtual. We understand the arguments on both sides, and this post will not address the pros and cons of each model. Those decisions, for the most part have already been made, so now we turn our attention to helping parents and kids plan for what another new normal will look like in the fall.
No matter which model your child’s school has adopted, the most important thing you can do to help your kids is to BE HONEST. If things will be different, tell them. If there are things you don’t know, tell them. If you do know specifics of what the days will look like, tell them. Part of being honest addresses a recommendation from a previous post about forecasting, which allows children time to process their thoughts and feelings about some of the changes that are coming their way. But honesty also helps align you with your child. Regardless of the school plan, you and your child will be a team over the next few months, and there’s no worse feeling than finding out your teammate was dishonest or knew something and didn’t tell you. Kids are resilient. They can handle it; many times better than we can. While we want to make sure we’re not giving them adult information, we do need them to understand fully what is going on and that we will give them as much information as we can to help them feel safe and supported.
Now for the specifics….
- Have a schedule
We all know that we all do better when we have a schedule so we know what is planned and can prepare ourselves for the day ahead. Attending school in a building creates this schedule automatically, but without having to go to the building, developing a schedule may be trickier. Some schools are also requiring a more structured framework for logging on and being available for teachers, which may also help outline what a typical day might look like. Whether you use schedules from others, or have to create your own, it should be explained and processed with your student, and consider giving them some input on what their day might look like. While you don’t have to yell every time you deviate a few minutes from the proposed schedule, it will help you and your child to know what time you’ll wake them up, eat breakfast, work on math, have breaks, and end your day.
2. Start moving toward your schedule now
Many aspects of your new schedule won’t be available for another couple weeks, but it’s important that you start transitioning some summer habits to make entering the school year a little easier. This mainly applies to bed times and wake times. It’s perfectly normal for children to stay up later in the summer, but they may require a week or more of moving that bedtime up before they’re able to fall asleep with ease. The same is true for waking up, because for many kids, they will not be able to sleep until noon and still meet the requirements for virtual learning. If there are other aspects of the schedule you’ve put together that you know will cause your child to struggle, then start introducing small bits of those activities now. This will give you time to work through the attitudes or meltdowns before they’re required to be online.
3. Have a designated workspace
This may be easier said than done for some families. Not everyone has space in their homes for schooling, especially if you have multiple children who all need their own private corner. It’s not as important that the space is large or fancy or special. It’s more important that the space is consistent – this is where you do your work. This can be on the floor with or without a TV tray, at a desk, or the kitchen table. Try to avoid having the space be in a bed or another place kids sleep, which makes it harder to be productive. Look for a space that kids can leave when the school day is done, to give some separation between school and home. Having a specific start and end time in the space can help them leave school and reenter family/home time.
4. Give outdoor time and physical activity
We preach regularly to avoid taking recess away from kids, no matter what. This same principle is true with virtual learning. It’s unclear how gym class and recess might be facilitated virtually, but as a parent, make sure your kids are getting plenty of physical activity, no matter their age. This may get harder as the weather changes, but there are lots of creative ideas you can implement in your own home to get kids exercise. Physical activity is important for all kids, but particularly for those who struggle to regulate their bodies and emotions. Look for signs that your child is becoming ‘wired’ and then suggest they stop work and get moving. Activities that cross the midline of the body help a lot with regulation and calming, and most of them can be done without much space or equipment.
5. 1st mental health; then academics
The mental health of our kids needs to remain our first goal and concern, because no learning can happen if they’re not settled, calm, safe, and secure. Many schools have identified this their main focus as kids return to school, and we have worked with many of them to establish new ways to interact with and relate to kids in ways that help them feel supported during this strange time. Kids who struggle with depression, anxiety, behavior problems, self-harming, or any other mental health concern may need more time to complete their work, more breaks throughout the day, fewer assignments per day, etc. Advocate for your child with school personnel, ask for help when they need it, and reach out to a professional if it feels like more than you can manage.
6. Be prepared for trouble if they struggle
Most kids have certain academic activities that are extra difficult for them, most aren’t good at everything (even though we like to think they are). In school, difficult subjects are more easily navigated, because of the atmosphere, group instruction, and the distanced relationships often present. It is completely normal for kids to have much better behavior at school than they do at home – always. Home is their safe place. You are their safe person. This means you get all of their junk! We do the same thing as adults. I can have a terrible day at work but hold it together with coworkers, but then I come home and am terrible to my family, because they’re safe. As kids struggle to learn new concepts and complete assignments in areas they are not good at, their behavior will likely become more and more difficult. This is normal, and should be expected. Show understanding, validate their feelings, encourage them, and continue to provide safety.
7. Don’t sacrifice your relationship
Since kids went home in March because of COVID, we have worked with many parents struggling with virtual learning. Our overall message has always been: Don’t sacrifice your relationship with your child for math/reading, etc. This may be an unpopular statement for some parents and teachers, but your relationship with your children will remain long after this pandemic is over, and it’s not worth risking the attunement and closeness with your child to make sure they learn how to do subtraction. These are uncharted waters, and no one knows exactly how this is going to go. As virtual learning continues, kids may become more and more overwhelmed the longer it goes on, beginning to show the effects of the loss of socialization, learning in different environments, and spending so much time with family. It’s ok. There will be days when either you or your child just don’t have the resources to sit on the computer for 5 hours. We as parents need to expect this and plan for it, understanding that one bad day will not destroy their chances of getting into college, and we can simply start again the next day.
8. Give yourself grace
This is probably the most important recommendation! As difficult as this is for our kids, it’s equally as difficult for many parents. This is particularly true for parents who have their own mental health needs, struggle with certain academic areas, are working full-time, or have other life stressors zapping their resources. None of us knows what we’re doing with this situation, and most of us are not teachers by profession. We’re all doing the best we can! As parents, we want our kid to have every advantage and to make sure they’re keeping up with other kids their age. We somehow have convinced ourselves that it says something about us as parents if our child struggles in math or fights with us to finish the 20 minutes of reading assigned each night. Real talk: It doesn’t! We are all coming to the understanding that each family is doing what they believe to be best for them, and some days, we are simply trying to survive. We will get through this, and you are doing a great job!
We’re Here to help!
At PSG, we have trained therapists to help you manage during this difficult time. Whether you need a space to process your own thoughts and feelings, or your child needs additional support as they try to work through all the recent changes, we’re here to help!
Ready to take the next step? Request an appointment