No matter what decision you make for your family, whether it’s following the school’s protocol or deciding to have your kids continue distance learning entirely this year, it’s essential to create a Structure for you and your family to follow. This could look like creating a weekly schedule for everybody in the house (mom, dad, kids, puppy, etc.) so that everyone knows who is accomplishing what and going where. Personally, I’m a big fan of color coding each person and having the kids help create the schedule for the week. This helps kids understand their responsibilities and know what to expect for their week as part of the family routine on Sunday. We know that structure and routines help reduce Anxiety – for us as adults and especially for our kids. Even more, when kids see that their parents are leading them through their Anxiety or unfamiliar situations, they feel more comfortable in their day to day lives and we see a reduction in their distress. If you are wanting to implement a structure or routine that is different from how your summer has looked, get started with this towards in the coming weeks before school to familiarize you and your family with the new routine before the official 1st Day of School. As parents, when we are familiar with our own plan of leading our kids, we have the opportunity to lead with confidence.
A common concern I’ve heard from parents prepping for this school year is that their child will “fall behind” academically this year. I want to caution you in using this messaging with yourselves, and especially in front of your kids. Our kids may interpret our words to internalize a message that is different from our intent. Rather than hearing concern for how they will continue their education they may hear, “I don’t believe you can be successful in this challenge.” My encouragement to you is to carefully consider how you message your thoughts about school to your kids. You may also find yourselves more inclined to check your student’s school portal repetitively throughout the day and week this year. Remember – your child’s academic success is their responsibility, not yours. Your role is to provide a supportive structure for them to do that academic work within. If your kids are finding distanced learning days difficult, here’s a resource for Preschool-12th Grade they may find helpful: www.wideopenschool.org. Challenge yourselves, and your kids, to find a structured, “School Free Time,” in your days that your family is not talking about school and instead focusing on other life-giving areas of your lives.
Check-in with your kids. Not just once or twice. Continually check in with your kids, starting today, on how they are feeling about the school year. Validate their emotions and experiences. Like I said above, every single emotion is valid. Our kids are experiencing their own frustrations, grief and loss of a normal school year and activities, confusion about how to change the way they’ve learned to do school, and much more. Figure out ways with your kids that they can move through those emotions so that they don’t stay bottled up – maybe it’s through talking it out together, journaling, going for a walk, or playing with the dog outside. Sometimes I hear from parents that their kids don’t want to talk to them and why continue to try; their kids will shrug their shoulders, ignore making eye contact, or let out a massive sigh and eye roll to the remote idea of speaking to their parents. I get it – and – your kids do want to talk to you. Invite them into a safe space for conversation – without judgement – to hear and understand their perspective. If they say no, that’s okay, respect their boundary and continue to offer the invitation later on. The purpose is to let your kids know that you will continue to be a safe space for them if and when they are ready.
This year, more than ever, take it day by day. Keeping your focus small on the day to day tasks can help keep our stressors manageable. Our Anxiety likes to tell us to worry and fear the future. Remember that although each day brings the future closer to us, we can control what is directly in front of us (Today) and we cannot control what the future holds for us. When we think about how we will have to do this new and unfamiliar routine for the next nine months, we can quickly overwhelm ourselves and it isn’t helpful. Try to keep your focus on what is within your control in the here and now.
Lastly, if you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed, don’t stay in that place for long. Reach out for support and connection with others. Myself and my colleagues, would be happy to help support your family in this new, strange season of life. You got this. You can do this.