The tension last spring was palpable. Parents all over the world were trying to navigate a mind-numbing array of online tools, apps, video-conferencing platforms, e-books, and free software. Schools were trying, on a space-race era timeline, to provide the best instruction they could in the face of a pandemic. Students were quickly and unceremoniously yanked from daily routines and told to quickly move to their dining room tables and log in to Zoom.
Seven months later, as we proceed through the second quarter of the 2020-2021 school year, we are still navigating new waters. We are all grappling with, and grieving for, the changes we have been forced to endure over the past seven months. None of this is easy. The good news is that research shows that adversity, framed in a supportive way, can actually increase resilience and grit in children. Like a muscle, our brain can change and grow and develop muscle memory for coping with adversity. You grow by doing, and if you apply the right resources at the optimal time you will literally build resilience. How do you build resilience? By being resilient.
“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”
RESOURCES FOR HELPING OUR CHILDREN THRIVE DURING COVID-19:
IT’S OKAY TO TALK ABOUT IT.
It’s okay to prompt a conversation with your child about the virus and how it has impacted their lives. Ask your child if they have any questions or thoughts about COVID-19, and/or how it affects returning to school.
LET YOUR CHILD KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT.
Refer to our CHC Return to Campus Plan, and outline as much of their specific daily routine as possible, especially for our children just starting out (Prekindergarten-Grade 1). Make sure to highlight mitigation strategies the School is utilizing to ensure their safety. It is also a great opportunity to review what measures your family has put in place, as well as to keep everyone safe at home. Because our kids are comforted by routine and predictability, having a conversation on what to expect is very important.
LISTEN TO FEARS/CONCERNS.
It is important to ask our children if they have specific concerns. Through listening and discussion, together you may be able to come up with a strategy to alleviate those concerns. Be sure to check in with your child as needed. Validate emotions and let them know how they are feeling is okay. Modeling good coping behaviors such as eating healthy meals, getting adequate rest, exercising, discussing emotions and enjoying the fresh air goes a long way in maintaining a positive socioemotional wellbeing. It is also a great time to start practicing mindfulness strategies at home, such as deep breathing or carving out time daily to share what you are grateful for. Students loved practicing gratitude during remote learning! What a great way to start (or end) the day!
KEEP YOUR CHILD INFORMED.
When our children have an incomplete picture of COVID-19, it may create unease. This is your opportunity to clear up misinformation with an honest age-appropriate conversation.
PUT THEM TO WORK!
Many things may seem out of our control right now. This may lead to some feelings of helplessness. It is important to keep our children focused on actions they are empowered to take, such as being vigilant about handwashing, practicing social distancing, wearing face coverings, and following school/community rules put in place to keep our community safe. This also gives us a great opportunity to either implement some rituals, or keep existing ones going. So, if it is your practice to read together before bed, or discuss what you are grateful for over breakfast, renewing your commitment to these customs gives our kids a dependable, comforting treat they can rely on.
Build flexibility into your day in an intentional way. School should bring normalcy to them—it should not be stressful. Teachers should have expectations and structure because both of those are healthy—but they should expect that some students will fall short. This is okay. When we teach students in stressful times we need to expect that their behaviors may not match that of normal times. Rigidity in the face of this invisible enemy is a fruitless, and possibly damaging, endeavor. We risk damaging attitudes toward school and relationships between the students and their trusted adults.
PRACTICE SELF CARE.
Self care allows you to handle the more challenging moments of parenting more effectively, with patience and energy. Allowing yourself some “me time” to exercise, take a bath, or connect with friends is not selfish. If you already practice self care, keep making it a priority. If you are lacking self care, look at your daily routine and see how you can schedule some time for yourself.
LIMIT EXPOSURE TO TELEVISION AND NEWS.
According to CHKD, the amount of exposure or “dose” of an event that a child is exposed to can determine how the child is affected. Make sure the child is getting fact-based information about COVID-19. Shield them from graphic media or startling stories. Process your own fears and worries with other adults.
As school counselors, we are tasked with looking at the big picture—to widen the aperture so that we can see all of the layers that make a child who they are. Behaviors aren’t an accident. We know from early childhood education research that behavior is a language and it is always trying to tell us something. This pandemic has brought our empathic natures to a peak; we lose sleep thinking of the ways in which the mental health of our students is being tested during this time. How do we both educate our children and protect them from the risks of anxiety, depression, and school burnout? Empathy clashes with pragmatism—are we doing the right thing? Is it safer to be out of school right now for children at large? What about the health of teachers and staff? Are we sacrificing the mental health of one generation to protect the physical health of another? All of these questions can test our patience and anxiety limits.
Protective factors, the elements in a human’s life that keep them mentally well, are often housed in schools. Positive friends, positive adults, education, health care, physical activity, opportunities for showing gratitude/philanthropy, routine, movement, and socialization are all found in the hallways of Cape Henry. Moreover, success in school is a value held by most parents. From a mental health standpoint, we are very happy that the Cape Henry Collegiate community has prioritized in- person academics and has started to introduce athletics. We are learning to sail in this storm, but we are doing it with the mental health and wellness of our students as our top priority.