We’re currently three months into the new school year and it is evident that this has been yet another different year for parents, caregivers, educators and of course, children. The COVID pandemic is still going strong and there are many new protocols within schools that have been put in place to attempt to keep children and families safe. Although they are there to ensure safety, these changes and protocols can be scary and overwhelming for all involved. Let’s talk about some of these stressors and what parents, caregivers and educators can do to help.
Families had to make an often difficult choice between virtual learning and in person learning. Both have many pros and cons and can bring up anxiety for children and teens. These worries might be larger and more intense than past years because of the complexities of the current global pandemic.
Here are some common worries for children and teens returning to school that we have been seeing in our therapy sessions:
- The thought of sitting in a classroom can feel overwhelming after not being around many others for the past school year
- Having to wear masks all day
- The fear of COVID and/or getting sick
- Worrying that they don’t know enough because of the gaps in learning that happened during the lockdown
- Feeling worried about reconnecting to friends that they haven’t spoken to in a while due to being out of school and out of touch with others
- Communication can be overwhelming in general as we have been isolated during the past school year
- For those folks doing virtual learning, there’s worries about turning on their camera and gaining the confidence to participate virtually
- Worries about how to feel connection with teachers and fellow students in the virtual learning space
What can parents and caregivers do to help?
It’s really important, perhaps now more than ever, that parents and caregivers are listening to their children and teens and validating their emotions/worries. Here is a quote that may put things into perspective:
“Validating involves putting yourself in your loved one’s shoes and conveying understanding of their experience as they are experiencing it. This involves imagining what the situation must be like for them. It is important to accept, allow, and validate emotions that are different from what you expected or that are hard for you to understand.” Steps of Emotion Coaching – Emotion-Focused Family Therapy (emotionfocusedfamilytherapy.org)
To create connections and an open environment for sharing both the positive and the negative, Parents and caregivers can ask questions to their children and teens like:
- How is school going?
- What’s going well?
- What’s been hard for you?
You may also ask questions about what your child is worried about. It’s useful to explore worries in a curious way. Ask lots of questions and really try to understand what’s going on from your child or teens perspective. Here are some examples:
If you child or teen is having difficulty being around other people or connecting to others sometimes the best thing can be to help them gain exposure to being around others in a gentle way:
- Take them out for a hot chocolate and help them practice ordering
- Include them in grocery shopping and checking out with the cashier
- Set up a time to go for a walk outside with another family or friend
Providing education about COVID and mask wearing can sometimes be enough for an anxious mind that is worried about getting sick.
- Talk about what happens in your child or teen’s body when anxiety shows up- name and label those thoughts, emotions and body sensations
- Teach your child or teen about ways to breath to slow down their body (box breathing, paced breathing), or ways to ground when in class (drop anchor, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 game)- lots of short videos are available on Youtube of these strategies and then practice them together
Equally important is for parents and caregivers to recognize and validate their own worries and stressors about this school year, as the effects from this pandemic impact everyone. Do your own wellness check:
- Check in with your own stress level and notice if you’re feeling able to coach and support your child through their own worries.
- Reach out to your own support systems and have open discussions about the things you’re struggling with and that your child or teen is struggling with. Likely other people in your social circle are experiencing similar things. Giving and receiving support is invaluable. It helps us feel less alone and gives us a place to share our feelings.
Our clinicians are skilled and are happy to help if anything you have read here sounds familiar to you. Remember that we have ALL been struggling over the past 18 months. Asking for help is the first step in making positive changes and recovering from the stress of this difficult time.
By Paige Sparrow MSW,RSWLearn More
As many families are focussed on moving out of the pandemic uncertainty and are holding out strong hope for the return to “normal”, let’s take time to examine exactly what normal is, and whether or not we really want to return there anyway.
We can start by spending some time reflecting on the pandemic experience. From those first uncertain days of shock and denial, moving to some anger and sadness, and finally landing on acceptance, we all have travelled a sometimes bumpy road. No two journeys have been the same. What can we learn from all of this? Over 18 months of an unprecedented, unpredictable and unbelievable ride has to have taught us all some life lessons.
In no way do we need to diminish the tough stuff. We have gone through so much. These times have been (and still are) heavy. Don’t be afraid to sit with whatever emotion strikes you when you reflect on life since March, 2020. You may be thinking about the virus and it’s victims. You may be grieving losses. You may be mourning the loss of the life you had before this pandemic hit. You may be overwhelmed, confused and angry by the ever-changing rules and codes of conduct. All of that is ok. Lean into those emotions from time to time. Whether it means crying, journaling, venting with a friend, expressing your emotions through creative pursuits, or working up a sweat in the gym, please allow yourself to feel the feels. But once you allow yourself to “feel those feels”, think about giving yourself and your family the opportunity to reframe the pandemic as a positive.
Here are a few tips to get you started.
Identify the A-ha moments when you realized the way in which you were living and the choices you were making just didn’t fit for you anymore and were not really working for you or your family. For example, think about times when you felt relieved by the pandemic. You didn’t have to rush around from sport, to activity, to event, to a meeting. You could just exist, in your home, with your family, and slow the heck down. Did you have moments during the pandemic when you said to yourself: “I kinda like this pace”, or “I don’t miss going to…, or seeing…?” Ask yourself: are there priorities I had, obligations I maintained, relationships I held on to that are just not that important to me or my family any more?
Think about the teachable moments that occurred that allowed you to learn more about yourself, your family relationships and your connections. These moments could be as simple as learning you forgot how much you loved to cook, or knit, or read, or build things, to learning that your family benefits from scheduled time together to share a meal, play together, talk, or have family meetings to check in. Did these teachable moments actually help you focus on what you want for your family? Did you gain some clarity on personal and family values? Did you learn more about what each of your kids respond to? How did you re-discover the necessity of prioritizing yourself?
Engage in goal setting for the future, both for yourself and for your family. Now that you have gained some clarity about your wants and needs, ask yourself:
- What do I want to prioritize?
- What do I no longer need?
- Who do I want to spend my time with?
- How do I want to dole out my energy?
- What are my values?
This list of questions is by no means exhaustive! But once you are clear on the answers, you can work on creating concrete goals to hold yourself accountable and make these changes a reality.
Part of setting goals is making sure they are SMART:
Specific: you know exactly what needs to be done
Measurable: you are clear on how you will measure success
Attainable: it is something you can actually do within a reasonable time frame
Realistic: it can be achieved with the resources you have
Timely: it has a deadline for achievement
Here’s an example: I will commit to spending 20 minutes a day knitting so that I can make a sweater for myself by December 1.
Be kind to yourself! Identifying, clarifying and settling on new habits is not easy. The journey isn’t going to be perfect. However, let’s all agree that if nothing else, the pandemic has taught us that we need to adapt, foster resilience and be kind to ourselves each and every day.
Let’s commit to using the fall to identify what we have learned (and continue to learn) from the pandemic and figure out how we are going to apply these lessons to our families and our lives going forward. If you want to discuss these concepts further, learn more about yourself and what you want, and where you are going, reach out. We can help. Our therapists are wonderful listeners and are very skilled at asking the right questions to bring you clarity. And hey, maybe you’ll agree that this pandemic thing hasn’t been all bad!Learn More
Our ability to regulate ourselves as adults comes down to two basic, yet challenging, abilities: attention and emotion regulation. These abilities are less developed in children; so why is co-regulation so difficult for us parents?
When we talk about self-regulation, it speaks to our ability to manage our own emotions and thoughts. This regulation is not just about our own intentions. It is also influenced by many things around us including our families, friends, jobs or other environments we may have both negative and positive interactions.
Co-regulation means we are able to regulate our own emotions as parents. This allows us to model and reflect appropriate emotions to our children, encouraging them to explore their own feelings. Becoming a parent, however, can bring up a lot of new and old feelings that make it difficult to get on our child’s level. This is really normal. And when we notice these red flags, it can allow us to address those emotions and experiences, further showing our kids we can show up for ourselves and make changes too.
Coregulation can be age-specific, but the foundations are applicable for parents raising children at any age:
- Unconditional positive regard – regardless of your child’s age, warmth and responsiveness is key to providing and modelling a trusting relationship. This allows your child to recognize that in a time of need, their caregiver will commit to respectful communication and investment into the child’s interests and challenges. Essentially, unconditional love fosters long-standing commitment and understanding.
- Pave the path – our environment can be stressful, and so can our children’s. With a degree of structure and predictability, coregulation allows overwhelming stressors to take less of a toll on our children’s well-being. Feelings of authentic security provide our children with an understanding of the expectations of the parent-child relationship and its associated consequences. We as parents model what our children can expect from future relationships and how to connect with others.
- Modelling is key – this step is integral to how we approach coregulation. It goes without saying that leading the way gives children the opportunity for growth.
It is important to remember that children will make mistakes throughout the learning process, as will parents. If you are a parent that struggles with co-regulation, you’re not alone. This is a challenging experience in which we feel unprepared. Help is available if you aim to gain new skills to help you with self-regulation or co-regulation.
Our therapists are available to support you through this journey and are skilled in assisting individuals at their level of growth.
Murray, D. W., & Rosanbalm, K. (2017). Promoting Self-Regulation in Adolescents and Young Adults: A Practice Brief. OPRE Report 2015-82. Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation from https://fpg.unc.edu/sites/fpg.unc.edu/files/resources/reports-and-policy-briefs/Co-RegulationFromBirthThroughYoungAdulthood.pdfLearn More
Nobody Is Perfect. End. Of. Story.
So while you’re at it, abandon perfectionism. Be kind to yourself and your family. The house will be messy, people will have to be convinced to bathe, you will eat junk, those long-standing house jobs will not get completed as quickly as you envisioned, if not at all. That’s alright. Go back to the values. I can safely guess that NOBODY came up with “Do All The Things” as their top family value.
Start with today. Look at these tips and take one hour at a time. Take it slow. Be forgiving. You can have do-overs. Each day is it’s own. Motivation will go up and down, moods will set in, energy levels will fluctuate. Find what works and do more of it when you can. Do less of what doesn’t. Know that what works one day will not work on another.
Alternate between doing what works and pushing the comfort zone to try new things, ways of coping and communicating… and then give a high five, regardless of the outcome.
Remember: your family WILL come out of this stronger, more connected and victorious. Surviving will mean thriving.
Recognize that this is hard. These days may seem long. Making all the lists in the world does not help the work get done, the structure implemented and the values applied. Some days will just suck.
Moods, loneliness even when amongst the family, loss or reduction of connections with peers, sports, teachers, co-workers will take its toll. Recognize this and take a break. Pyjama days, Netflix marathons or extra screen time will be necessary. And that is ok. Fatigue will set in. Neither parents nor kids are required to be perfect. Just stop doing for a while.
These days are a gift (even though some days that feels like a stretch). Never before have we collectively had such a large chunk of time where we are ALL at home, without the normal day-to-day pressures being applied. It takes a while to get out of the achievement headspace (I MUST do something, I NEED to do this, I HAVE to get this done). Relax. Forgive yourself. We have NEVER BEEN THROUGH A PANDEMIC BEFORE! This is a choose your own adventure kind of thing!
Keep an eye out for emotions and talk about them. It will not be uncommon for many people (adults and kids alike) to feel sad, lonely, depressed and hopeless. This will happen, even in a house full of people who love us. Encourage connections with friends, co-workers and extended family. Ride the waves of emotions, and remember, that professional help is still out there, offered virtually.Learn More
Prioritize humour and fun. Does your family love to laugh? I mean REALLY laugh? What makes the family laugh? “Dad” jokes? That elusive TV show or comedy that everyone can agree on? When my children were little, they had a hard time understanding why other families do not have “dance parties” in their kitchens and living rooms. The ability to be silly and “dance like nobody (except your immediate family who will laugh until they cry at mom’s moves) is watching builds connection, self-esteem and even risk-taking in a safe environment.
Give everyone a chance to dictate how the fun is incorporated into the daily routine. For example, my family each gets time to be “the DJ” when we are listening to music (or dancing). You can also choose games, activities, crafts, etc. as a way to learn about what each of you finds fun while teaching that we need to respect that we are all different and that learning something new is a good thing.
There have been some really funny (and accurate) YouTube videos on “COVID Coping” that are family-friendly. Take a look and laugh at yourselves!Learn More