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
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
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