Helping children who want to go back to schoolPosted by Christine Sergiacomi on 4/27/2020
I think most of us saw this coming, but it’s still a little difficult to imagine that our kids won’t come back in the school building this school year. I know from talking to other parents, and from breaking the news to my own child, that a lot of our kids are heartbroken over the way this year has turned out.
In my opinion, the best way to describe what those kids are feeling is simply: grief. We most frequently associate grief with death, but it can really be used to describe any kind of significant loss. Our kids are grieving lots right now. They have lost daily contact with countless friends and grownups who love and care about them. They’ve lost a routine that they’ve gotten incredibly used to, which brings a sense of calm and familiarity. They’ve lost experiences, like field day, class picnics, yearbook signings, field trips, etc. They’ve lost rites of passage, like graduation for our 5th graders. They’ve lost closure on the year, and for our 5th graders they’ve lost closure on 6 years of their lives.
So I was thinking about how I would try to counsel a grieving child, and through that lense, I have a few suggestions about how we may be able to help our children who are feeling grief now:
- Don’t tell kids to “look on the bright side”: Telling kids to look at the bright side is absolutely well-intentioned, but it’s probably not extremely helpful in this moment. For them, there really isn’t a bright side. They need to be sad, and we need to let them be sad. If they cry, it’s okay. If they are angry, it’s okay. Our job is to help them express those feelings in healthy ways; not to make the feelings go away altogether.
- Don’t compare losses. In a pandemic where there’s so much loss of life, loss of jobs, loss of stability, it might seem logical to point out that what our kids have lost pales in comparison to people losing much more. While this is true, it’s a good rule of thumb that you can’t compare losses. If we make our kids feel like their loss is not important, then they may begin to feel guilty for being sad and they may stop sharing their feelings altogether.
- Do help them move their focus to happier times. So instead of telling them to look at the bright side or comparing their loss to someone else’s loss, help them focus energy on remembering happier times. While we are stuck at home, this is a great time to help your child organize some of those memories. Make a photo album or a scrapbook. Go through old schoolwork and create a memory box of things they want to hold onto. This helps acknowledge the loss while still redirecting energy towards something more positive.
- Do continue to offer them new experiences and expand their worldview (when we’re able)! There’s a theory that when we experience a major loss, we can picture it like this: Our lives are like a small cube. The loss is like a large ball inside that cube. At first, the loss consumes us. It takes over our whole lives, fills almost all of the cube and touches the cube on all sides. Over time, the ball never really gets smaller. The loss is never lessened, but if we continue living, creating new experiences for ourselves, that expands our cube, so the ball becomes proportionately, a smaller piece of our overall experience. If you think about grief like this, then we can help our children grieve by expanding their cubes. That’s really hard to do right now when we are all so limited in where we can go and who we can interact with. However, as restrictions begin to lift, it will become easier to help our children incorporate new experiences into their lives.
- Do create new traditions. One way to expand their metaphorical cube is to create new traditions when we lose the ability to participate in a ritual or rite of passage (like graduation, 5th grade dance, end of year picnics). I can’t begin to offer what that may look like, but I think it’s worthwhile to think about what traditions you can start within your family or (socially distanced) friends. How will you celebrate the end of the year in your house this year? Let your kids help you brainstorm some possible new traditions.
- Do find a way to say goodbye. Especially for our students leaving Sherwood next year, it’s really important to be able to say goodbye. Typically at the end of each school year, I see 5th graders running around school seeing each of their old teachers as a way to close out their time at Sherwood. Think about how you can do that this year. Could your child write letters to former teachers, send emails, make video messages? And if you’ve ever moved to a new home, you know that sometimes saying goodbye to a building is important too! Go take a picture of your child by the Sherwood Forest sign or the rock. If they want to say goodbye, let them do it. If they think you’re weird for suggesting it, then pretend I didn’t offer that idea!
- Do remind them of the legacy they leave. For our 5th graders in particular, all of them should have a rock that they painted in the rock “stream” courtyard between the 1st/3rd hall and the new building. Remind them that those rocks are a product of their imagination and personality, and that even after they leave Sherwood, their rocks are there to stay.
One last thing to remember. . .you know that moment when you’re a new parent and your baby rolls off your bed and you immediately assume you’ve done irreparable harm? They still turned out okay, right? They did; because kids are incredibly resilient. They are designed to be that way. This group of kids is going to gain strength and wisdom from this situation. They’ll be better citizens, parents, and leaders one day because of it. And I pity their future children who will never be able to complain about anything because of “that time the world closed down and I had to do the last 4 months of school from home with my parents”.
So let them grieve these losses that they’re feeling. Better times are ahead.
How parents can keep their sanity right nowPosted by Christine Sergiacomi on 4/3/2020
So we’re about 3 weeks into “social isolation”, and I’m willing to bet that most parents have lost their cool with their kids a few times. Face it, it’s hard to be a parent on a regular day. And we all know that these days are nowhere near “regular”. I may have lost my cool today because Zoom wasn’t working right, my 6 year old was doing cartwheels on my bed, my 3 year old was honking his new bike horn, my dog was barking at the aforementioned bike horn, and my husband was trying to be on a conference call for work all at the exact same moment. It happens to all of us.
However, we can’t let this situation get the best of us. The most important thing we can do right now is to love our kids and build up those relationships. (Even when it’s really hard and there’s a bike horn honking in your ear.) Our relationship with our kids is what’s going to sustain them and keep them feeling safe during what seems to be a very unsafe time. So here are a few tips for all of us to help keep our cool:
- Put yourself in time out: Do you ever wish that someone would give you a grown-up timeout? Like, go sit in your quiet room for 15 minutes? Funny how the things that we hate as kids are things we actually need as adults. So, give yourself some breaks every now and then. If this means that your kids get some extra screen time, it’s completely worth it in the long run.
- Sleep: Get an appropriate amount of sleep on a fairly regular schedule. We are our best selves when we are rested. If you are sleeping too much, you may just be catching up on years of lost sleep. . .or you may be starting to feel depressed. Keep that in check and if you do suspect you are depressed reach out to friends and family for help.
- Eat right: It is so tempting to snack all day and eat whatever your kids are eating, but continuing (or starting) good eating habits is extra important right now. We need healthy bodies to fight off sickness, and good nutrition keeps us from having those blood sugar highs and lows that can impact our mood. This also includes drinking plenty of water!
- Get outside and move: Fresh air, sunshine, and exercise work wonders for the happiness chemicals in our brains. Walk, hike, ride bikes, do yoga, play sports (without teammates of course) whatever makes your body happy.
- Recognize your own feelings: When you start to get stressed notice how your body feels. Do your muscles tense up? Head begins to hurt? Heart beats faster? When you feel this way, this should be a signal to you that you need a time out. Instead of letting the situation escalate, step away for a minute (however you can) and take some deep breaths to calm that overactive amygdala.
- Stay connected to other adults: Use technology to your benefit and stay connected with your friends. Talk to those friends who live far away that you never have time to talk to. Talk to your friends down the street too, from a safe distance or through technology.
- Consider the bar lowered: Things are nowhere near normal right now. Lower your bar some for yourself, and for your kids. They are stressed out and scared too. They are missing their friends too. They are going to misbehave. We are going to lose our cool. Give yourself, and those little people that you care for some extra grace.
I would be remiss if I didn't add this very important note: If you ever feel like you are losing your cool to the point where you may hurt your children, yourself, or anyone else, you NEED to reach out for help. Having those thoughts does not make you a bad person, but it does mean that you need HELP right away.
Tell another adult about what's happening, and then in Forsyth County you have several options including Behavioral Health Urgent Care 24/7 at 336-955-8430 or Novant Behavioral Health from 8:00am-11:00pm at 336-718-3550 for connection to assistance. If you don't get help right away, keep trying. I am not a mental health provider, but I can certainly assist in connecting you with resources if you need them. You can contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Motivating your kids during this long stretchPosted by Christine Sergiacomi on 3/24/2020
Practically overnight, parents have gained the new title of “homeschool coordinator”. As parents we are already responsible for getting our kids to do all kinds of things they might not want to do. . .eating vegetables, washing their hands, cleaning their room, putting on shoes (at least in my house). Now, you’re trying to navigate all of those things, plus helping your child with online learning, and (for many of us) working a full-time job as well. With that in mind, here are some tips for motivating your child to do their schoolwork, and maybe even their chores, at home.
Routine, routine, routine. It becomes easy to fall out of routine when we honestly have nowhere to be. By keeping some sort of routine, kids can see that there’s still a time for work and play each day. Let your child have input on developing your daily schedule. It gives them some control in an uncertain time, and they will usually buy into the schedule more if they were a part of creating it.
Find your child a “work friendly” space at home. This will look different in every house, but try to give your child some small area where they can keep all of their school supplies and where they have a table and chair for working each day. It becomes more inviting to do schoolwork when children have a dedicated spot of their own.
Let your children get bored sometimes. You are not the social director on a cruise ship. Giving kids some downtime to get a little “bored” will often make schoolwork or chores feel more appealing. Kids should never have a choice between excitement and schoolwork. Do you think they'll choose video games or schoolwork? It's a no brainer when you're 9 years old! Take away the exciting things until the schoolwork is done (or until it's break time).
Don’t expect children to work non-stop. The typical child’s attention span is 3-5 minutes per year of a child’s age. So an 8 year old, for example, shouldn’t be working more than 24-40 minutes without breaks. If your 8 year old struggles with attention issues, then they will be on the lower end of that range and will need breaks at least every 24 minutes. Asking your child to sit and work for stretches longer than that is going to be unproductive and frustrating for both of you.
Give kids movement breaks. There’s a reason that daily physical activity is mandated in public schools. When kids are getting too frustrated to keep working, or their attention span seems to be gone; encourage your kids to try movement breaks. Gonoodle is a great app that has tons of different short videos on it for kids to use as brain breaks. Some are movement focused, and others are more related to mindfulness. Most kids know about Gonoodle from their classroom already. In addition to these breaks, make the most of your outdoor space and get kids outside for breaks as well!
Praise kids efforts instead of achievement. Offer specific praise for how hard your child is working, or how they persevered on a certain activity. Linking praise to effort makes kids want to keep trying and shows them that the effort is the most important piece. Especially when your child is working on an area that is difficult for them, praise goes such a long way. Make them feel like a rock star!
If you’re into incentives, offer them now. Talk to your children about what they are willing to work for. It doesn’t have to be “stuff”; it can be a movie night at home, game night, choosing dinner for a week, etc. Then, make a contract with them where effort on schoolwork or chores leads to earning their incentive. Just remember that kids can’t wait too long for rewards; so incentives should be done over pretty short periods of time.
Don’t forget about other subjects! Some kids excel most in areas such as art, music, or PE. Give them time to do all of these things. Our wonderful specialists are providing lesson plans for kids to use during this time. All of these areas are great outlets for stress relief and they can keep your child feeling confident. Doing special work in these areas can also be used as incentive for getting their other subject work finished.
Specifically for chores. . .Make chore time more enjoyable. You can time your kids doing individual chores and see if they can beat their time from the day or week before. You can also play music during chore time and let kids pick the song that they want to be their clean up anthem. You can give kids a choice of chores by writing chores on popsicle sticks and having them pick one each day.Click here for a great article about chores! The article gives some really specific ways you can motivate your kids to help out at home.
And finally. . .Accept your limits: Everyone’s home life is going to look different during this time. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Stop going on facebook and reading the advice on all the amazing activities you should be doing with your children right now. Your job right now is to keep your kids safe and let them know that they are loved. Yes, keep them learning. Use the tips above to get them completing the work that their teachers are assigning. It is meaningful work. But if your child doesn’t learn to play a new instrument, build a model rocket, sew their own clothes, can their homemade jam, or (insert your lofty goal here). . .it’s going to be okay. We’re all going to be okay :)
Talking to your kids about COVID-19Posted by Christine Sergiacomi on 3/18/2020
Even just 3 days into school closings, everyone's world is upside down. If your family is like mine, by the time this thing is over, we will have watched Frozen II about a million times. And that's okay! Because, there are actually some really great messages in that movie. One of my personal favorites (even before this pandemic). . ."When one can't see the future, all one can do is the next right thing." These are unprecedented times, and the best we can do is take all of the information we have and just make the next best move.
I happen to believe that right now we need to make sure that our children are getting age-appropriate information about what's happening. Here are some online resources that may help you as you explain the unexplicable.Most of all, don't try to be a perfect parent right now. Homeschooling and working from home and caring for children while managing your own fears and anxiety is a really tall order for anyone. So what can we do now? Just control what you reasonably can, and most of all do the next right thing.