I don’t know about you, but my social media feeds are full of kindergartners crying under the dining room table as they adjust to virtual school, masked high schoolers jumping for joy to be back with their friends, and everything in between.
Back-to-school can generate a wide range of emotions, even in the best of times. Going back in a pandemic amplifies it all and leaves most us feeling pretty out of control. Whatever your school situation is this year, you can lead your kids well. Here are a few ways to take back some peace despite all the chaos.
I’ve talked to many teachers who have expressed that their priority is that students feel safe for the first few weeks (or even months) of school. If kids don’t feel safe, they are not in the best position to learn. If teachers can lay aside focusing on academics for a period, we can too. Education is a long game that takes place over decades. A few months of a less than stellar school experience will not result in your kid living in a van down by the river.
Handle emotions well.
Your kids’ feelings are real. Our job is to help them learn to handle them. Learning to deal with disappointment, fear, or grief in a healthy way is a powerful life skill. Often we as parents are uncomfortable seeing our kids feel hard things, so we try to rush them through it. Instead, we need to equip them to handle their big feelings so they can not just survive this moment but grow into someone stronger on the other side.
- Don’t dismiss or minimize their emotions.
- Listen and empathize then move to help them face their fears or cope with their feelings of sadness, grief, or hopelessness.
- Share how you are feeling, “I’m sad too that you won’t be back in your classroom or that your soccer team isn’t playing” can help validate their feelings. Then you can model how you work through those feelings.
Empower them to do what they can.
This school year may feel totally out of your kids’ control. So allow them to control the things they can, which helps increase their feelings of safety. Letting them select their masks, lunch items, or when they’ll study after school are great places to start. If they’re going to school at home - let them set up their workspace and schedule.
Promote conversation, don’t interrogate.
Kids are more open to sharing if the focus is not on the conversation. Sit down and play legos, draw or take a walk. You’ll be surprised how much they’ll open up once the spotlight is not on them. Some of our best conversations have happened when we were not making eye contact, and there was a pile of legos in between us. When you are talking, stay away from questions that can be answered with one word (fine, yes, bad) and ask open-ended questions. As you ask, pay attention to how your kids are responding. Instead of asking, “how was your day?” try one of these:
- What surprised you today?
- What was the hardest thing you had to do today?
- High/Low: what was the best and worst part of the day?
- Tell me about your teacher!
- Where did you see God around you or in others today?
Don’t process every emotion you are having with your kid.
Are you feeling frustrated and ready to storm up to the school to give their teacher a piece of your mind? Phone a friend, and don’t share with your kid. If you want your kid to be devastated and heartbroken that school is different this year—talk about it. A lot. If instead, you’d like your student to make the most of this school year, vent with another adult.
Talk with your child’s teacher.
Teachers want your child to succeed. They’re also figuring it out. Give them some grace. Share your concerns. Also, generously share your encouragement.
Teach them to turn to God in the uncertainty.
Ultimately no self-help strategy can bring comfort like learning to trust God and surrender control. You can communicate that to your kids through your words and your actions. Help your kids figure out how to plan for one thing, while also understanding that plans may change. What a great life skill to learn at an early age. It’s OK to say, “I don’t know what will happen”, then move to what you do know. We can protect ourselves by washing our hands frequently. We can set up space in our home for you to do your schoolwork for as long as we’re doing school from home. But ultimately, God is the one taking care of us. Let’s talk to Him about how we’re feeling.
Regardless of how your child will be learning this year, this is not a lost year. While they may get less reading, writing, and math, they are learning some great real-life skills like flexibility and resiliency. They may build their courage muscles as they are faced with new challenges. This might even be the year they experience God in new ways as they learn to hand the uncertainty to him.
As I look over my life, so many of the really challenging and uncomfortable situations brought the most growth. God used those experiences to strengthen me. And He will do that for our kids too.