How to Acclimate and Digest the experiences and feelings of back to school.
I really feel for parents and children in these challenging times. Although my child is an adult, I was a single parent and had my share of stress but not during a pandemic. As an Occupational therapist, I wanted to offer tips for parents and children "to try on" navigating through the pandemic.
I can imagine that the change to “in person” school has brought relief, excitement, a semblance of normal and yet stress. Parents don’t actually know everyone’s vaccination status, and if teens use masks. Managing risks is magnified by sporting events, after school activities, invites for sleepovers, and birthday parties. Or, perhaps we are all so happy to be visiting and playing again, we forget to be concerned until we hear of a friend who has COVID.
To determine risk, consider this:
1) Is the event is indoors or outdoors?
2) What other activities are you attending that day?
3) How many people will be present and vaccination status?
Actions To Mitigate Risks
1) Keep steady routines for meals
2) Insist on family time
3) Spend lots of time in nature
4) Create in person family meetings to check in with your children
5) Do your best to not overschedule
Social Emotional/Mental Health issues, lost skills and families with special needs
1) Some children have lost social skills from virtual school
2) They may be more vulnerable to social- emotional stress and mental health issues.
3) Grasping that “in person” school is both exciting yet hard is overwhelming.
4) Behaviors of emotional outbursts, sleeplessness, withdrawal, high activity levels, defiance, depression, anxiety or difficulty self regulating may be exhibited.
5) Children may be uncomfortable to share their true feelings of sadness, anger or disappointment.
6) IEP's and class placements may be incorrect and need adjusting.
What’s a parent to do?
Pause above all else.
A suggestion for parents when children act out are upset, or things aren’t going their way, is to use the “Best Friend Response” technique by Jennifer Kolari. The parent makes a response with a short acknowledgement phrase “ that stinks” or “what a drag” which allows the child to feel heard, while looking the child in the eye and giving full attention to the interaction.
Parents also can try to live in the moment and accept it as it is, rather than what you wanted it to be. Give time to go walking and find your feet, breathe and enjoy the wind in your hair, as parents we don’t have control over everything. Try to find solace in the present moment and what is special about it.
1) Give children and teens chances to voice their feelings or gripes at dinnertime.
2) Families with multiple children can give space to take one child at a time out.
3) Avoid over scheduling children’s and parents time.
4) Kick back, cancels plans and do nothing together. Reduce running around.
5) Maintain some practice of relaxation, or having a 30 minute family yoga/ mindfulness night or quiet time – 15 minutes to read books, put phones away, sit together outside to laugh and enjoy each other for a quiet minute.
6) Get out in nature on weekends.
7) Invite children to do homework on the dining room table.
8) Create your own way for parents and kids to keep a connection.
9) Acknowledge kids resilience.
I used a family calendar and found laying out all the activities for everyone to see can decrease overwhelm. It gives a “visual” of concrete tasks to do for children experiencing anxiety about school and the future. Inviting teens and children to join you in meal prep, walking the dog or chores and shopping are small chunks of time to take advantage of to keep connecting and talk as schedules expand.
Acclimate and Digest
Consider this example to understand a strategy I call “acclimate and digest” that might help students, teachers and parents manage stress and take a pause.
Imagine sitting down to eat a meal and all your senses are assessing where you are in space and time, you are experiencing smells, visual stimuli and you are orientating yourself to eat noticing if your body feels hungry or full. Then you have an experience of all the sensations of the food and eating it. Maybe the food you ate met your expectations, was a big disappointment or even left you feeling sick or still hungry. After eating a big meal you pause to take a moment to let the food settle in while you assess what you will need to do next, before jumping up to the next activity.
Using this example, parents can try to visualize and understand what a big shift to “in person” school must be on your children’s senses, brain, and body and how the pause is a necessary natural event at home or school. This is to allow children and teens to take a few minutes to acclimate and digest these big feelings, expectations, losses and changes, that they may not have words to describe and are overwhelming as they are back at school. As parents, remember we also need to give time to pause, acclimate and digest new experiences to help manage stress for ourselves.
Barbara Neiman is the author of 2 Mindfulness books, The Adopted Teen Workbook, an Occupational Therapist and Coach. Find her on FB at Mindful Productivity for Professionals and Families. See more blogs at www.barbaraneiman.com