Going back to school used to be a time most kids and parents looked forward to. There is the excitement of who your teacher will be, and which friends will be in your class. Maybe your child would have gotten a locker for the first time, or they could finally go off campus for lunch! But for many families, this school year brings more uncertainty and stress than ever before.
We have braved the challenges thrown at us so far, but with the uncertainty about school looming in our minds, it is easy to feel defeated before we even begin. As parents and caregivers, we are trying to process the challenges of COVID and prepare ourselves to be teachers again, all while helping our kids process the upheaval of their little worlds! It’s enough to drive even the sanest mad!
Despite all the challenges we face, this can prove to be a time of tremendous growth for our children and quite honestly for ourselves (Hebrews 12:11). As a counselor and a mom, I try to remind myself to do two things: be present and be honest. It might not sound very practical at first, but before you quit reading, hear me out! It is difficult as a parent to process the effects of COVID because it isn’t anything we have experienced before. Plus, we have the added pressure of helping our kids process something even we struggle with. But when we can be present with our kids and honest with them (and ourselves), we can build solid relationships that can endure all the uncertainty.
Meeting Our Kids’ Practical and Emotional Needs
Be present practically and personally. Being present means we are in tune with the physical and emotional needs of our family. I sat down with some kids in my family (elementary-high school graduates) to ask them what’s difficult for them during this time and what they would want their parents to know. The two things they talked about were practical needs and emotional needs. Here are three things that were common among all of them.
Be flexible. My high school basketball team’s motto was “Be flexible and you won’t get bent out of shape.” Our kids need us to be flexible with them. Nothing is the same, and our expectations will need to be adjusted. Our kids will feel the pressure of having to learn mostly on their own and rely on their teachers to answer their overwhelmed inboxes in time for them to complete the assignment due. They will feel the pressure from their studies, and they need us as their parents to be understanding and not add to the pressure they already feel.
Find resources. One thing all the kids had in common was they needed resources to supplement their online schooling. I know for me, I do NOT get Common Core! So, I thought, “I will just teach them my way!” However, my daughter was docked points if she did not show her work. What was helpful for her and the others is online “tutoring” videos. Kahn Academy is a great place to start as well as other YouTube video resources. None of the students I spoke with wanted their parents to do their work for them. Instead, they just wanted help to find resources. They wanted to take ownership, and they just needed a nudge!
Have compassion. One of the things I picked up from all of them was they needed understanding from their parents. A couple of them mentioned that online school was more work, and they struggled to complete their work and chores. It is good for them to be stretched and take responsibility, but they need a secure foundation to explore this new territory. That foundation is our relationship with them. The more we fuss at them – or make them feel like a failure – the more they will stop thriving.
Be honest with yourself and your children.
A Message to Mothers
I want to speak directly to other mothers for a moment. We are the thermometer in our homes. We all know the saying, “If mama ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy. If daddy ain’t happy ain’t nobody care!” Although I chuckle at that, there is some truth in it! More than likely, you will be responsible for helping your kids navigate these choppy waters. We must be in touch with our emotional gauges (James 1:26).
The ability to regulate our own emotions – and to name them – will be the most helpful tool for our kids to be able to do the same. If you have a moment of frustration, name it to tame it! For example: “I am sorry kids. I am feeling frustrated because this is new for me too, and I am having a difficult time figuring everything out. Can you forgive me?” One of the most powerful things you can do for your kids is asking for their forgiveness when you have sinned against them. Model a repentant heart. My mom did this my whole life, and I knew my mom not only loved me, but she respected me as a human being. The reality is we are all going to feel a wide range of emotions during this time, and we may hurt our children. We can’t simply ignore it. We must be honest.
Allow your kids to be honest with you. Ask them how they are doing and what they miss about school. Find out how you can best help them. Every child is different. Some are social, and some are homebodies. Some need a “school space,” and some do not care. Let them talk about what they miss, what they want, and how they feel with no judgment.
One of the fastest ways to shut your kids down is to judge them for being honest about their inner life (Col. 3:21). I’m not saying you have to agree with them, but we cannot help our children grown spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically if we do not know what is going on in their inner world. So, listen–without reprimand and with compassion. Connect then correct. Your kids will respond better if they feel they are understood.
Remember God’s Mercies
Being present and honest is hard work. There will be nailed it and failed it moments! It is okay if you are not perfect! In fact, your kids might be relieved! What matters is how you repair it! These are trying times, and it is easy to feel pushed to the max, but remember God’s mercies are new every morning. Through His Spirit, He will give us everything we need to be parents that love Him and love others (2 Peter 1:3).