Whether your child has returned back to the classroom, is learning virtually, or falls somewhere in between- there are undoubtedly challenges and stressors that are unique to this particular school year.
Since learning looks quite different this year- it is important that we look out for red flags which may indicate our children are having difficulty coping with all of this change.
Some red flags that may indicate your child is experiencing an increase in stress include:
regression in previously mastered skills
a reappearance of past (seemingly immature) coping strategies
decreased attention span
decreased frustration tolerance
increased attention seeking behaviors
changes in sleep patterns
changes in appetite
changes in continence (bed-wetting or daytime accidents)
You can try and help curb your child's stress by employing these simple communication strategies:
For children who can communicate effectively, ask specific questions when talking about their day.
Instead of "How was your day?" try "What was the weirdest thing about you day?" "What was the worst thing about school today?" "What was the best thing about school today?"
If your child is struggling but has trouble opening up, try a "quacking time."
Each person gets a turn to hold a little rubber duck and gripe ("quack") while others listen. (Could adapt this for any toy on hand. This can also be good for children who are prone to griping. Set a timer, take turns griping for a set amount of time, and then the griping is done.)
As parents, share your own experiences.
" I wore my mask during a long meeting today. How long did you wear your mask?" "My nose itched so much while I was wearing my mask!" "I wanted eat lunch in the kitchen with my co-workers today, but I had to sit away from them instead."
As often as possible, keep things simple and positive.
"Wearing a mask will help to keep us safe and healthy." "Washing our hands will help to keep us safe and healthy.
In addition to these helpful strategies- the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry compiled a list of helpful tips for communicating with your children about COVID-19.
While practicing open communication is critical for promoting healthy coping strategies for your child- it is equally important to modify your expectations as you help your child navigate these unusual times. It is imperative your expectations are aligned with your child's current skills and functional status. After all, the last thing you want to do is add more stress to your child by setting unattainable expectations.
For many of us- our first thoughts are about helping our children cope with the stressors in their lives. But- let's not forget, we must first help ourselves before we can truly be of help to others. So-make sure to check-in with yourself. How has your attention and frustration tolerance been? Have you had any changes to your sleep patterns or appetite? If your answers indicate that you too are struggling to adapt and cope with life stressors don't simply "power through it". Make sure to prioritize your own emotional health and well-being. Ask for help from your spouse, family, or friends. Plan time that is just for you and make an effort to engage in things that you find enjoyable and relaxing. Ensuring your health is the foundation to helping your child cope with COVID!