And What Parents Can Do About It.
Yep, school is tough this year. We all thought things would get back to normal, but that didn’t happen. Whether your kids are struggling academically, socially, or emotionally, you are feeling stressed. Let’s take a look at why this is a tough year and how you can help your kids to cope.
1. Third Year Of Covid
Probably the biggest reason school is tough this year is because this is the third school year impacted by Covid 19. Two years ago, the school year was cut short and students were sent home in March to finish out their learning. Parents and kids were thrown into Distance Learning. Many students struggled to find a routine that worked for them and kept them on a path for success. Parents spent hours trying to juggle work, home life, school assignments and Covid.
Since that first year of Covid, we had one full year of Distance Learning and some in-person learning. That was also not ideal for all students. Now we get to the 21-22 school year. Most of us hoped this year would be a “return to normal” but that hasn’t happened. Yes, most students are in the classrooms, but Covid still affects their ability to feel like school is “normal.” Teachers and kids are masked, everyone is nervous about spreading the sickness, and anxiety is through the roof. It’s no wonder the school year seems tough.
2. Our Kids Lack School Skills
Another reason for struggle this year is that our kids are out of practice. They have forgotten how to function through a regular school day/week. Or maybe they never learned it. If your child is in Kindergarten, First or Second grade, they have never experienced a normal school year. They lack the ability to focus and attend to school tasks for up to six hours a day. During Distance Learning, kids had the freedom to move around your home, get up for a snack, or take a break for some exercise. School is much more structured.
I compare it to when you pick up your kids after they have spent time with their grandparents. There is often an adjustment back to the routine and schedule of family life. The kids may be emotional and irritable. But after a while they adjust.
3. Can’t Handle The Rigor
Thirdly, students may be having a tough time because the learning is difficult. Some students didn’t make good academic progress during the past two school years. Their skill level may be well below what is expected in their current grade level. Teachers will need to adjust, but students are still being asked to work hard to catch up. The demands of intense learning are exhausting. Your kids may be worn out from the rigor of a hard day at school.
Think of the days you have come home from a hard day at your job. You aren’t at your best on those evenings. Your kids are feeling the same way. It may be time to adjust your expectations of them for after school and evenings.
4. Tired Of Covid
The fourth reason school is tough is that your kids are dealing with all this Covid stuff too! The masking, testing, contact tracing and quarantines that are driving you crazy affect your kids as well. Kids respond in different ways to this stress. Some of them try to ignore it and hope it will go away. Other kids embrace all the worries and concerns that are shared. Each of these responses can cause kids to feel anxious, afraid and unsettled.
Kids are trying to get back to school in a normal way, but their feelings are getting in the way. They may not even realize how this is affecting them. Your child who used to breeze through school work and had success in school, may now be struggling to keep up. Your child who always had to work hard to stay ahead in school, may now be so far behind they don’t know how to catch up. Our kids are hurting and we need to help them.
5. Friendship Issues
In addition to stress and anxiety about academics, our kids are feeling uncertain about their social life as well. Friendship changed over the past three school years. The first year our kids lost touch with their friends. Relationships went virtual and some of them died. Our youngest kids never got a chance to develop in-person peer relationships with their classmates.
Kids need time to relearn how to be friends, how to be kind, compassionate and caring with each other. They need to learn how to accept differences of opinions and still remain friends. School is tough, but having friendship issues is much tougher for kids. Are you helping your kids navigate their peer relationships?
6. Life Is Tough For Everyone
Finally, school is tough this year for kids because life is tough for adults. Our kids learn more by watching us than by listening to what we say. We model the behavior that our kids mimic. So, if the adults in your child’s life are stressed, anxious, worried and/or fearful, your child will be stressed, anxious, worried and/or fearful too.
Teachers are worried about providing the best learning for their students. They are stressed by the rules around Covid. They are fearful of failing their students. Teachers care deeply about their students. Parents care deeply about their kids. But if your worries, stress and anxiety are dominating your life, your kids are taking it on too.
So, What’s a Parent To Do?
1. Focus On Normalcy
Try to make this school year seem as normal as possible. Partner with your child’s teacher so that you are working together. Foster good communication with the school and stay positive. If your children were Distance Learning these past two years, you have some idea how difficult it is to teach. Use that knowledge to connect with your child’s teacher.
Every school has yearly events that help to build community. If your school has a book fair, carnival, family fun night or concerts, make sure you attend. Do everything you can to help your child feel connected and comfortable in the school setting.
Be creative. If you are the parent of an elementary student, encourage them to write notes to their teacher. A friendly note can brighten the teacher’s day and connects your child to that teacher. Perhaps your older child would bring a cup of coffee or chocolates to a favorite teacher. Help your kids to spread kindness to the adults in their lives. The reward is great, because in giving to others, we receive great joy.
2. Help Kids Build Stamina
Our kids are out of practice for school. They don’t have the stamina needed to make it through the day. Are your kids getting enough sleep? Are they eating well? Those are the first things, but after that you need to listen to your kids.
Talk to them about what is hard about the school day and REALLY LISTEN. As you are listening, don’t try to solve their problems, but recognize their feelings, thoughts and struggles. Take notes if needed. Then you and your child can brainstorm ways to help them overcome the problem. Contacting your child’s teacher or the school counselor may be helpful as well.
3. Support Kids Emotional Growth
Emotions are strong forces in our lives. Your child is dealing with intense emotions if their school day has become difficult to manage. Parenting your child through these strong emotions means you need to be in control of your emotions. By remaining calm and providing a safe place for your child to “crash” you will be affirming their feelings. Your calm demeanor will be a model for what you want them to do.
Practice saying reassuring words to your kids when they are having a meltdown. Phrases like: “I’m sorry you feel this way. Is there any way I can help?” or “Yes, I understand how you feel, I am exhausted when I have a rough day too.” Time and a safe place to be emotional will help your child learn to adjust. It won’t happen overnight, so give it some time.
4. Analyze Their Learning
If your child is having academic difficulty, partnering with their teacher is key. Academic struggles may be due to a lack of organization, being bored because the material is too easy, being inattentive because the material is too difficult or from a lack of motivation. Which of these problems describes your child? The best way to find out is to talk with the teacher and with your child.
Do you know your child’s main learning style? This information may help to resolve some struggles. Does your child need to have learning support? Schools have a lot of options to help struggling students. The most important thing to remember is your child’s struggles are not a reflection on you. Your role is to help them to be successful. If you blame yourself, you will be less able to help them gain control of their learning and make good progress.
5. Foster Strong Friendships
Friendship issues can overtake a whole school day. By the time your child is in third grade, their peer relationships will shape the quality of their time in school. It is important that you help them to develop positive friendships. Many young children are out of practice with friendships. Plan play dates with good friends. Talk with your child about how to be a good friend. Model friendship for your children and talk about your friends.
Our older children kept their friendships alive virtually, but we all know the dangers of social media. Your preteens and teens are getting back to in-person relationships and they need support too. Talk with your teens. Find ways to have casual conversations about friendships. The best way to nurture these casual conversations is to have them while you are doing other tasks, such as taking a walk together, driving to the store, doing the dishes or watching a sporting event. Let them experience your love and care for them in a non-judgmental way.
6. Be A Role Model For Your Kids
Our children are watching and listening to us all the time. When you are struggling with your emotions and opinions about Covid, schooling, work and/or home life, your kids feel it too. So, it is understandable that our kids are worried. The advice for parents is to try your best to shield your children from your stressors.
I am not suggesting you lie to your children, but don’t use them as a sounding board for your frustration. School may be tough for them, but they need you to help give them some hope that things can get better. Work at being optimistic with your children and deal with the hard decisions by talking with the teacher or counselor at school. As parents, we are responsible to model positive problem-solving strategies. You can do it!
In conclusion, yes, school is tough this year. But getting through tough times builds character. It helps us to stretch our thinking and our stamina. When the tough times are over, your family will reminisce about how you made it through all the challenges. It will become a bonding moment. So, try not to worry, be present for your kids and know that “this too shall pass.”