by Cynthia Bryant, LICSW,
In the new school year, families continue to face difficult decisions and circumstances on an almost daily basis. In many school systems, this began with a choice between whether to learn at home or at school. Once this choice has been made, the challenges are far from over.
As parents, we want to make sure our children have a positive, productive school year. We want to ease the anxiety they may feel due to social isolation or the threat of the global pandemic. We also want to protect our families and do our part to restrict the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Every situation is different, but here are some tips that may help your family cope with these challenges:
1. Periodically revisit health guidelines with the entire family. Reviewing common goals and expectations can reduce stress for everyone.
2. Keep a balanced perspective. Children often mirror the thoughts, beliefs or feelings of their parents, and if a parent is very anxious about the return to school, the rest of the family may become anxious as well.
3. Prioritize family fun. In the absence of outside social engagement, it may be tempting for everyone to escape into their respective devices, books or hobbies, and family members may end up feeling isolated even when sharing the same home. People of all ages need the healthy mental and emotional stimulation that comes from laughing, playing and conversing with others. Excessive dependence on cell phones, television or computers can cause sensory overstimulation or contribute to depression, anxiety, insomnia, weight gain or lethargy. Consider setting aside one night a week to watch a movie or play board games as a family. If it is physically possible, spend time together outdoors. Walking, lounging, playing sports or even doing yard work can help expand the boundaries of the home. No one enjoys feeling trapped like a fish in a bowl!
4. Don’t overlook your child’s need for structure. Many children and teens have become accustomed to staying at home. Some may prefer to quickly complete their online assignments and create free time for themselves. Some may feel pressure about their school performance, while others may struggle with peer relationships. If a child is opting for online learning in order to avoid something, it may be beneficial to encourage them to participate in person. As a general rule, I find that the longer someone stays out of school, the harder it can be to return. If a child is learning from home, they will benefit from maintaining the same sleep standards as if they were at school. Working at a table or desk can reinforce the sense that the work requires effort and focus.
5. Acknowledge what has been lost. I find that many teens are feeling deprived of the opportunities of “normal” life. Some are grieving the loss of activities that help them express themselves or feel part of a bigger community. Acknowledge how the loss of sports, music, art, clubs, jobs or other interests have impacted them. Look for ways they can continue to express themselves and experience feelings of accomplishment. Students are also missing out on special traditions and opportunities for recognition – performances, recitals, awards ceremonies and graduations. I find this is especially distressing to students in their senior year. It is crucial for parents to acknowledge and celebrate rites of passage. Young people need support and encouragement to reinforce their belief that they can launch into adulthood successfully.
Anyone, no matter the age or circumstance, may find that they are struggling with adjusting (or re-adjusting) in these uncertain times. Counseling, including virtual counseling, can help individuals of any age regain their sense of equilibrium.
Virtual Counseling from CJFS may be covered by private insurance and/or Medicare, and it is available for families and individuals of all ages. To learn more, contact Clinical Director Marcy Morgenbesser, firstname.lastname@example.org or 205.879.3438.