- Autumn Quiles, LCSW
Summer Is Coming
I have good news and bad news for you: summer is almost here and your kids' distance-learning school year is almost at an end. This sounds like the whopping dollop of relief that families have been looking for, but I suspect in may only be a shift, not necessarily a relief.
Distance learning has been so difficult for most families that it has become a source of national humor- people everywhere have (thankfully) normalized the stress by making their own struggles visible #distancelearningfail. So, it is a bit hard for me to write this post without a heavy dose of sarcasm (note the blog picture).
When this "school year" comes to a close, there will be no more demanding teachers or piles of busywork. No reason for your kid to hunker down in front of a screen, sneaking snippets of YouTube videos that are not on their school To-Do List. For those of you who believe that distance learning is the reason your sweet lil' Bruce Banner morphs into the Incredible Hulk, you may believe that the End of the Year will trigger the End of the Crazy.
Our kids' Crazy comes from being cooped up. With us. During a Pandemic. With or Without a Sibling. With or Without the Right Snacks. Without the comforts of extended family or friends. It also comes from straddling the crazy gap between predictably-boring and unexpected curve balls.
Unfortunately, this kind of Crazy doesn't end with the school year. I think the best we will get is a shift... instead of school/work being the focus of the family's frustration, some other focus will emerge. The Hulk may appear in response to problems with social media or multiplayer games or because your child is not "into" chores anymore or Amazon is being a little too slow with the cadre of fidget tools.
So... if we know there will not be an End, but only a Shift... what do we do? We keep on keepin' on. KEEP ON KEEPIN' ON. We keep doing the things that have brought us slivers of sanity for the past month or so. These are:
1. Structure A predictable schedule makes kids feel safe- heck, it makes us all feel safe. A routine, knowing that A leads to B leads to C, decreases anxiety. The nature of that structure or routine can vary widely; it doesn't matter if your family starts the day at 6am or at 11am, as long as you start the day at that same time, every day. Right now, distance learning (for whatever it is worth) has created structure in our kids' lives. It has given us a reason to follow a timeline. It gives our kids purpose. We parents will need to be prepared to replace it, when Summer arrives. I have been seriously looking into virtual summer camps...
2. Physical Activity Kids are super physical people. They had recess, that was protected by state laws, daily in school. They need to physically move, and exhaust, their bodies so they will sleep well in the evening. When Bruce Banner starts getting antsy, throw him outside- to walk, run, climb, swing or swim- and he may be able to burn off enough anger/frustration/fear to keep The Hulk at bay.
3. Mindfulness for Us Caregivers Many of us who are caring for children are also carrying other heavy burdens- a demanding work environment (if we are fortunate enough to have a job), totally expected marital stress (if we are fortunate enough to have a partner) or maybe worries/sadness about a loved one who is, or was, a direct victim in this Pandemic. Taking care of ourselves is one of the most critical things we can do for our kids. And one of the easiest ways to do this is through mindfulness. When you find your mind wandering away from what your body is supposed to be doing (working, cooking, playing with the kids), bring it back to the present- the here-and-now- with a few deep breaths. That worry or sadness can wait for another time.
We can do this. We ARE doing this. We are digging deep and making this happen and we will continue to do so for as long as necessary to keep our families safe. If your day-to-day has become a bit onerous and you find yourself flagging under the weight, reach out for help. Friends... Family... Even a fantastic child and adolescent therapist... you are not alone.