Due to the pandemic, many children are experiencing weekly or even daily changes in their school environment. For example, children's teachers may be out sick or have to leave mid-year, school protocols are constantly changing, and the in-person classroom attendance is regularly inconsistent. Because of all of this uncertainty and change, children need parents' support to help manage the stress.
Stress may cause children to express their frustrations and anxiety through their behavior. For example, school-aged children may get upset more easily or they may avoid talking about their day when they normally would. For adolescents they may seem more irritable or less motivated. These are all normal responses to the constant changes children are experiencing on a daily basis.
If parents are noticing these kinds of behaviors, they can start by reflecting what they are observing. It may sound something like, "You seem really frustrated. Did something happen today at school?" Or, "You seem upset. Was your teacher/friend at school today?" If your child opens up and wants to talk, parents can help their children process their day by being an active listener and empathizing with their experiences. It might sound something like, "That would be frustrating!" or "It is very hard when your teacher/friends aren't at school."
After parents help to identify their child's emotion, they can then explain that while there might be much uncertainty at school, children can always count on their relationship with the parent. Parents can say something like, "The pandemic is creating a lot of uncertainty and it's understandable why you are feeling so upset. While teachers and friends might not always be at school every day, you can always count on me being here for you."
Parents can also help to alleviate children's anxiety brought on by the changes at school by having a consistent routine at home (as much as possible during the pandemic). For example, routinely watching a show together before or after dinner, designating certain days for certain activities, like Cookie Fridays or Taco Tuesdays. Even letting kids know in the morning what they will have for dinner that night can be helpful because it gives them a feeling of security and predictability.
Recognize that a lot of things are out of your child's control right now, which can add to their frustration or anxiety. You can help to alleviate these anxieties by giving your child some agency over their days. For example, asking if they would like to choose some meals for the week, games to play together, or movies to watch for the coming weekend helps to give them some control over their days.
It’s also equally important to recognize the same is true for you as a parent - many things are out of your control as well! Establishing a routine for yourself as well as for your family that offers predictability will take care of you amidst the many changes outside of your control.
By cultivating a positive relationship with your child and being a person they can count on provides stability and gives them the foundation which they will use to get through these unpredictable times.