It’s safe to say 2020 has been one of the strangest years in our kids’ lives — their school year shifted abruptly in March, their parents became their teachers, and then everything that requires pants was canceled! They can’t see their friends, they have to wear masks when they leave the house, and now plans and difficult decisions are being made about the new school year. Adults are struggling to cope with all these events, so you can be sure that kids are having a hard time too. But they don’t necessarily tell us that with words — they show us with their behaviors. Whining, crying, clingy behavior, trouble falling asleep, reduced or increased appetite, outbursts, and other behavioral concerns are all possible indicators that kids are having a hard time with changes in their lives. Hopefully, for all of us, things will start to settle down and return to something closer to normal soon. But talking with your kids about what is happening is the most important thing you can do to help them through the tough stuff. That sounds easier than it is, so here are some tips for getting started.
- Ask them what they think about everything that has happened in the last few months, especially about the parts you suspect were most difficult for them.“What was it like having mom/dad as a teacher?” or “What did you miss most when you couldn’t go to school?” or “How are you feeling about returning to school?”
- Listen — really listen — to what they’re saying. This is probably the toughest tip on the list because, as parents and guardians, it can be difficult to hold our tongues and not offer direction, advice, or even to try to minimize their distress. The key is to avoid saying, “Yes, but…” in response to what they say. Things like, “It sounds like…” or “I wonder if…” tend to open the door to communication. Try listening to understand and set your need to be understood aside for a few minutes.
- Explain to your child what decisions you are making about this coming school year and why. Answer any questions they have.
- If your kids are reluctant to talk, try using board or card games that include question/answer opportunities. You can also find conversation starters for free on Pinterest.
- Finally, if your kiddo isn’t a talker or your attempts to communicate don’t go over well, try to connect instead. Play a video game, take a walk, or color together.
- If you are concerned about your child’s response to recent events and changes, reach out to his or her doctor or a counselor for more assistance.