America has undergone a total transformation as our heavily relied upon schooling system has closed for business, at least in the traditional sense. As a parent, or guardian, you are probably beginning to shift your perspective on your new role. Substituting for a couple of weeks in lieu of regular instruction is one thing, being responsible for your child’s education and readiness for the next school year from now until at least summer, is another.
While middle grades and high school students have their own challenges to this new learning environment, I believe parents of young children really struggle with this particular point and responsibility, because of the nature of the child at this point in development. Elementary children and younger are still really cultivating the self control and discipline it takes to practice mundane skills as well as harnessing emotional awareness as they process the varied, sudden changes that have occurred.
As a parent of a kindergartener and preschooler, here’s what we are doing to get by without losing our sanity:
Keeping a Routine
While children this young may not yet understand a schedule that goes by the clock, they certainly can internalize and rely upon an ordered schedule for their day. Knowing what to expect and what is expected of them will help everyone fulfill their role and responsibilities. However, this also means that while you should have basic blocks of time structured for your child’s day, everyday, you also need to maintain an element of flexibility and spontaneity in order to avoid burn out and minimize power struggles.
Accept that It’s Different
The parent/child dynamic is different than the teacher/child dynamic. It just is. That statement is true under any circumstances, but especially under circumstances that prohibit your child from his regular classroom environment and social interaction with adults and peers from his or her school community.
Consider how your behavior might differ between conflicts with your boss versus a conflict with your spouse. The dynamics are simply more comfortable and more emotional between you and your child. Give yourself and your child that understanding and get creative on ways to maintain your connection while in this space.
Remain Attuned to Emotional Processing
Your young child may be aware of what is happening, but is not old enough to process it all or express what they may be feeling about it. Missing their friends will come out as a temper tantrum, worrying about their teachers might look like messing up their work assignment on purpose. This doesn’t mean you should allow negative behavior to run the show, but putting on a lens of attunement to the fact that every outburst, defiance, or conflict is likely tied to the highly emotional processing of sudden and uncontrollable change will help you cope compassionately.
Inform But Don’t Overwhelm
Children have different individual preferences when it comes to how much and how in-depth information they need to process change. You probably know already your child’s level of need for a detailed explanation of everything that has happened or if they need a general overview before their eyes glaze over and they are focused on something else.
Tailor your explanations about what is happening to your individual child. Keep it light. Keep it temporary. And keep in mind, if you are following the situation closely, you have a very different perspective of what is happening than your child. Try to see this circumstance through the eyes of your child and inform from that place of knowledge, rather than your adult perspective, which probably sees the situation much more multi-layered, complex, and potentially scary.
Keep it Fun
If your work time every day is reduced to tears, try something else. No one likes to be forced to do something that is uncomfortable or stressful. And they certainly are not going to retain information they practiced while this aggravated.
Even a sense of duty cannot be obtained, if there is not first a positive association to come with it. Especially for young children who cannot conceive very far beyond their immediate emotion, they need to have some positive experiences first. This requires a great amount of creativity on the adult’s part. Children like to work with concrete objects, get their hands dirty, and move around. Incorporate these aspects into every possible learning scenario, and you’ll likely make more progress in their willingness to try new things with you.
Most of all, take it day by day. Set goals and follow through with your expectations, but give yourself and your child some compassion for taking on this endeavor suddenly, without much preparation, and look for ways to make the time together enjoyable for you both.