As I took a walk with a friend this weekend, we talked about how different her school year was this year as a pre-kindergarten paraprofessional. The children beginning school this year have spent a large part of their formative years under Covid restrictions. There has been less socializing amongst same-age peers, and less learning about how to read body language and nonverbal cues prior to the age of masks. Not only that, but speech issues are also on the rise.
Even in my own kindergarten child, I think about how different her experience has been as opposed to her siblings. Her brother and sister took field trips to the pumpkin patch around this time of year. My youngest won’t be doing that.
Both older children were privy to rousing all-school assemblies promoting school spirit and fun social lessons every Friday. My youngest has never attended such an assembly.
My older children knew a playground where children were permitted to roam the entire playground. My youngest has only known “zones” where children must stay within bounds to avoid mixing with children in other classes.
There is also talk about the increasingly widening gap between the fortunate middle to upper class and the not so fortunate lower-income families. While my family is not considered wealthy, my children have been blessed with some pretty neat experiences, such as backpacking in the mountains of New Mexico, swimming with dolphins in Galveston, and a plethora of experiences that for us tend to revolve around wildlife viewing, nature, etc. Books fall off our shelves, and art supplies crowd small filing cabinets. While we have plenty of electronic devices, we also spend plenty of time this time of year biking, hiking, and engaging in seasonal fun like painting pumpkins.
Now, consider the life of the child whose parents are simply trying to make sure basic needs are met. These parents may have lost a job due to Covid. They simply do not have the energy to worry about reading books and providing social experiences for their child when they are anxious over whether they will have enough money left over to pay rent after childcare is taken care of. Even more unsettling is the amount of children that are forced to stay at home alone because it’s either that or their parents won’t be able to make rent or pay for groceries.
So, what can we as a community of parents do to lessen the damage that Covid has done to our families and the skills that are clearly lacking in our children?
5 Ways You Can Help
Look for ways you can serve if you are able.
At the mental health facility where I work, we are starting caregiver support groups. These groups are designed to lift up parents and help provide psychoeducation on parenting skills that are definitely critical now that schools are not necessarily able to teach those skills.
Talk to your children.
As a parent, one of the best things you can do is simply talk to your children. Rather than trying to overhaul your entire day in the midst of a pandemic, pick one practice to implement and stick to. For us, a nonnegotiable is dinner around the table. The time varies based on the day’s activities, but we always sit down, chat, and enjoy each other for a bit during this time.
If you need help getting the conversation started with your children, you may find the following articles helpful:
Prioritize playing outside and getting creative.
Rather than resorting to electronic means of babysitting, implement an hour where children absolutely must play outside or create something. Crayons or watercolors are inexpensive, but they bring children endless joy. Right now, my children are chasing each other with a water hose and plastic “shields.”
I used to feel it was my job to entertain my children 24/7. I have found that their creativity and means of entertaining themselves is really very strong if I just stay out of the way. The skills that they are developing during this time are critical, and taking that pressure off myself helped enable me to truly enjoy the little moments, rather than feeling like the curator of children’s activities at a local museum.
Find small ways to help your children socialize.
It doesn’t have to be going to large, crowded events where you could likely come away with something you didn’t enter with (looking at you Covid and even regular seasonal illness germs).
Let them have a playdate with cousins or neighbors.
The big talk in our house this week is the upcoming birthday celebration for our daughters. My eldest turns eleven this week, and my youngest will be six on September 25th. We are planning a lowkey celebration on our farm where family will be painting pumpkins and enjoying caramel apples. The girls are so excited to have the people they love share the space we love on their special day.
During this time, skills like sharing and using manners will be practiced without anyone thinking of that. Those skills are essential in the early childhood education realm, and they are easy enough to implement at home. Even if your child is an only child, find ways to practice sharing, taking turns, and using manners within your home.
Finally, nothing is “normal” right now, so give yourself some grace.
Some days, all you will be able to do is provide for your child’s basic needs, and that’s okay. However, making time for social and creative opportunities within your family will not only put your child at an advantage with their education, but it is guaranteed to help your family feel closer and your environment feel more peaceful as well.
In these trying times, it is important for the health and well-being of your family to reach out to your tribe. If you have a medical condition that is preventing you from being your best, visit the doctor. I am a firm believer that therapy is for everyone, and talking to a trusted professional is never a bad idea.
Also, seek support from those who have been in the trenches with you. The Lily-Jo Project has a wonderful online learning platform and FB community with information for parents and those that work with youth. I moderate the group, and we would love to have you join. You can request to join here – looking forward to seeing you there!
More on Back to School and Covid-19
If you found this article helpful, check out these other resources provided by The Lily-Jo Project.
- 5 Back to School Anxiety Busters for Small Children
- The Rise of Pandemic Play…How to Help Your Child Process a Pandemic with Imaginary Play
- 5 Tips from Teachers About Managing Mental Health in a Pandemic
About the Author: Brandy Browne
Brandy Browne is a care coordinator for a local mental health agency in the United States, as well as a family coach and blogger for UnStuck (www.unstucks.com) – her family coaching service aimed at helping families develop positive habits and breaking the cycle of generational trauma and poverty.
Her education is in early and elementary education, and she also has a masters degree in parenting and child/adolescent development. Brandy is a wife to her high school sweetheart of fifteen years, and together they share three children, aged ten, seven, and five. In her free time, she enjoys reading, gardening, writing, and distance running.