By Dr. Jill Stamm, Ph.D.
Prevention and Brain Science Training Specialist
Arizona’s Children Association
How about this reality of suddenly being the school teacher you never planned on being!? Surprise… Now it’s your turn to try.
For all of us parents and grandparents who did not choose to become public school teachers (which is most of us!), the thought has entered our minds, more than once I’m sure, about how do teachers somehow manage entire groups of 25 or more students, and actually teach our kids how to read, how to do complex math, and later inspire them to become doctors, astronauts, or playwrights.
When we all heard that schools are now closed for the rest of this school year, this reality for anyone with a school-age child is now overwhelming! The truth is that teachers are amazing human beings. We are learning this… even if we had only suspected it. Almost immediately, when the State’s Governors ended school as we know it, teachers rallied to make sure of many things such as:
- They made a plan to be sure that children who needed food received it, one or more times a day.
- They hurriedly wrote up lessons and figured out how to put them online.
- They realized that many students may not have any technology at their homes….no computers, no internet, no printers, etc., and so they also made up printed worksheets of students’ lessons that are ‘low tech’.
- They designed ways for students to connect with teachers at the school and with other students.
- And on and on…
But there are lots of us who have challenges that are even more overwhelming than seeing teachers magically create home-based education. How do we, with no preparation or time, begin to teach our kids?
Here are some suggestions that I have compiled from various scientists who understand what stress does to a child’s brain….and to our adult brain as well. Other suggestions were given by these very teachers who love your children and who want them to be OK.
- It is normal to feel overwhelmed. We never imagined this scenario. None of us. So, take time to breathe. Really. Stop what you are doing and breathe in and out deeply and slowly. Maybe do this 5 -7 times in a row. Scientists say that this action results in a calming effect in our brain that goes throughout the body and “resets” our overactive stress response and we can then calm ourselves.
- Realize that you are not alone when being stumped by the teacher’s instructions such as ‘Download the attachment’, or ‘Find the app for the math tutorial’. You may never in your life have done either of these things. Now you are worried that you are failing your child and that no one else is this poor at these instructions! Yes… they are. Many parents are confused and feel inadequate to help their child with their work. Teachers and administrators are hearing you! Many school systems are realizing that most kids are going to need a ‘do over’ chance when they return in the Fall. Your child will be in just the ‘same boat’ as many, if not most, of the kids. These same smart and loving teachers do understand that kids will need lots of ‘catch-up’time. So, adjust your expectations of yourself and your children. What they need most from you is not instructional capability, but the connectedness and expressions of love that you alone can really give. When you can, join them in whatever kind of play they have invented. Tell them explicitly that you will do your very best to keep them safe. And that is true. You will try to keep them safe. The feeling that someone loves you enough to keep you safe is at the core of the confidence they need to believe that we will likely survive this terrible disease.
- It feels nearly impossible to do your own job from home, to become your children’s teacher, to make 3 meals a day, and to not leave your home while trying to do all of this! It is impossible. Something will have to give. The first thing you can do is to begin each day with a schedule. Routine gives us all comfort. It helps us to predict what is coming next. All brains work the same when it comes to the need for predictability. We do best when we can predict. Create a reasonable schedule with your older children; a time to get up and get dressed, to eat breakfast, to start some kind of planned task, to rest, to learn something new, etc. For your young ones, just provide YOUR attention to them in predictable ways. It won’t be perfect, and by the end of the day you will find that things fell apart perhaps, but regroup. Try for this schedule/routine the next day. Kids are used to routines from school, and they will appreciate that familiar feeling when they know what will happen next.
So, in general, what do you do?
- Slow down. Don’t push too hard. Ease into being at home. None of us have ever had to do this!
- Embrace the need for a sense of safely in your house. You cannot promise this outside in the world, but focus on a feeling of trust and safety inside your home.
- Try to get more sleep. Having your brain and body on high alert all day, day after day, is exhausting. Your kids will need more sleep too. They feel anxious just like you do.
- Keep the television news OFF. You can check in on what is happening when you are alone and the kids are not present.
- Temporarily suspend your concern about screen time. Scientists have warned us that too much screen time is not good for kids, but ease up just for this time in our history. Set up more liberal ‘rules’ than you normally enforce. Yet, set a few limits and provide time warnings for when screen time is about to come to an end. Give your child some small thing to look forward to when screen time is over… like spending a few minutes with YOU. Promise a walk, or some together time cooking, or a time to blast some music and dance around together.
Our ancestors survived many unforeseen times of trauma and scarcity. The strength needed for their survival is in us. It is in our DNA. Staying the course of relying on our relationships with friends and family is important. Reach out to those you know. Call, text, FaceTime, do whatever you can to connect with other adults so that you can re-connect with your kids… now that they are home ALL DAY! 😊
Research indicates that the early years are crucial to laying the foundation for children’s life success. Arizona’s Children Association’s Family Education & Support Programs offer free classes for parents of newborns to workshops on early infant brain development. Our programs help new and experienced parents and caregivers prepare their children for a successful future. Read more on the program.