Emily Stone,
LICSW

 

In a world that feels very uncertain, there is one thing that is certain- going back to school this fall will be different. Schools across the country are deciding whether to continue with remote learning, to go back to school in person, or move to a hybrid model of both options. No matter what your views are as a parent, a teacher, or just a concerned citizen, the discussions around what school should look like in the fall have been passionate. 

These discussions have opened up conversations across the world around “what is best” for kids. The truth is, we do not know “what is best.” We do not know when things will get better. We do not know how kids will react or feel going to school in person or staying at home to learn. We do not know what impact this time period will have on children in the future.


Despite the unknowns, there are a few things that we do know. We know that kids are resilient. We know kids can cope with uncertainty if met with the right resources and support to do so. We know that kids can overcome difficult things when adults believe that they can. We know kids can build a community when they are shown that there is value in collaboration.

In order to get through this next big decision regarding education in the fall, we need to believe in our kids. While they may be small, their hearts are big. They know so much about the world around them and what it means to be a human that we may have forgotten along our journey to becoming an adult.

We know that kids are resilient. We know kids can cope with uncertainty if met with the right resources and support to do so. We know that kids can overcome difficult things when adults believe that they can. 

 

Behavioral Challenges in the “Classroom”

While every child’s schooling and “classroom” in the fall is going to be different, we know that we will be faced with challenges, particularly around children’s behavior and emotions. Kids are struggling with heightened anxiety, low levels of drive and excitement, increases in frustration and anger, and difficulties regulating emotions. Some children may have a lot of questions or may be ignoring the current concerns all together. Some kids may be begging for social interactions with peers, while others may be isolating and avoiding talking with others. These challenges are all to be expected. We know children thrive from routine, consistency, and safety- all of which are missing right now. Coping with these behaviors and emotions in a way that fosters resilience and builds a sense of community will be what helps children not only get through this chapter of their lives, but any challenge that the future throws their way. No matter what the learning environment for a child looks like in the fall, resilience and community can be developed and practiced anywhere.


Developing Resilience to Overcome Uncertainty

When building resiliency, creating a safe environment, supporting emotional regulation, and developing relationships are all key factors. Acknowledging that the world is uncertain right now is a great place to start. Sharing with kids that we do not know what is to come, but that adults are here to help and protect them is a way to help cope with the feelings of fear, frustration, and sadness that many kids feel. Oftentimes, kids know more than we think they do. Providing a space for children to ask questions and for adults to provide honest answers can create a physically and emotionally safe place for children. This space to share thoughts and feelings can create a sense of routine and consistency that kids crave. 

Along with creating a safe space, modeling ways that you manage your own emotions and expressing that children are not alone in their feelings can be great ways to develop emotional regulation skills. Sharing your own tips and tricks for how you get through a difficult day, whether it be going on a quick walk, talking to a friend on the phone, or thinking positive thoughts, can all spark conversations around emotional regulation for children. Help children think through what works for them to regulate themselves and try new things out with them, no matter how different or silly they are. Along with modeling, sharing that it is always okay to feel big feelings, particularly now, can be helpful in normalizing children’s experiences. Take time to listen to feelings and encourage ways to share these throughout the day. 

While always crucial, having a trusting relationship with adults and peers can create a sense of connectedness that is vital during times of uncertainty. Spend time with kids doing an activity of their choice or try doing something new that you both can explore together. Practicing new and challenging things with a trusted person helps to build confidence and understanding that they can try new things and get better.

 

Building Community to Promote Belonging

Coupled with resiliency, building community and developing an understanding of the impact that kids have on others in the world can be a way to cope with the uncertainty and overwhelming feelings. Now more than ever, the importance of caring for others has become evident. Helping children to understand that they are a part of something bigger and that can give back in small ways can help provide a sense of power and belonging.

Many kids express feelings of lacking relationships while disconnected from normal community activities like school, sport, clubs, and extracurriculars. While these activities and physical connections may not be available in the coming months, help children reflect on what they can do. Assist kids in brainstorming small, random acts of kindness for others like smiling or waving at neighbors, sending a letter to someone they are thinking about, helping to buy groceries for an elderly friend or family member. If safe and available, consider having kids volunteer in some capacity. Help to hand out meals at a school to families in need, write letters to doctors and nurses to thank them, or plant vegetables in a community garden. By helping kids to realize that they can help others in a time of need, we are helping them find a sense of belonging and purpose in the world. We are helping them to learn that they can make a positive impact on what happens next in their communities.

No matter what kids’ “classrooms” look like this coming school year, there are bound to be difficulties. Challenging behaviors and emotions are inevitable and completely valid. To get through these challenges let’s do what we can. Take challenges day by day. Help kids notice small things we can do to make an impact on our communities. Spend time with children in meaningful ways and validate their big feelings. Create safe and honest spaces for questions. Remember that kids are strong, adults are strong, and communities are stronger together.

For more ways to build resilience and cope with uncertain times, click here for articles and resources