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Are you finding it harder and harder to get your child to do his schoolwork at home? Are they more belligerent and defiant? Are they more anxious and avoidant? Are you more exhausted and fed up?
Parents with school-age kids are feeling significant amounts of stress and strain these days due to the prolonged school closings and stay-at-home orders.
If you feel like you’re at your breaking point trying to juggle home and work and school demands under quarantine conditions, you’re not alone.
Now, just imagine if you could decrease the frequency and intensity of those emotional meltdowns – both yours and your child’s.
Sweet, right?! But how?
Our mindful solutions approach, combined with trauma-informed care guidelines, provides us with lots of clues. Let’s review a few of them.
Begin with empathic understanding. Seek to clearly and compassionately see the situation you and your children are in right now.
It is NOT normal times! Therefore, you (and they) cannot be expected to keep performing normally, let alone optimally or perfectly. Adjust your expectations. This is not dumbing down or giving up. This is making a smart, strategic decision about what’s most important for you and your children right now.
Bottom line, you need to meet your child’s (and your own) basic needs before you can address school (or work) productivity. This pyramid graphic that is an adaptation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs reminds us of the reality we’re facing.
You need to take care of your physical needs first: safety, shelter, food, sleep, health and hygiene. It is no small feat to see and meet these needs during a time of global pandemic and economic shutdown.
You need to care of your psychological needs second: belonging, connection, peace of mind, emotional regulation. Without these foundational blocks taken care of, nobody can focus and achieve at school or work.
Just seeing this clearly, being reminded of these truths in this time of crisis, can help shift your mindset away from unrealistic expectations for perfect academic or work performance (for you and your child) and more towards compassionate care for all of you at home right now.
More specifically, you can PAUSE to check in with your child several times throughout the day. (Check in with yourself, too!) How are you feeling? What are you feeling? Where’s your stress level right now? Where’s your energy level right now?
Take your child’s feeling temperature (on a scale from 1-10) – How anxious/frustrated/depressed/bored/lonely… are they? If they have a feeling fever, just like a body fever, then they can’t be productive right now. It’s not that they won’t, they can’t.
Seeing clearly what your child is feeling right now – what they’re capable of doing right now – can lead us to compassionate care and acceptance.
Let’s be clear. We’re not accepting that they’re not doing their schoolwork or chores. We’re accepting that right now, in this moment, the child is stuck in a place where they’re having trouble meeting those expectations. No child wants to screw up or fail or get in trouble. So our job is to help them get unstuck.
We can’t do this effectively is we don’t PAUSE and BREATHE first ourselves. That means, yes, stepping away from our work or household responsibilities for a time. It means practicing the Serenity Prayer. It means accepting our limitations for getting it ALL done right now. Ain’t gonna happen. We can only do the best we can with the time and energy that we have available, right now. Same with our children.
The sooner we can make peace with that, the sooner we can engage in constructive pathways to helping our child get unstuck and move forward with more ease.
Once we’re aware of and accepting of our child’s distress, we can begin to soothe our child in a way that will help them settle and begin to regroup.
Specifically right now, I highly recommend scheduling these three things into your day:
You may feel like you don’t have the time for all this. I understand. Yet, we actually do! We actually have a choice. We may choose to place our time on the priorities that will bring greater peace and well-being to our family, especially given these traumatically stressful times.
Or we may choose to keep banging our head against a wall, wondering why the F- won’t these kids just calm down and do what they’re supposed to, so I can get my work done?!! (Of course, we’re all entitled to these moments, but we don’t want to stay stuck in them, right? So, PAUSE. BREATHE. PROCEED.)
After truly seeing our children’s needs and soothing them as best we can, we can help (re-)build their strength and resilience. Some quick tips for doing so:
Peter Montminy, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, mindfulness teacher, loving husband and dad. He invites you to join in an ongoing conversation that seeks to restore sanity to humanity – one child at a time. Join us at www.AMindfulVillage.com.