Dear BFS Families,
Week 6 or 7 depending upon how you count...they have begun to blur; and, I am loosing my ability to want to count them. Suffice it to say, our new normal has been bringing up a number of feelings.
For those of us who do not readily engage in delving into feelings, this may be frustrating and vulnerability inducing; and, for those of us that routinely check in, the net effect may be overwhelming. Now, imagine how our children feel.Often times, when we are in situations that we consider are "less than ideal" or "not best practice," we take on the weight ourselves and we feel we are letting people down. This goes for teachers, parents and children. Teachers feel they are not doing enough to reach children. Parents can feel overwhelmed by the enormity of balancing their new realities; and, children think they have done something wrong, even when we all know this is no one's fault.
I would like to re-frame this dynamic and give us language to deal with the varied emotions adults and children may be feeling, expressing or holding inside.
As adults in this situation, we are faced with awareness of the gravity of life at the moment. For some of us, this crisis has threatened those closest to us and can cause even the most resilient among us to feel desperate.
At the same time, people are expressing the need to bridge the gaps between us, which have felt so polarizing of late, to feel connected. Perhaps it is simply my perspective; but, I have been more likely to reach out to friends and colleagues, as I have felt able, because I value that experience more now.
We are doing everything we can. We are slowing this spread of illness. We are caring for each other. The efforts show and matter. If we are lucky enough to be with our families, we are given a time that we would never have had otherwise, even though it presents its own challenges.
My mother, who lives alone, has heard from me more now than she has since I was in middle school. This is a gift for both of us. We are both practicing much more forgiveness of the petty irritants that used to get in the way. It probably helps that we are not in the same house at the moment! I am recommending that forgiveness, for ourselves and each other, whether we are all in the same home or apart. It is a gift.
Children have all of our feelings, but have less ways to communicate. They may also be acting out, regressing or very clingy. This is expected, as much of their lives have been upended.
Some children do not yet realize that they are away from school; but, the longer this goes on, the more likely it may be that they will have some version of anxiety, frustration or sadness. Whenever, or if, these emotions come up, it is important to let children express the feelings that underlie behaviors. When children suddenly regress in the classroom, we often often say, in, as calm a voice as we can manage (this is harder when it is your own kid. I know this!), "I see that you did X. It must be hard to have X feeling right now. I know you know how to use your words, or maybe you don't have the words. I am here and I can help you when you are ready by reminding you." Our goal is always to acknowledge the reality of what just happened, validate the feeling and remind the child of how he/she can engage/behave/express themselves. Sometimes, it helps to let children know you too feel frustrated and sad; sometimes, they just need to have their feelings recognized.
Clinging to those who make us feel safe is a natural impulse when we perceive the anxiety, whether it is in the people around us, within the media or when we experience changes in life routines. Our job, as teachers and parents, is to help children develop self regulation or soothing skills.
The principal behind creating a sense of security within a child is tied to internalizing that if an important person is not physically present, they still exist and will come back. This is a challenge when the important people that are missing are teachers and friends. Some children will not necessarily see their teachers and friends again, especially if they are moving. This is their reality. While I am not advocating to discuss the duration of this virus and its impact, I do believe it is necessary to address the emotions it can evoke.
Please be aware, it is too soon to talk about next year, or even, the end of this year. Teachers will support you with transition routines and language when these dates come up.
The anxiety over our abrupt change away from school or normal routine can shift to feeling vulnerable about the most important people in children's lives, you. Children need to know that even if everything else has changed, you are not going anywhere. When I was in the classroom, separation anxiety was a typical issue, especially around times of transition. To ease the stress around separation, we build capacity slowly. One way of doing this was by allowing a child to take charge of the act of leaving. I would sit in a fixed spot and remain as the child would move away and return. We would work to build up the time that they could go away. Sometimes I would give them a task, other times they would create their own. By allowing the child to be the one who left, he/she had more control. When children disappear off the screen during a video chat, this is what they are testing. Will you still be there? Do you still love me? The answer, of course, is yes. But they need to internalize it. We validate this desire to wrest control back by saying it is ok that they come and go. When they are ready, they can re-engage and let us know what is going on.
Some classrooms have begun to adopt proxy stuffies that allow children to express their feelings through another object. Sunshine have mumplumps and Dragonfly have sock puppets. Never underestimate the power of a stuffed animal for self expression. I recommend the adults have them too. When I was in the hospital, my son leant me his soft blue pillow, which I held tight, like it was a person. Strangely, it felt like he was right there with me. We all need a little extra at the moment. Parents, teachers and children. Forgiveness for our fears, reassurance that we will be here when we are all ready to go out, that is the gift we can give each other.
We will be here for you, through the long haul. We are your metaphorical stuffies! Hold on, reach out and know we will be here when we can all gather again.