Our kids are back at school in person this year, and there are a LOT of creative ways being implemented to keeps our kids safe while they’re there. Some of those things include masks and additional hand washing, but the majority of those safety precautions involve social distancing.
I was at a Moms in Prayer meeting a few weeks ago, and a couple of the moms were talking about the effects of this social distancing on their kids. One of our school’s protocols is to keep the classes separated when they go out for recess, basically isolating each class from the others. Although the entire 5th grade is outside at recess, the classes are not allowed to intermingle and they keep to separate areas of the playground. One class can see the other classes, but they aren’t allowed to play with the other classes. It’s a good protocol to keep from sharing germs between the entire 5th grade and their teachers as each class is “quarantined” from the rest of the classes.
There is some emotional difficulty in this for our children though. They can see their friends, they can hear their friends, but they aren’t allowed to play with their friends. This can lead to feelings of being left out, being forgotten, being rejected, anger, sadness and bitterness as our children repeat social distancing every day. As we go through the school year, it’s our jobs as parents to teach Emotional Intelligence and help our kids learn to identify and manage their emotions. If your child is struggling emotionally with the social distancing requirements at school, here are some ways to help them identify and cope with their feelings.
Talk About the Feelings
Kids don’t always realize they are struggling so it’s up to us to ask them. Help your kids realize they are feeling left out, or sad, or angry because they can’t be with their friends. Confirm that their feelings are real and it’s understandable to feel that way. Help them talk through the reasons or situations that make them feel forgotten or rejected or isolated from their friends, and help them identify the reasons behind their feelings.
Talk About the Reasoning for Implementing Social Distancing
Chances are, your family has already talked about social distancing as a way to reduce the impact of COVID19. Kids understand we are in a pandemic and that everyone is taking precautions to stay safe. Share your school administrator’s perspective with your child and the reasoning behind the social distancing measures they’ve put in place. It will give them another perspective on the situation and help them know school administrators care about them and are trying to keep everyone healthy and safe.
Remind Your Kids the Pandemic Isn’t Permanent
Kids are smart and they pick up more than we give them credit for. They understand the Coronavirus has caused some major changes in their lives, but they may not realize that huge changes can make them feel uncertain, angry or sad. It’s good to remind your children that the pandemic isn’t permanent (heck, sometimes we need to remind OURSELVES of that!). Even though it feels like we’ve been social distancing forever and it will never end, one day it will. One day there will be some resolution for dealing with this virus, and while things won’t ever be exactly the way they were before, we WILL reach a day where social distancing isn’t a requirement and they’ll be able to hug their friends again.
Remind Your Kids that Change Can Be Good
Change isn’t always bad. Sometimes change can be good. Change gives us new opportunities to grow and mature, and change can also bring new people into our lives to help us be better people. New situations can be exciting and fun. They don’t always have to be bad or negative.
Talk about the Opportunities Kids Have in Their Current Classroom
Even though kids are social distancing in school these days, there are lots of opportunities to make new friends and to build new relationships. Kids are in school for 6 or 7 hours a day; that’s a LOT of time spent with people who could potentially be your new bestie! Encourage your child to be brave and to find some positive opportunities for personal growth and new relationships in their current classroom.
Give Your Kids Strategies for Making New Friends
My oldest son has no problem making friends. He’s super extroverted and looks for a new friend no matter where we are. But not all kids are like that. Some kids have extreme anxiety or fear when they have to talk to someone new, so when they have to be socially distanced from their best buddies, that anxiety and fear can be compounded. Take the time to talk through some strategies for making new friendships with your child. Give them questions to ask to start a conversation, topics to talk about, or even an internal mantra to repeat to help them be brave enough to approach a stranger and start a conversation. Talk about the kids in class and identify children who have things in common with your child. Making friends isn’t easy for everyone, and talking through some ways to do that with our children takes away the anxiety and fear and gives them confidence that they can do hard things and make new friends.
Give Your Kids Strategies for Maintaining the Old Relationships
We all know that when you don’t spend time with friends, those relationships can grow stale and fade away. Your kids might be worried that this will happen to their old friends since they are having to social distance from them right now. Ask your kids if they are worried about this, and if they are, give them some ways to stay in touch with their friends that allow for social distancing. Some ideas might be to have the kids send text messages to each other, to schedule phone dates, to schedule FaceTime or Zoom calls, and to schedule play dates on the weekends or after school. We all love to get real mail (not bills! Ugh!) and kids are no exception! It might be fun for your kids to write letters to their friends as a way to stay connected. Discuss some ways to maintain those old relationships, and that may help ease the emotional trauma of being distanced from their friends.
Check in with Your Kids Periodically to Take Their “Emotional Temperature”
It’s super important to keep tabs on our kids while we all try to manage school in a pandemic. There are so many new and unexpected things that can happen with school this year, and it’s up to us parents to help our kids grow in their Emotional Intelligence. By checking in with our kids on a regular basis, we can help our kids identify their emotions, ease fears and anxiety, and give our kids ways to cope with how they feel and what they can do about it. If you’d like some resources on how to talk to your kids about their emotions, you can read about that here.
Are your kids struggling emotionally with the social distancing protocols at school? I’d love to hear how you’ve helped them manage those emotions. Did any of these suggestions surprise you? Interest you? Drop me a comment below and let me know how they’ve worked for your family.