Parent Liberation Day in the UK!
How to make the re-start a success! What parents can do in this remaining week to the big return… No matter how you & they are feeling about the 8th March…here are some reminders and thoughts about how to snatch the rest of the year back from the pandemic…
The practicalities with kids and teens…
- Start to recalibrate sleep routines to take on board the school commute…transition into regular sleep / wake times that will help ease in to the earlier mornings.
- What are the things you have let go of – that are potential niggles when we resume the routine of school? Do your kids make their packed lunches? Organise their snacks? Reverting back to that might help…
- Where IS all the uniform? Get them to line it up, ready, try it on to check the fit! Spring time is growth spurt time…check the shoes…are they ready to have their feet encased in school shoes again? Do you have enough masks and sanitiser for the family to start dispersing again?
- Are timetables going to be the same? Often schools have changed the routine for online schooling – so looking back at the pre-lockdown timetable to re-orient packing and planning for the week will help.
- Absorb the social distancing and hygiene procedures that are part of the school’s risk assessment and pandemic-schooling and make sure these are clear in your mind. Go through reminders and changes carefully with your child to manage the transition with as few surprises as possible. Change can be experiences as being destabilising and even anxiety provoking. So go through all the routines that are going to keep them safe and keep you safe when they come home.
- Be really clear about expectations for children and teens who make their school journeys independently. Discuss reasonable expectations and accountability for their whereabouts. Explore and clarify where the red lines are with teens – especially where you are concerned that your teen might get swept up in riskier behaviour with groups on the fringes of the school day. In every case, it is important you emphasise the values of safety, the need to be respectful and mindful of the law, risk factors. We can’t force our kids to be compliant – but we want to ensure they are crystal clear on the whys of our family values so that they be upstanders when pressure is brought to bear.
- Limit the rolling news and obsessive COVID updates so that there is a filter on the non-stop threat-based background. Reconsider the balance of being sufficiently informed and marinating in pandemic news. Especially for smaller children, the backdrop of the news may well be more penetrating around the movement into separating again. The message all of us have had -for months now – is that staying home in our family bubble is safe. So emerging from that bubble may have numerous fears and fantasies attaching to it – and this might make our kids a little more hypervigilant where risk factors are concerned.
Letting go and moving back towards independence… This next stage of the pandemic journey might feel quite bumpy for you…your parenting partner, your child. It’s true that over this past year, we have been forced to keep our kids very close. I don’t think I have had my child so close to me since maternity leave. And there’s an intensity there. And also some ambivalence. Much though I passionately want to see our 11 year old don her uniform and go in through the gates, head held high, there will also be mixed feelings. I will probably go with her at the start of the day to be with her while she waits to go in…I will probably worry, more than I ought, that she is able to have a fresh start on the friendship scene. It’s going to be really important that we are able to recognise and own our own anxieties and regulate them so that we can give our kids the gift of confidence and security that they will be safe to learn, play, and grow, at school. That they’ve got this. And when they return, we will be interested, and value their reactions and thoughts, and supportive of them resuming their independent lives. If our kids are anxious about the return, it is really important that we are open to listen to what they are thinking and feeling. Helping them to explore and express and gain perspective on the little and the big things in their minds. We need to bear in mind who they need us to be during this time. There may be turbulence ahead. This may be the turbulence of anxiety around being among peers in large groups again. It may be anxiety about having fallen behind with work. It may be fear of leaving parents or vulnerability of parents. It may be fear of being overwhelmed in the intense multi-sensory experience of busy classrooms and crowded corridors.
Think about when we’re on a flight…remember those? Whenever a plane hits turbulence there is always a sense of frisson, electricity in the air as the plane takes a sudden dip or upward twitch. There’s a collective holding of breath. And then ‘Bing-bong…this is your captain speaking…’. Think about what happens next… He or she does NOT go…’Whaaoooow! Man that’s bumpy! Oh my god! Did you feel THAT!’…Instead… they do the following:
- Calmly validate / acknowledge the situation. “As you can see, we have hit a bit of turbulence.”
- Talk about what’s going to happen immediately so everyone’s clear what happens next… “There won’t be any trolley service, and the seatbelt lights will be on for the duration.”
- Clarify the long term plan: “We’ll be changing altitude and changing the route to minimise the impact of the storm.”
And everyone calms the hell down. So as a parent…be careful not to parent the fear – parent the capable, courageous child in front of you. Anxious kids are the bravest kids. They just don’t feel it – and we can collude in that by taking their fears as an excessive sign of their vulnerability. They challenge themselves every step of the way in their every day lives. Acknowledging their strengths, their persistence, appreciating their capability, showing hope and linking to other stories of their overcoming, can be really powerful. We need to remind ourselves that after any trauma, the norm is post traumatic growth (70%) rather than post traumatic stress. But relatively few of us have heard of post traumatic growth, whilst we’ve all heard of post traumatic stress.
Let’s take this chance to recalibrate who or what we have become, and how we have been operating as pandemic parents… Are we tending towards being over-protective – always having to know where they are at any given time, over-involved, fixing and solving life’s challenges, intolerant of our children’s difficulties & perhaps over-advocating for them with the school…Taking control…rather than empowering our kids to problem solve, take action and self-advocate. Avoidant of difficulty, and teaching our child to be avoidant of difficulty… Are we about to become over-directive, threat focused and controlling…very easy to do especially if we’re going through a very challenging patch in our relationship with our growing child…this can further compound difficulties by making our love seem – and be experienced – as conditional. Have we been falling in to the pattern of what Julie Lythcott-Hains (How to Raise and Adult) calls concierge parenting – where we handle every little thing, make their childhood as easy as it can be. This can feel quite nice –it feels very giving- and is certainly a model we ourselves might have experienced from the parenting we might have received with older family models. Concierge parenting can backfire later on when we are truly terrified for them on the threshold of leaving for college / university. It can create an entitlement culture, and send a mixed message that our teens are only of value in the academic / educational trophies they acquire. If what we do is smooth the path for them to do their school-work, there is a strong unconscious message there. And it misses the chance for our kids to feel the satisfaction around the small things of life – making their beds, running errands, hoovering the home, cooking a meal or contributing to the making of a meal. These are all elements that boost independence, capability, and belonging – that you are part of a team, not a passive recipient who has to simply deliver the goods at school…driven to and from activity to activity, building a CV but not fundamentally connected… In following the grail of their independence, it is worth bearing in mind that unconditional love – showing in the big and little things of life that they are worthy of being loved and treated with dignity, is the best shield our kids can have. It means that when life gets bumpy, there are softer landings – the perception and actuality of real, genuine care, attention, appreciation, and support makes it easier to approach the big challenges.
Let’s be there for the big and uncertain feelings, but let’s make sure we’re not getting in the way of their independence.We think we have to step in all the time with reminders – that things won’t get done if we don’t. Here’s the rub…the research shows they’ll be more likely to have executive functioning problems if we over-parent. We need to step back to give them the space to step up – one of the best ways the brain learns is through having to handle the consequences. Model independence…what are their plans? For the weekend? For the next week? For the first week back? For the rest of term? To handle the work, to handle their friends? They are the boss…what do they want to be doing? What do they need to be doing? Then accountability is easier. WE can hold them to their own desires and commitments. Our conversations shouldn’t be chasing them down the drain, but increasing the dialogue between them and their own boss in their brain. This gives them more ownership. If they mess up, they mess upOur job is to keep faith in them, stoke their inner captain, hold a picture of optimism. They are not their mistkes and we know they are going to be OK. They may have to fly at a different altitude or navigate around some difficulties. It may take slightly longer to get to their destination. But we are in it for the long haul picture.They will come through this. We will come through this and be stronger, wiser, and fine. WE know this in our heart of hearts.Let’s plot our course – and crack open that drinks trolley…here’s to the 8th March – Parent Liberations Day in the UK…With love and gratitude,Emma.