Each month, families from the Maryland and Pennsylvania advisory councils provide tips and strategies on questions submitted by families across the two states. Their responses to this month’s questions are below.
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The losses and extended periods of isolation our children have suffered have surely had an impact during this pandemic. How do we as parents help our children understand and process the emotions and trauma associated with this pandemic?
To help my kids deal with the trauma and emotions of living through COVID, I’ve tried to parent with much more grace. That’s not easy for me – I’m a structured, “law and order” type mom. But when my teens decided to build a messy, makeshift fort in the middle of our tidy living room, I relented. That was their safe space. They needed to feel safe. People we knew were sick and dying. We were stuck at home, wearing masks and gloves on the rare occasions when we ventured out. They couldn’t go to school or see their friends. We had no idea when this would end. It was scary. If a messy hangout in the living room could put smiles on their faces and help them cope, it was worth the trouble.
Changing expectations is one way our family dealt with the isolation and emotion of this raging pandemic. We still had rules, structure – and yes, chores. But I tried to say “yes” more than I said no. So there were days when my kids went to class wearing pajamas and – I cringe to admit – I even let my son do one virtual class in bed. Anything to reduce their stress. Ironically he ended up getting his best grades since middle school.
As a family we talk a lot about what was happening, and how it makes them feel. At times our kids are overwhelmed talking about COVID and loss. It’s everywhere: on TV, on their phones. So we replaced conversations with uplifting activities. We did Bible study together. We connected more often with friends and family on Zoom. We wrote letters thanking first responders. And we took walks. It’s amazing how fresh air can literally clear your head.
What things should I consider as I think about whether or not to enroll my child in summer school (as it relates to potential impact of pandemic-induced virtual learning)?
As we hit the one year mark of pandemic-induced virtual learning, I realize that my children have been more resilient than I give them credit for. Although the struggle to learn has been unprecedented, as a parent I have to continue to remind myself that the entire country has been going through this. Do I feel that they are “behind everyone else”? Absolutely. But I also have to remember everyone is “behind.” I have always trusted the school system to provide what my children need to successfully complete one grade and move to the next grade. Many systems are starting to slowly transition into some forms of in-person learning and educators are seeing the smiles of many students as they walk through the school building doors.
The state board is advocating for the waiving of state assessments but understanding the potential level of learning loss at the local level is key to moving forward. As parents we need to continue to advocate for our children’s whole being. Will summer school be an option for many? Potentially. We must consider not only the academic learning loss but the emotional state of our children as we navigate options. Our children have lost so much while still gaining. From an education level, they have learned skills that are not on the list of standard learning objectives.
When you are asked about sending your student to summer school – that is a decision that goes beyond the classes that they may have struggled with during the school year. We need to consider the opportunities for children to socialize with their classmates. They need that social interaction. They need to be able to focus on getting back their love of education. I am planning to check on the type of summer programs that are being offered. I will be reaching out to their educators to ask what they feel my children need. Oftentimes, as parents, we are overly critical and I believe our amazing educators have insight that we can not ignore.
I know my children are tired of being on a computer for days on end – so I want them to be able to enjoy the summer break. If that means that I have to let them have the “normal” excitement of summer break – then I will do that. My children are afraid of having to go to school even more – they want a break. If their educators suggest there is a great need for summer “catch-up” then I will make it fun. I will ask for summer school sections so that they are not in for 6 weeks solid of summer classes with no break. I will plan summer getaways – even if that is just building forts in the house and having picnics in the living room.
Just as it has been said by many – having grace in dealing with our children is KEY to their success in life moving forward. Know that our children will make it through this and come out on the other side successful.
Tammy Fraley is a parent in Allegany County of 4 boys (2 graduated from public schools, 2 currently in public schools). She serves as a local elected school board member and family engagement member at her son’s schools.
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