August 10, 2020

Managing An Unprecedented Middle School Experience

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I think we can all agree we never thought we’d be navigating a pandemic and trying to simultaneously give our kids the middle school experience they deserve. It’s hard, and there’s a lot of unknowns. You want to be able to support your kids in the best way possible, but you’re learning as you go. 

Many questions might come up from your kiddos, things like, “Am I going back to school?”, “Why can’t I see my friends?”, and even the big question of “What’s a pandemic?” If you’re getting these questions – that’s totally typical behavior! And nothing to worry about. That said, you might want some tips and tricks to help navigate anxiety and other anxiety-related feelings that arise in you and your kids throughout their transition back to school, whether that be virtual or in-person. Here’s some things to look out for.

Now that you know about the 3 A’s and 3 F’s, I bet you’re wondering: what am I supposed to do to with this information?

We’re going to break our strategies out into two sections: learning hacks and life hacks. Let’s start with learning hacks!

Set a Proper Learning Environment

Remove any extra electronics from the room your kids are in for online learning. And try to avoid having them in their bed while online. Sure it’s their “space” but his tip can reduce sleep disruption and help create structure for kids. “You do school in this room, and play in this room.”

Take Breaks

As a good rule of thumb, 15 minute learning sessions are usually most successful. So if your kids are 30 minutes in and you’re losing their attention, that’s okay! Just a good signal that it might be time for a quick break.

Get Outside

Study after study shows nature is a “reset” for our brains. This is true for people of all ages, so get out in the sunshine with your kids when you can! Raining? Indoor screen breaks can be effective as well. Try a quick dance break, or take a few minutes to work on a family puzzle.

Invest in Fidget Items and “Active” Seating

Common fidget items include gum, fidget spinners, stress balls, etc. Just Google “fidget toys” and you’ll get lots of options! You can also use an exercise ball instead of a chair, so your kids have a way to release energy while still doing schoolwork.

Alright, let’s move on to life hacks. Here’s just some basic tips for handling life with children in the middle of a pandemic. Easier said than done! 

Step 1: Managing Your Emotions

Normalize the situation and understand you are not alone.  

We all feel more isolated and lonely. Our children need to know it's normal to feel that way. Be vulnerable. Let them know you may also be scared some days.

Often anxiety and fear comes from feeling lack of control. 

Help them understand what is in their control. Things like hand washing and wearing a mask in close public areas can give some sense of agency.

Distracting from what is not in our control.

There are many things out of our control, but how can we shift that focus? It does not always have to refocus on things in our control. It can be as simple spending a little extra time together, or doing something extra like a quick trip out for ice cream. Or a family movie night.

Step 2: Recognizing Emotions in Others

Show increased compassion.

Being mindful and respectful of others experiences and feelings. Now more than ever we can all show ourselves, our friends, family members, and neighbors a little more kindness and forgiveness than usual.

Compassion is more contagious than COVID-19.

Take a moment each day to ask other members in the family how they are feeling. You may be surprised in their response.  

Step 3: Problem Solving

Stop the world” by taking a break in a heated situation.  

We all are a little more on edge these days. Start by everyone going to their respective corners in the fighting ring. A “time-out” is not a punishment. It’s just a pause button.

Identify and say what is the problem.

Harder than it sounds, right? Especially when there’s a brother or sister involved. Try to think from an outside perspective. How would a stranger view this situation, how would they identify the problem at hand?

Help identify a few solutions.

An easy way to engage children in “solutioning” is to turn it into a game. Ask, “Who can give me the most solutions in 5 minutes?”.

Give pros and cons to a couple solutions and choose the best one.

This doesn’t need to be a huge spreadsheet, but quickly jotting down pros and cons can help you get clarity, and show your kids how you approach problem solving.

Step 4: Together Time

Families are more important than ever.

Now’s the perfect time to work towards incorporating more parent-child 1:1 time into your routine. Even a quick trip to the grocery store for a treat, or running through a drive thru can provide substantial bonding time for your middle schooler.

Peers continue to be important. 

Keep in mind that your kids miss their friends. It’s as simple as that. Think of ways for them to continue to bond with their friends virtually - whether that be through a video game or just some weekly video calls. 

Feeling connected to our communities and schools. 

Try out activities that support your community. Things like online volunteering, or online piano lessons can help your kids feel more connected and less lonely.

We hope these tips are helpful for you. Just remember, be kind to yourself! At the end of the day, you’re living through a pandemic and that’s pretty remarkable in and of itself.

Step 5: Ask for Help

Always know that you are not alone. If you’re ever feeling like you or your kids can’t handle the stressors associated with anxiety, reach out to professional help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline anytime of day or night at (800)-273-8255 or contact a Crisis Counselor through the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

Are you interested in learning more about these topics? Check out these resources suggested by Dr. Doug Newton:

Hear More Expert Advice From Dr. Doug

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Connect with a licensed therapist for online video or in-person therapy sessions.