Lucie Pentz, Child Psychologist at St. James Academy, has watched how parents, teachers, and students have adapted during fall semester, finding opportunities while navigating challenges. For example, students have found new means of communicating and expressing themselves beyond the mask.
“Our social skills and how we teach them has certainly changed,” said Dr. Pentz. “We have been forced to think outside the box around the question, how will we make others feel loved and cared for with our masks on and staying six feet apart? You can’t show your smile, and you can’t hug, high-five, etc. Our students have been turning into expert ‘eye readers,’ smiling with their eyes and ‘reading’ each other’s faces and finding new ways to communicate empathy and care.
As a child psychologist, Dr. Pentz has been a critical player in St. James’ COVID-19 response. While the school has made numerous environmental changes to their facility, procedures, and practices, their foundational principles have not changed; instead, they have become even more intentional.
“We allow our students to engage in the productive struggle, the necessary process, and the resiliency recipe ingredient. Becoming careful and astute observers of our students (their abilities, strengths, and weaknesses) helps us determine how and when to intervene to support the resilience-building process,” said Dr. Pentz.
In the spirit of adapting and fostering your child’s own resilience, Dr. Pentz is sharing five tips for helping your child navigate school during the pandemic. We found these very helpful — and are sure you will, too!
Navigating School During the Pandemic: Tips for Parents
Many of us, when faced with a crisis, tend to reach out, help, and do, which is a wonderful trait. But when it comes to parenting, that tendency can have some unintended consequences. Overhelping and overdoing can be disabling to our children as we are taking away invaluable learning opportunities. While watching our children struggle can be painful, it is crucial for their development.
The good news is that children usually don’t experience the struggle as adversely as we do watching them. My tip would be that before we reach out and help our child with whatever the task, we ask ourselves, “Can he/she do it? What am I trying to accomplish here? Is it about me feeling good helping, or is it about them growing?” While we may be tempted to overcompensate for our child missing out on a normal school year, making too many allowances and lowering the expectations can hurt our child and us in the long run. It’s like permitting ourselves to eat one more piece of candy because we had a hard day at work. It just makes us feel defeated in the end.
It’s okay to be unstructured.
Unstructured time can lead to creativity and fresh ideas.
Sometimes limitations in resources or opportunities open doors to new possibilities, new skills, a new look at the world around them, and new ways to access what they need. Our children are fully capable of entertaining themselves. We just need to give them uninterrupted time and space to explore the richness of their imagination.
Emphasize and use the process of learning as a reward and joy in and of itself.
While it’s important to find the right incentives for children who need the extra boost, for most children, the greatest reward is the feeling of accomplishment and mastery that comes from knowing that they can do something that they couldn’t do a week ago. Circling back with your children to the feeling when something was a struggle and they persevered and finally got it is so crucial. Self-esteem does not happen in a vacuum. It’s always linked to mastery of a skill: the harder the skill, the greater the increase in self-esteem.
Predictability is key.
Acknowledging the fatigue while sticking with predictable expectations is the best gift we can give to our children. Sometimes saying to your child, “I get it; it’s hard,” is much more powerful than reaching for the silver lining.
Predictable routines and expectations become even more important during unpredictable times. It’s important to decide on “non-negotiables and negotiables” and make them the prescription, so when we are feeling exhausted, we can quickly refer to our rulebook. For example, your child’s bedtime may be non-negotiable, but the amount of screen time may vary on weekends. Making these decisions ahead of time when feeling calm is much easier than in the heat of the moment.
Good enough is good enough.
Lastly, sometimes good enough is good enough. Stress and feeling pressured can be contagious, so extending grace to yourself and your child is one of the greatest gifts. Not every moment has to be a teachable one. Life always provides us with plenty of teachable moments. So if you missed it this time, the lesson will come again.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of our School Spotlight Series. In this series, we spotlight our partner schools to give you a glimpse into what learning looks like on their campus. To learn more about St. James Academy, visit their directory listing in our Independent School Directory. Images were provided by the school. Want to become a school partner? Email us.