Imagine finally making the long trip to a grandparent’s house after months away, then within hours having to leave because your child’s nose starts running. What a heartbreaking disappointment for the whole family. It’s been a year of jarring losses, frustrations, and isolation.
That’s why it shouldn’t be a surprise for teachers to observe that our students of all ages are having heightened reactions to disappointment and frustration and more anxiety. There are stories of children falling apart because they didn’t make first in line or when they get tagged out in a game. A younger child might throw a tantrum because they can’t have another child’s toy or when asked to stop breaking a rule.
In these times of increased anxiety and stress, it’s important for parents and caregivers to spend time comforting and taking care of themselves. It takes extra energy to respond to children who are needy when our own inner resources are depleted. This is not the time for adults or children to overbook activities. Instead, spend time in soothing activities with children. Having intimate play times together will lower everyone’s stress. Have family meetings to talk about feelings.
With students having outsize reactions to small situations, trusting relationships between parents and teachers are more important than ever. Teachers want to hear about what’s happening in a child’s life, especially difficult circumstances that may be causing stress.
Teachers understand that after a year of isolation, their students aren’t used to the everyday social demands of being with other children. In some ways, many preschool and elementary children seem younger than their age, because they’ve missed out on a year of socialization. If children come home with a story of how they were treated unfairly at school, it’s helpful to check in with the teacher to get a fuller perspective.
Children may not be as used to following directions and complying with requests when asked, or they may have learned they can get what they want by throwing a tantrum. The Nurtured Heart Approach offers helpful guidance on the difference between comforting a sad child and giving attention to a child throwing a tantrum and inadvertently encouraging acting out. Parents provide helpful information about a child’s temperament, while teachers can paint a picture of how to gently move children toward what they will need to be able to manage at the next grade level.
As one wise teacher put it, the partnership between teachers and parents can provide a much-needed equilibrium.
The school is planning a Zoom conference to help parents and teachers work successfully with children’s anxieties and stress. We’ll be sending more information shortly.