As the behavior specialist at the Interboro School District I've seen how this has impacted kids, plus I've given a lot of thought on how this "could impact" kids' future. I specifically chose the words "could impact" and not "will devastate" for a specific reason. Realistically, everyone is being impacted in a variety of negative way. However, how we chose to frame this unknown situation in our mind is going to drive the forthcoming emotions and behaviors. My advice, try not to catastrophize an already tense and peculiar situation. When we catastrophize toilet paper vanishes and medical facilities don't have hand sanitizer. I would like to focus this blog on two specific emotions kids will experience at elevated levels.
Boredom and Frustration
Kids are going to be very bored and frustrated, and you know what, Good. I say good, not that it is going to be easy for parents to handle (as I get frustrated with my daughter's 15th question in 3 minutes despite telling her that I need time to type), I say good because many good things can arise out of frustration and boredom: creativity, insight, learning, perseverance, self-reliance, movement toward independence, finding new interests... As a psychologist, I see the greatest outcome as increased tolerance for unwanted but normal and unavoidable emotions
Kids are not in school and unlike the summertime they do not have camps, vacations, and the pool to preclude boredom. Boredom is inevitable. Additionally, kids are not in the normal setting where learning takes place. Thus parents are shouldering the burden of creating and rolling out unfamiliar academic lessons in an alternate environment that is typically intended for relaxation. Know that your kids are going to fight schoolwork at home much like you would fight a business meeting or conference while on vacation. Also, acknowledge that you as a parent are not responsible for your child's avoidance of boredom. You are not your child's entertainment manager. That is their job. We have gotten too caught up in making sure our kids are perpetually having fun: play dates, parties, sleep overs, Urban Air, organized sports, Betty's Fun Center...
All things unfamiliar and alternate to anyone is likely to result in frustration. Think of the basic definition of frustration: To have an expectation of how things are supposed to go, but it doesn't go according to planned. I encourage everyone, kids and parents alike, to work on being acutely aware of their frustration and work on accepting that very little is going according to planned nowadays. Understanding and accepting the frustration, rather than fighting it tends to make it more psychologically tolerable. Many parents will see their children melt down due to the new, unwanted, and unexpected modification of the living room being transformed into a make-shift classroom. A classroom with just siblings who are now classmates and a parents who are now teachers creates perfect recipe for frustration.
Frustration is a precursor to anger. The last thing a household needs are angry parents and kids fighting one another. This could be the quickest path to two problematic outcomes.
1. Angry parents are more likely to to say "forget it, I give up" which can lead to gatherings with too many people like parties or sleep overs. That anger will cloud good judgment and precipitate hopelessness. Both of which can encourage rash decision-making that goes against the recommendation of social distancing.
2. Angry parents are more likely to throw in the technology towel. Stay vigilant in the fight against the path of least resistance. Win the battle with your kids and assert your authority. Your child's goal is the path of least resistance. Technology offers no resistance to the kids, it is easy. Reading, worksheets, creative projects are all going to be resisted. Video games and IPads are desired by the kids and therefore easier for parents to surrender to. Life is hard, especially now. Stand your ground.
I assure all parents that afterward, you will feel better if you read with your kids, create some art, conduct a math lesson, go on a walk with just your family, or play a non-technology game. You will feel better because of pride. Pride is a common area of focus in sport psychology. Pride is what pushes athletes to suffer in preparation whether it's sprints, lifting, long distance runs, boring drills, missing out on a party, or physically rehabbing from an injury. They want to re-experience the pride of earning a spot on the starting lineup, hitting a game winning shot, or crossing the finish line first. They also want to feel the pride of not giving in to the path of least resistance and pursuing the harder path. Follow the recommended suggestions of social distancing, keep up with your child's academics, and do not give into their boredom and frustration and you will feel proud of maintaining your responsible role within your community and as a parent.
Feel free to provide comments about activities or ideas you have planned or have already used within your home as a resource to others. For example my daughter is going to have us paint using skittles some time this week. We will see how it goes.