Adapting to a New Normal During COVID-19

Keri CloptonKerri Clopton, Nicole Skaar and Stephanie Schmitz are College of Education associate professors who specialize in school psychology. They drew on their expertise to share advice for parents and others who are navigating this new world of COVID-19. 

Adapting to the new normal associated with COVID-19 was difficult and then the new normal changed….and changed again. The new normal is continuing to change and there is no clear timeline for when we can expect our lives to return to the “old normal” many of us long for. 

Stephanie SchmitzFor many students and their caregivers (e.g., parents, family members, guardians), the newest normal includes “continuous learning” opportunities provided by their school district that may be voluntary or required. As a caregiver, you have now added teacher and/or “classroom manager” to your list of daily responsibilities. We imagine there have been a wide range of responses to the new responsibilities and we believe handling these new responsibilities with grace and flexibility will be critical for the well-being of caregivers and their children.

Nicole SkaarCaregivers are dealing with a range of demands and stressors as the new normal continues to change. Stress associated with safety and health issues, financial issues and juggling working from home with caregiving demands is likely common. Children’s academic, emotional and behavioral needs also vary, with some children requiring substantial support in their typical school environment. Children also vary in their levels of interest in and motivation for school and school work. Given the range of needs, stressors and demands, we make the following recommendations as caregivers and children continue their learning:

  • Give grace to yourself and others. These are difficult circumstances for everyone. It is important to remember that what you may see on other people’s social media pertaining to  “amazing continuing learning opportunities” is probably not representative of what is occurring in most homes, and may not be possible for your home.
  • Keep routines if you can. Children thrive with routine. It can provide a sense of comfort and predictability in a time when we are unsure of what comes next. 
  • Communicate with your kids (clearly and at a developmentally appropriate level) about your expectations for behavior and engagement in academic activities. Seek their input about what is and is not working. They may be able to tell you what tasks they can do independently and what tasks require your support. Also talk about how much time you can spend with them each day and work time with them into the routine for the day. This may help you get your work done without interruption, while also giving kids some assurance that the connection they need with you is coming. Set realistic goals and allow yourself to abandon them as needed. There are likely going to be good, bad and ugly days. Celebrate the good days and allow yourself to change the day’s plan when needed.
  • Communicate with your child’s teacher if you and your child are struggling with required work or don’t have the resources you need to complete assigned tasks. 
  • Create time for student-led activities. This is a great time for kids to learn to cook or bake, to learn about their favorite singer or athlete, or to learn a new instrument using YouTube videos. Ask your kids what they want to spend time learning and make time for this student-led learning. Relatedly, offer kids choices when it comes to the schedule for the day. When do they want to do academic activities? What academic activities do they want to do first? Have your student(s) work with you to create a schedule for the day.
  • Take care of yourself. If possible, routinely schedule time for yourself. It doesn’t have to be a huge block of time; five to ten minutes without demands is likely to help you. 
  • Take care of your relationship with your child. Build time for fun activities into the routine. It may also be helpful to clearly define the end of the school day. If school is stressful for you and/or your child, restrict school-related conversations to school hours. School does not have to be the typical seven hours. Remember, during the school day there is downtime and teacher attention is spread across many students. The very low student to teacher ratio in your house means that school can be just a couple hours rather than seven.
  • Keep your sense of humor. This is hard! Laugh at your mistakes, find humor in the little mishaps of the day, and maybe even read a joke or funny story with your children. 
  • Be ready for constant change. Start each day believing that you, your caregiving partner (if you are lucky enough to have one) and your children are doing their best. Each person’s best may also change from day to day. You may wake up with energy and optimism one day and get hit next with sadness and exhaustion. This will happen with children, too. Talk about these changes, help each other know that these changes within us are normal. Take each day in stride.

While young children may not understand what is happening in the world around us, they are influenced by those around them, recognizing differences and changes in emotion and affect and behavior. Compiled from several websites/resources with a focus on early childhood, the following are recommendations for talking with young children:

  • Use storytelling to help young children process the coronavirus pandemic. Examples include virtual read alouds, social stories, and using stories and artwork to express their feelings (www.naeyc.org).
  • Discuss and reinforce healthy habits, such as washing hands, resting when sick, and coughing and sneezing into their elbow. Further, remind children that sleep, eating healthy and exercising are important to strengthen their bodies. Further resources on staying healthy and talking with your kids about COVID-19 can be found on the PBS site.
  • “De-stress” with your young child. As our stress continues to grow, so does our children’s! Some ideas include deep breathing, asking important questions on the source of stress and modeling how to stay calm for our children. 

Resources

Helping Children Cope with COVID-19: This resource has ideas for talking with children about the pandemic and other ways to support children during this time. This content is presented in English, Spanish, Chinese and several other languages. 

A list of resources and ideas for teachers, caregivers and those working with children during the pandemic. 

Helping Handouts that include tips for families and educators during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Importance of Care for Caregivers: This resource, on the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) website, provides information on possible signs of chronic stress and grief for caregivers, as well as strategies that school leaders can use to provide a climate of support and ideas for self-care.

Tips for Families: Coronavirus: Families with young children may have needs that differ from those with school-age children. Zero to Three provides suggestions for families on age-appropriate responses to the young child’s questions, ideas for self-care, and activities for young children while social distancing.

Resources for promoting mental wellbeing, stress relief, and coping that include mindfulness activities for adults and children.