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Feeling like this school year has been a wash?

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You may be right. And you’re not alone.

This year of unprecedented change and stress continues, and while there may be light at the end of the tunnel in many important respects, there has also been a very real impact on our kids and their learning and behaviors.

I talk to families all across the country, and parent after parent is sounding like a broken record.

“Ugh. Thank goodness this school year is almost over. We just need to get through it. It was bad for everyone. It’s like this school year doesn’t even count. We’ve given up. This school year is a wash. We’ll start over fresh next year.”

But the reality is, this year is NOT a wash.

A wash implies the impact of the year will be washed away, leaving a clean surface to begin again. For many, the reality is that this year has left scars. Damage that does not magically go away at the end of the school year, or the beginning of the next, but lingers on.

Expectations next year will not be lowered because of this year.

While you’re feeling like “all of the kids are facing the same scenario” it does not change the expectations that will be in place for your child next school year. There will NOT be a shift or change in the curriculum and grade standards or benchmarks. Third grade will still be focused on memorizing multiplication and division facts, even if your child failed to fully grasp and master addition and subtraction this year in second grade. This means if your child has fallen behind or struggling they’ll be facing more challenges next year.

Three key areas to consider to help set your child up to get back on track.

Education: From the learning perspective, kids are missing the benefit of a teacher’s watchful eye looking to see that they are consistently engaged as well as grasping and applying the concepts being taught before moving on to the next lesson. Distance learning has made it more difficult for kids to ask questions and receive immediate help and assistance when needed. Failing grades, dropping out, and utter lack of engagement are up drastically in school districts across the country. Take a long hard look at your child’s school work to start to identify any areas they are falling behind. Reach out to their teachers and ask if they are ready for the curriculum expectations of next year.

Social: This year has had a significant impact on the social interactions and interpersonal learning for our kids due to fewer and changed interactions. With less opportunities to test and learn their social boundaries and consequences of their actions and behaviors, kids may be feeling less comfortable and confident in social situations. This can result in pulling back from the few opportunities they have to interact with peers in person and may result in feelings of loneliness.

Kids may be choosing to rely more heavily on interactions through texting and social media rather than in person. While this may feel easier to our kids, they are missing the interactions and learning that take place face to face. So many of life’s lessons are learned on the playground and through social interactions at school. This lessened contact and interaction with friends and family are leaving us all more alone and isolated. With rates of depression and anxiety tripling this year, considering how they are doing with peer connections and interactions becomes even more important.

Self-Confidence: With activities and sports cancelled or altered for much of this past year, our kids had fewer opportunities to feel accomplished or successful. They have less opportunities to try new things, and less of an audience to watch and validate what they are doing. Instead, they were stuck home with stressed out parents who may have spent the year nagging over school work struggles and chores. This can result in heightened feelings of inadequacy. Kids that are struggling with self-esteem may be less willing to do things, especially if it involves something new or an audience.

A new school year will not solve all of the challenges.

While we are all looking forward to an upcoming school year that will hopefully resemble a traditional year, we need to accept that a fresh start will not erase the effects of this year. The return to providing our kids with a routine of structure, guidance, oversight and social interactions is critical and a huge step in the right direction. But realize that the lingering feelings and ramifications of this last year may still remain, and the return to structure and expectations may feel like a shock to the system.

So where does this leave you and your child? What can you do today to prepare for next school year?

Step One: Stop saying this year was a wash. Just like when the new year of 2021 started, the troubles of 2020 did not magically disappear. The same will apply to school and possibly even yourself and your child’s emotional well-being. Acknowledge the trials and tribulations of this year.

Step Two: Take stock of the impact you are seeing in your child, and in yourself. Make a list of the areas you are concerned about. Consider the three areas of education, social and self-confidence as well as their emotional well-being.

Step Three: Create an action plan based on what you are seeing in your child. If your concern is math, take advantage of the time this summer to spend even just a few minutes a day reviewing or working on concepts. If you’re seeing challenges in their emotional well-being focus on getting them connected and engaged with the family, as well as peers. If the technology time has gotten out of control, set time limits and boundaries. Then follow through with managing the time and expectations (this takes energy and effort on your part, which is hard to do when you’re also exhausted, but worth it in the end).

Step Four: Ask for help. No one is the expert in all things. Be the expert in recognizing what is going on with your child and yourself. Then seek the expert in that area to help. You don’t have to do it all alone.

Step Five: Make time to play with friends and feel successful (you too parents). After such a heavy and hard year we all need some fun in the sun! Set aside the phone and laptop and venture outside away from screens and technology to move and interact with people outside your household. We all need this desperately. Think of activities to do where you can celebrate an accomplishment. Go for a hike. Train for a 5k. Read a book. Learn a new game. Plant a garden. Something different that you can tackle individually or as a family, then recognize and celebrate you did it!

Moving forward
This year has happened, whether or not we liked it, and it has left a lingering impact with us all. Recognizing this truth will help you to create an action plan so that you and your child can be set up to move beyond this pandemic year and get the most out of the next school year!

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