During this time, that is becoming known as the “new normal,” parents, teachers, and students are doing their best to manage the massive shift in roles and responsibilities. From changes in work for parents and changes in learning for students, we are forced into a paradigm shift, re-examining the overscheduled life of the past, and the conflicting values of living a fast-paced life.
As we try to settle into family isolation and make the best of each week, what becomes glaringly obvious for parents is their child’s struggles. What we see more than anything is how children with executive function and self-regulation deficits struggle to adapt and adjust to this new life. An overscheduled day helped mask the symptoms of lagging skills. Without this external structure, many can’t manage their day effectively – school, sleep hygiene, screentime.
As parents and professionals, we are blessed right now with an opportunity to address these lagging skills head-on and help our children grow and develop. To start this skill development challenge, parents need to find some extra time with their kids. Well, we have it now. There is nothing else but time as we live a quarantined life, socially isolated during the Covid19 pandemic.
With this new-found window of time, we can pause and thoughtfully connect with our child. We can connect and help them through whatever struggle presents itself. We can teach self-reflection, problem-solving, and awareness. We have time to connect and help our children process their thoughts and emotions, and to help them to hear their voices from within. Just a month ago, life was too busy and chaotic to address these self-regulation and executive function skills. We were just too busy. We had to move on, so we told our children what to do and how to do it. It was more reasonable and necessary to solve the problem. Life couldn’t wait. We were too overwhelmed with dinners, morning routines, and the overscheduled world of multiple children, multiple activities, and careers.
Dr. Ross Green would recommend that the first thing to do when you connect with your child is to ask them an open-ended question. An open-ended question, that’s non-judgemental and heartfelt, gives you a chance to connect and your child a chance to think. An excellent, straightforward question to practice can be, “what’s up?” It can be followed by something more direct around what you observe. For example, “what’s up? I notice you’re struggling.” This open-ended non-judgmental question allows your child to look within and think about their thoughts and emotions. As you pause and wait, it may feel like an eternity. Your child may not know what to do with this question because it’s never been asked. As you wait, there is this awkward silence. This is where you want to hang out with your child. You want them to think, and you want to be there to guide them as they process, problem solve, and reflect on their situation or emotion. As your child gets better at this, the questions you ask can become more detailed, but still open-ended. For example, “what’s up? I noticed you’re struggling with today’s classwork”, or “what’s up? I noticed by your frustration that something’s off. Would you like some help?”
As you do this for the next hundred opportunities, you will find that your child gets better at this type of conversation, and so do you. At first, it will not be easy as it may be an unfamiliar and potentially weak, metacognitive process, and your child may be heavily dependent on your direct input and prompting. However, don’t give up and be patient and unemotional. Below are some other recommendations to consider as you help your child look within and listen to their thoughts and emotions. This parenting approach will develop your child’s self-efficacy, which is the most important muscle to build in our children.
- Get down to their eye level.
- Do not take on your child’s burden, whether it’s their emotions or their struggles. As soon as you do, you take your child out of the driver’s seat.
- As you help your child problem-solve, ask questions that help your child to see other options, and make decisions that match their innate abilities.
- Whatever you do, do not judge or direct. This may be what your child is used to and maybe expecting. Just listen and connect. Once your child feels like you understand, then you can move a little closer towards collaborative problem-solving.
- If their frustration is emotional (tears, meltdown), then address the emotion through an empathetic gesture like a hug or a statement to affirm their stress and frustration. If their temper tantrums are too much, then you need a pre-discussed plan of action. I recommend that all kids (young and old) go to their room to decompress. Connect with your child afterward when they are calm and ready.
- Let go of pre-existing expectations. Keep it simple and connect to your child on where they are, not on where you think they should be. This may be harder to do as you witness your child’s struggles being far below their developmental age.
- Make sure the teachers understand the struggles and are part of the support plan. Do not do this alone.
- Reframe your parenting role. You are not expected to solve ALL your children’s problems. You are expected to help them if they need it. Let go of your problem-solving role and be a phenomenal listener, and affirm within your child their innate ability to solve their problems. For example, “What’s up? I notice you are struggling?”. “I believe you can solve this problem. What do you think would work?”