Flexibility in a Time of UncertaintyThursday September 10, 2020
If you’ve been on social media at all in 2020, you’ve likely come across a meme or two (or 100!) of just how unreal this year has been. One of my favorites is this one relating the year 2020 to a game of Jumanji.
Can someone please put away the game of Jumanji???
I also love this bingo card meme! Did anyone have two hurricanes on their 2020 bingo card?
We can all get a good laugh from these memes. Some would say you either laugh or you cry. I choose the laugh option. But in reality, what I’m really choosing is a chance to demonstrate resiliency and flexibility to those around me – especially my two kids at home and the students I see in the clinic and on campus.
July and August presented our next challenge: Do we send our kids to school for in-person learning or do we opt for virtual learning? Was that square on your bingo card last May? It wasn’t on mine!
When we are forced to make choices between two options neither of which we favor, we are forced to practice being flexible so we can adapt to the situation. We can’t force schools to reimagine learning that fits every single family’s expectations. So, what do we do? We adapt. We choose. We demonstrate our flexibility in situations that are beyond our control.
Whether you have decided on virtual learning for your family or to send your child back for face-to-face instruction, you have likely acknowledged that it’s very likely your child will experience disruptions to their school experience this year – maybe even several times during the school year. This is the perfect opportunity to increase your child’s Social Learning (as well as our own as adults!).
Teaching flexibility is a core concept in our Social Learning groups at The Carruth Center, as well as in the classrooms at The Parish School. When I’m teaching flexibility to our youngest learners, I’m as in-decisive as Texas weather. I’ll start by telling the kids that we’re going to play with blocks. The kids get excited and start brainstorming ideas. Then suddenly, I decide we’re going to play with Play-Doh. But gosh, the Play-Doh is too hard! So now, I want to go outside. When the kids catch on that I’ve lost my way and maybe gone a little nuts, they either laugh at my antics or they get frustrated with my inconsistent plans. And then, they’re introduced to my favorite word – the name of the 2020 game – Flexibility.
Just as the children in my groups vary in their responses to my antics, the same will happen to you with your child(ren). Some kids fall into the “it is what it is, go with the flow” response, while others will experience a harder time with the disruption. Those who struggle to adapt may need a little extra support to help process the rapid changes coming at them. Just like the TX-DOT signs tell us to “be prepared” for hurricane season, I have some suggestions on how to “be prepared” for any inconsistency and unpredictability in this school year:
Great news! You’ve already experienced an abrupt change last spring! Flexibility is often taught while reflecting on “remember when” moments. Talk to your child now about the sudden switch to online school in March, before another unexpected disruption occurs. Discuss all the ways your family adapted to the change. Use the vocabulary “flexible” as often as you can.
For example, “Wow! Remember when the whole family had to work and do school from home? That was NOT our plan! But you know what? We were flexible and made it work! Remember how dad had to take his calls outside because the dogs were barking? That felt frustrating to dad, but he was flexible and made a new plan to make it work!”
Create a Space
More good news! Because you know it is a real possibility your child will have to switch to remote learning with little or no notice, it would be super beneficial to have your child’s learning space set up BEFORE the actual switch occurs. Helping to create a learning space with you gives your child a sense of ownership and preparedness. This space is the visual reminder to your child that change may come, but we are prepared - no need to panic! This will help prepare your child to remember and accept that remote learning is an extension of the classroom. In fact, it IS the satellite classroom!
A fun idea is also to name your space - make it a play on your child’s current class. Amy’s Bumblebee class at school, can be “The Hive” while at home. Mrs. Smith’s class at school can be “Smith’s Home Station” at home.
Equip with Emotional Vocabulary
2020 has been a roller coaster year, so it should be easy to use scenarios from this year to teach new emotional vocabulary to your children. Try out words such as: disappointing, uncomfortable and frustrated, as well as confident, comfortable and patience. Don’t forget that we can equally focus on positive emotions. When kids can identify the way they feel about something, they have a starting point to problem-solve, adapt and overcome. You can expect that your child may feel disappointed if their classroom is moved to remote learning. Acknowledge the disappointment – they have a right to feel how the feel. Relate the feeling to previous experience and empower your child with how they overcame another similar situation. For more great ideas on talking about emotions at your child’s language level, attend The Parish School’s UnLuncheon!
Set Realistic Expectations
Understand that change brings about all sorts of feelings for adults and children. Demonstrate patience and flexibility to your child while you’re navigating “the new normal.” If your child is struggling to sit in front of a screen through the duration of the day, make time for brain, wiggle or ice-cream breaks! Encourage growth and improvement each day, but don’t expect the switch to be seamless on Day 1 or Day 5. Relish little victories when working towards big goals!
We’ve focused on the switch from school to home, but we can’t forget the switch from home back to school. The social expectations for each learning environment are different and require code switching when moving to a new environment. This can be very difficult on any child! Wearing shoes at home during remote learning is optional. Wearing shoes to school is required. Take the time to discuss what is expected during home learning and what is expected at school learning.
Have some fun coming up with lists of expected behaviors for home learning and in-person learning:
- When to brush your teeth at home? Eh, it may not happen until lunch time. Brushing your teeth before school? A must!
- Packing a lunch for school is expected. Packing a lunch for home isn’t.
Understanding how to switch codes between the two contexts can lessen those morning disagreements and prepare your child for what’s to come.
Although flexibility during a pandemic is an essential skill to develop, it’s also important to establish routines – especially for our learners who may feel uneasy with the unknown. Bedtimes and wake up times should remain the same whether you’re in-person or have switched to remote. Start time of the school day and end time of the school should resemble the in-person day as much as possible, even if that means your ice cream break pushed into math (gasp!).
Academics ARE important. But being flexible within a routine will only help your child with the adjustment from learning at school to learning at home.
Remember that creating boundaries and routines and considering the emotional well-being of your child outweighs the paper/pencil learning during a pandemic. You should give yourself permission to evaluate the needs of your child in the moment. And if you need someone else to give you that permission, if you’ve read this far, then I hereby grant you permission to survive and THRIVE by reading the needs of your child and adapting as needed (just like we’re asking our kids to do!).
The dice on the Jumanji board keeps getting rolled and the bingo caller keeps calling squares no one has. So as parents, give yourself grace and work toward modeling the power of flexibility when the only thing that is absolutely certain is uncertainty. Be prepared for the changes that may come and partner with your child, your teacher, and your therapist to develop the best plan for your child. You can do this!