Parenting is a tricky field; and with the added challenges of a frightening pandemic and a whole new education system, some professional help is certainly needed. This month, we speak to parenting coach Dr. Hadil Adam about the best way to prepare our children for their back-to-school adventure.
What are the main challenges that parents need to be aware of when sending their children to school at this tense time?
Of course, the challenges depend on the age. For example, for a child aged 6 to 7 years, their attachment to the teacher and the hugs [are very important]. Some kids need this a lot and they must be prepared that it will not, or should not happen. They might come home saying, ‘my teacher is upset with me; she does not love me anymore.’
As for the age of 11 or 12, all they think about would be ‘how come we have no break?’, ‘how come we cannot play?’, ‘how come there is no canteen?’… The challenges are different. They will be rejecting orders that they do not see as logical.
For the age of 14, 15, they might be afraid of Covid, wondering ‘How come we’re going out?’. This could be a reflection of what is happening in the house; and it could also come from reading on their own. Moreover, teens at this age might be psychologically affected when they know a friend is sick. They need emotional support.
How should parents talk to their children about the changes they might encounter in the school environment?
Preparing the child is very important at all ages. Starting from 3-4 years, the child has to be prepared for what they will find when they go to school; what they will be told; what they are required to do; if they are upset, what they should do; when they can do what. . . . They should know all these details so that they don’t feel surprised or frustrated.
As for older children, those who reject everything and reject rules, they should be reminded that we were at home 24/7 for the past period, now we can go out a bit. They should be told to look at the positive side; and that they should be cooperative because cooperative people give a good impression. They should be prepared that the situation is tough; and [they should be told] that their help for their teachers and for their colleagues is appreciated; and that the parent will appreciate to hear that they were cooperative and that they listened to the instructions and showed understanding of the situation.
Teens will be frustrated that they have to go to school after they got used to staying at home with their video games and mobile phone. . . . They will of course be happy to see their friends, but the tasks will be more and they will have to make more effort. We should be patient with them and we should not demand from them to be up and going at once. We should tell them that we understand that it all started suddenly; trainings with schoolwork and commitments. . . They also need to be [made aware that a lack of commitment] will have long-term negative consequences. At this age, the consequences need to be explained. ‘Do you want to be an A or B student? what will this require from you? What would happen if you do not do it?’. . . The parents have to discuss it all with their teens.
What can parents and schools do to help children adapt better to the situation?
First, the material or the tools used by the child, such as the laptop or internet, must not be frustrating, for instance being too slow. . . . This is very important, that the environment be convenient.
At school, there should be a replacement for the break time that will be taken away from the students. There should be some fun time for activities and games while respecting the distance. As for the house, and the time when there is online schooling, we should tell the child that we understand that it is boring and that it is not as effective as going to school; that we feel for them, but the system should be respected and everyone should benefit, and that we cannot take risks with our health. We should tell them that they should understand this; and even if they do not understand it, they should accept it because we cannot change reality. The discussion is very important at all phases.
What do parents need to know? What sorts of reactions should they expect so that they’re prepared to deal with their children?
They should expect all reactions from their kids. Anger is expected, laziness is expected, lack of motivation is expected. They must have tools to use with each reaction. The most important thing is to remind the child that what they are doing [wrong] will not help them achieve what they want, and that it is not what they promised to do.
There should always be flexibility as well, with limits. And if there is a need to change old promises or agreements, new ones must be made based on a discussion between the parent and the child. … A new contract should be written; and all its details should be clear.
One of the most challenging situations that a parent has to deal with is an angry child. What is the best way to deal with anger at this intense time?
First of all, acceptance is the key. It is the solution of any problem; to accept children as they are. Parents have to show unconditional love, and to fulfil the children’s needs. Anger is usually caused by dissatisfaction; the child feels they are missing something . . . love, play. . . . When they are satisfied, anger is reduced.
If your child is angry and unhappy that they are going back to school or with online education, we need to encourage them by listening and validating their emotions. . . . We should not justify what is happening with ‘this is it’ or ‘what can I do about it?’; [instead] we should look with them for solutions. We call it emotional coaching. We should talk to the child, discuss with them, and feel for them. . . . This helps reduce the anger.
Do you have any tips for parents who are worried about their children’s mental health at this point? How should parents approach their children and when is it time to seek professional help?
This is a very important question. Firstly, for children who have a mental health problem, this did not happen because they went to school. It happens because they spent three or four months in isolation, attached to their phones and not doing any activities. . . . They were isolated from the real outside environment, which they then encounter on the first day of school. So they are anxious, they do not want to talk, and so on. They might also be frustrated, and exhausted from having to concentrate on something after being passive at home. In all cases, any change that happens to the child, such as crying, staying silent, a change in their eating habits. . . . is a sign that there is something wrong.
When to seek professional help? When we exhaust all the normal attempts, such as reassuring the child without any questions, questions make them nervous. Only give them a hug. After a few hugs, they start talking on their own; or try asking indirect questions. Direct questions make them nervous and increase their anxiety. We do not seek professional help unless the same situation is repeated over a period of time.