Helping Kids and Teens Navigate This New School Year
The 2021/2022 school year is very different from prior years. Unlike last year, when many kids struggled with virtual learning, they are now adjusting to being back in the classroom after nearly a year and a half. New to this school year is different rules, mask mandates, pro-vaccine views vs. anti-vaccine views, a new variant of COVID-19, and rising mental health issues. As a result, some kids, particularly adolescents, are having difficulty adjusting to school, especially when faced with today’s common types of peer conflicts.
As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I have seen various conflicts that are making their way to most school campuses:
Students may lack understanding and empathy for those who have opposing views on masks and/or vaccines.
Some of the students diagnosed with COVID-19 or must quarantine because of COVID exposure are alienated by their peers when they return to school.
Students have a hard time gauging others’ emotions because masks cover facial expressions.
Students who sniffle from allergies or other minor ailments get questioned and called out by their peers.
Helping Kids and Teens Navigate This School Year
School can be rough for students facing one of the issues above, have been bullied, or are dealing with other problems. However, parents can help their kids and teens navigate this year’s hardships and negativities with empathy, empowerment, and engagement.
Show Empathy – Empathy means understanding your teen’s perspective from their viewpoint. Asking open-ended questions can help you know how they’re feeling and why they feel the way they are versus assume what they’re going through.
Teach Empowerment – Once you understand how your child feels, you can empower them to develop game plans to ease anxiety and address things bothering them. For example, if your teen is feeling peer pressured to take off their mask when they’re not supposed to, you can discuss ways that your teen can respond or disengage. It can be helpful to have them role-play specific issues or worries they’re trying to resolve.
Consistently Engage – It’s essential to regularly check in with your kids and teens to learn how they’re doing and to let them know that you care. Family meetings can allow everyone to openly share, communicate, and ensure that all family members are on the same page. Along with the family meetings, regular one-on-one conversations with each child is also essential. When engaging with your child, it is important to offer a listening ear versus immediately trying to fix the situation. Many times, kids and teens only want to feel heard, and they’ll be more apt to consider the advice you may give if they ask for it.
Other Things Parents Can Do To Support Their Kids
It’s essential to keep in mind your children’s social and emotional needs and the importance of them connecting with friends. In addition, every family has its own beliefs and decisions on issues such as masks and vaccines. So, it’s important not to bad-mouth other parents when you disagree with their thoughts and rules.
Along with empathy, empowerment, and engagement, you should try to model kindness, non-judgmental behavior, and acceptance of different viewpoints by agreeing to disagree when necessary.
Finally, it’s important for parents and kids to have compassion for themselves and others. While it’s ok to not always see eye-to-eye and agree with others, we should try to handle disagreements compassionately and with kindness. Kids often mimic what they see and hear. If you practice self-compassion and compassion for others, your kids are likely to also start doing the same.