Michelle Rupp: Heather Chapman-Henry joins me now. She’s a licensed social worker. Heather, first of all, this whole show we’ve been talking about COVID. Students are on the cusp of the new school year. Guidance is changing literally every 30 seconds. But one thing that I think we do know that is certain is school is going to start. You are going to have kids going back to the classroom. You may have some kids who are wearing masks, you may have some kids that are not wearing masks. We also know that children aren’t always kind. So what happens when a child comes home and says, you know, mom, they gang up on me at school on the playground today and wanted to know why I was wearing a mask or they ganged up on me and wanted to know why I wasn’t wearing a mask. As a parent, that’s wrenching to hear. It’s hard. How do you then tell your child, “No baby, you can’t punch every single one of them. We don’t do that.” How do you guide them? What do you say?
Heather Chapman-Henry: I think one of the things that stands out for me is that none of us really know exactly how to navigate all this. We really don’t. Parents are under lots of stress and strain, and so are the kids. I think the first thing I say to the kid is, “What do you think we should do? What do you want to do?” Giving the kids a little bit of control in a world right now where nothing seems to be in control. Ask them, “Do you need me to help with anything?” Because I think sometimes kids just want to talk about what happened that day and how hard it is and we like to problem solve right away. I know I do with my kids. So, putting it back on the kid to say “that must be so hard.” First acknowledging how hard that is and how awful that must have been. And then “what do you think we ought to do?” And if they’re like, “I have no idea, that’s why I’m telling you. That’s why I’m asking you.” Then say, “Okay, well let’s create a plan. Who did you talk to about it? Do you want to talk to anybody about it?” School counselors are incredible. And just talking to the school counselor doesn’t mean it goes back to the kids that were bullying or to the principal or anything like that. Just say to the kid, “What do you think about sitting down with the school counselor and getting some feedback on what we ought to do?” If the kids like, “no, no, no, I don’t want anyone to know,” then, “okay, well let’s try to think of some options and some things you might be able to say,” because a lot of kids don’t want to get anyone else involved. They say, you know, it might make it worse. So that’s what I would say is first acknowledge how the kid feels and how hard that is and then have them help with some of the problem solving, because we don’t know. Again, telling the kids like, “I don’t really know how to navigate this. That’s hard. What do you think we ought to do?” And kids sometimes are like, “whoa, they’re asking me what I want to do instead of just telling me.” I think that can be really powerful.
MR: My last question parallels with the social side of it. You’ve got kids who had to be in school last year, they could not be virtual for whatever reason. You had students who were virtual for various reasons and now we’re going to put all the jelly beans in the same container together. You’re going to have some, you know, that maybe they were straight A students when they were in the classroom and then they were virtual and then they come back and realize, you know, they failed a test for the first time in their lives or, you know, the academic level … the separation between that in person learning versus the virtual learning. How do you begin to address that and kind of embrace it and move past it?
HCH: Yeah, I think that’s so hard. We saw kids who did better virtually because they could kind of go at their own pace and they may have had somebody there to kind of help them and coach them. And then we saw kids who did a lot worse, like you said, when that format isn’t what they needed. They needed more in-person, face-to-face, you know, writing things down, more kinesthetic stuff. So again, I would say to the kid, reflecting the feeling first, “That must be so hard. It’s going to be an adjustment for you. I don’t want you to expect yourself to do it perfectly right away. What do you think might help? Do you want to send an email to the teacher? Do you want to practice some of these things with me?” A lot of parents are just stretched so thin right now.
MR: We all are
HCH: Yeah, we all are, absolutely. So again, looking back to the kid about what they think is going to help, but helping them to understand that we’re all different kinds of learners and you may have done worse because it was an online format and so we’re going to hunker down and just kind of power through this year. Or, if they did better with the online format, what can we do that might supplement. I know kids right now are really into looking things up on Youtube and Khan Academy. Kids are so resourceful. That’s a way for us to spin it with “okay, what are some online resources you could find that might help you and your learning?” if they did really well with the virtual stuff. Kids are really incredible problem solvers. So just again, “okay, what do you think might help? Let’s get a plan, let’s do what we can to make this work for you this year and you’re not going to do it perfectly and we’re going to just kind of learn as we go, okay?” We’re going to do our best normalizing it for them. And I think parents, we put our own fears on our kids when some of them aren’t even really scared. They’re like, “I’m actually okay with this. I’m looking forward to going back to school. I think it’s going to be an adjustment, but I’ll be okay.” But we’re just white knuckling it like oh my gosh, what’s gonna happen? So we have to breathe and pace ourselves and not put our own fears and anxiety on our kids too. I think that’s really important.
MR: All right, Heather, thank you. That’s such valuable information.