This post is sponsored by Responsibility.org and is part of a year-long series.
My kids officially finished school for the year and my, what a strange school year it has been. While Ezra might be too young, I know that Adeline (almost 9) and Elias (almost 12) will most certainly remember their 2020 school year.
All of my kids have felt the loss of this year in different ways. While for the most part they have taken it in stride, there have been days where they have been more emotional/sad than their usual demeanors. And of course they would! None of their normal rituals for the end of the year were in place.
No field day.
No dress up days.
No ice cream parties.
No year books.
Despite all of this loss, we can help our kids to thrive as the school year ends and help them navigate this challenging time. Here are five ways to approach the end of the school year.
Have honest conversations
It's important to let our kids feel their feelings and have conversations with our children. In a virtual talk I attended on behalf of Responsibility.org with Brian Coleman, the American School Counseling Association's counselor of the year, he said to ask out kids, “How are you experiencing this? What does it mean to you?”. By asking these questions, parents can create a space for their children to acknowledge their feelings and for them to be vulnerable. It is very healthy for kids to learn that it is okay to have difficult feelings.
As a parent, it is so important to me that we are consistently creating space for openness, authenticity and relatability in our conversations with our kids. Cultivating trust and openness now when they are little is planting important seeds for the future. Having honest conversations is something that Responsibility.org regularly advocates for parents because, as kids get older, these conversations will likely include responsibility about alcohol. So, while our kids are young, creating trust and safety around conversations about feelings really, really matters!
Be present & listen
Chances are, extra responsibilities right now — be it working from home, homeschooling or both — is making you feel stretched too thin. Even in the midst of that, parents should do their best to be present and available to our kids’ feelings of grief and loss. My work day is from 8:30-5 and while Matthew handles the kids mostly during that time, I take breaks during the day to check in on the kids and let them know that I am here for them too. Brian advised that letting them know that we can work to feel certainty in the unknown and that we all can do the next right thing.
Additionally, when we work to be present, it is important to truly listen. We often ask our kids open-ended questions that can't be answered with just a few words. Questions like “How are you feeling?” or “What is hard about right now?” have been great prompts for discussions with our kids. It's important to acknowledge that this is a hard season and it is okay to be feeling all the things!
Create your own special days
With school not in session, many of those special end of the year activities did not happen. And that is hard for kids — so we created our own special days. While my kids didn't experience their schools' end of the year field trips, we took our own field trip to a drive through “safari” park. We also had a water day where they played for hours in an inflatable pool. These experiences didn't replace the special moments that my kids have been looking forward to, but they helped make this time special too.
Document this time
As the school year comes to an end, be sure that you are taking time to document this season through photos, videos, and/or words. There is no right way to document, but I truly believe that capturing this time is something you and your kids will cherish in the years to come. I have taken daily short videos and put them in an app called one second everyday. It is an easy way to create a video memory from the year. I also have been taking lots of pictures and talking to my kids about how they will want to look back on this time. For our annual end of the school year photos, the kids wrote COVID-19 on the wipe off board. We also use these school year memory books, which the kids have filled out. For the end of the year, my oldest son's school dropped off a house sign to remind him that he was valued. Having a photo of that sign and Elias will be a keepsake for years to come.
Make time for self-care
I know this might seem like a surprising item to have on a list about helping our kids, but I preach this all the time. You must take care of you before you can take care of your people. If our kids don't see us taking care of ourselves, how will they learn that self-care matters? Answer: THEY WON'T. Brian echoed this sentiment in his talk, sharing that it is important to show our kids positive ways to cope and to be mindful about how you express emotions. Also, when it comes to alcohol, be careful of the impression you are making on your kids, both young and older. For instance, use thoughtful words when referring to alcohol consumption such as “I’d enjoy a glass of wine or cocktail” as opposed to “I need a drink”.
The 2019-2020 school year was one to remember! I hope these ideas help you to navigate the end of the year with purpose and intention.