by Katie Raher, PhD
I know I’ve written before about my own kids, and they’ve inspired me again for this blog post. We are in full swing distance learning where we live, and I feel like Piaget as I analyze the heck out of my kids to better understand child development and social emotional learning and share my insights with the world.
So, this week, after I thought we were semi-adjusting to distance learning, my little boy (he’s 7) had a giant mixed bag of feelings for the day. Refusing to get on his Zoom calls, trouble focusing, not understanding how to do school activities that would normally be quite easy for him, hitting, screaming, throwing, you name it... It was quite the roller coaster, and this School Psych Mama was beat by the end of this long day of coregulation, growth mindset work, SEL, common core, Zoom calls, and more.
At bedtime, when all I wanted to do was get him to sleep, so I could alas pop my head on the pillow and get some deep rest, my little guy was refusing to sleep. When I said something (can’t even remember what it was, but it clearly wasn’t my best work and triggered him), he started to ball. He sobbed in my arms for at least an hour (for those of you who’ve been on the Constant Love and Learning journey with me, you know we’ve been there before, and I have to tell you how grateful I am that I’m raising this sensitive soul who trusts me enough to open up fully).
As we intermittently were able to get some discussion in there, I realized he was deep in the process of grieving. Luckily for us, there have been no deaths in the family, no loss of pets, and no marital conflict or separation…but still so much grief for my little boy. Grief around everything 2020.
So what exactly is grief? Kim Hanlon, a colleague of mine who is a Certified Grief Recovery Method Specialist, recently shared some definitions of grief used by the Grief Recovery Method:
COVID has created tremendous loss and change for all of us – for the children in our worlds and for ourselves…and there have been so many changes to our normal and familiar patterns.
Y’all… these are hard times. These are grieving times. We have so many messy feelings about all that is going on. Rightfully so.
For my little guy, it was clear from what he shared that he is grieving the loss of "regular school" as he calls it, grieving the loss of the type of in-person instruction that is best for his developing brain, grieving the loss of recess time and playing sports with his buddies, grieving the loss of in-person time with our extended family, grieving playing outside (we are in California, and the air quality has been terrible due to the fires), and so much more.
For any kids and any of you who are engaging in 100% distance learning, there may be happiness and gratitude about the safety of being home and getting to wake up a little later, while there may be disappointment that comes from teaching/learning only through a screen and sadness about missing that in-person human connection.
For those with any amount of in-person learning, there may be delight in seeing students and educators face-to-face, yet there are frustrations and fear around attempts at a socially distanced model of education.
Regardless of what’s real for you, it’s messy. It’s different. And grief is going to be part of the process.
No wonder my own kids, and so many students I support, are having massive reactions to this whole situation – from trouble focusing to trouble remembering, from headaches to school refusal, from sleep disruptions to aggression, and so much more. There is a good possibility that these are grief symptoms.
And no wonder so many of us educators are having our own fair share of challenges – headaches, sleep disruptions, irritability, brain fog, crying, wanting to leave the profession, and on and on. Again, grief may be at play.
So what now? Kim Hanlon also shared some recommendations to help us navigate this very real grief, and I integrate some of my own ideas around SEL and SELf-care to bring these tools to life for the students and colleagues you support (and for yourself!):
No matter what, keep in mind that the many behaviors you're seeing in children, yourself, your colleagues, your family, and even people in passing out in the community may very well be due to grief.
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