I have the privilege of working with Young Mensans every day. This is my favorite part of my job. I get to connect to our kiddos through the different National Office programs I facilitate for them. We have good relationships. Lately, I’ve been disturbed by what I’m hearing from them.
This school year has proven far more difficult than anyone anticipated. Gifted kids who are used to acing school are not doing well in what have proved to be radically different learning situations. Teachers are “piling on work,” I’m told, and students can’t keep up. They aren’t able to “juggle everything” like they were able to before. They are missing deadlines and not completing Mensa projects with me because they are behind on schoolwork and know school always comes first. And I’m hearing from parents that screen time is taking over, with kids on their devices for hours and hours a day.
While I can’t change the current educational situation, I can offer these tips — helpfully summed up in six Rs — that you might find helpful if your child is like any of “my” children in Mensa.
Stress does not make this go any better or faster. And stressing out over your child stressing out can create a vicious cycle that mires you both. Whenever you start to feel overwhelmed and anxious, take a deep breath and remind yourself you can control only what you can control. You can’t take on the weight of your child’s whole world.
Instead of an “I can fix it” mindset, try to focus on one thing you can do to help make your child feel better. Perhaps a dance party in the kitchen, or making their favorite cookies, or simply giving them a hug and letting them know they are not alone. Acknowledging they are stressed will count for a lot.
Find ways to connect with your child outside your familial relationship and show them you can relate.
Think about it this way: If you just met them, what would you have in common? What would you appreciate about them? What would draw you to have a relationship with them if they weren’t your child? This could be easier to see as they get older. With younger kids, it might be that you both like to color or eat chocolate with popcorn.
If you connect with them on a relational level, they will be more likely to feel your empathy. You can’t do this if you see them only as your child. Remember, you’re raising a human who will one day function in the world independent of you. Build a relationship with them where they know you care for them not only parent-to-child but person-to-person.
It’s time to refresh your idea of school. Your school experience was nothing like what your children are experiencing right now. They have pressures you can’t even comprehend. This is not an insult to you, just the new reality.
Many teachers have increased the volume of work, not realizing every other teacher has done the same. Those teachers also have unprecedented access to their students, who certainly don’t have the same experience you and I do balancing our assigned work within the rest of our 24/7 lives.
One student I know has 11 teachers. He gets communications from all of them multiple times a day, every day, and at all hours. (The late timestamps are also a testament to educators’ heavy workloads, God bless ’em.) Each teacher has their own classroom setup, unique environments in which he’s supposed to learn. It’s hard enough for students to keep track of the dates and times of several classes, but they are also being inundated with info and updates: reminders, assignments, returned assignments, school news, things teachers forgot to say during the class….
School is nothing like it has ever been before and far from an easy experience. We are all learning as we go right now. Remember to show your children grace.
Put a dial on the time your child spends unplugged with the family and regulate it to keep them engaged and present.
With all the stressors, everyone needs to take screen breaks to truly connect with other people. Clean the house together. Take a meal. Go for a walk. A tip: Teens are more likely to talk if they are actively doing something besides just staring at you. Whatever you do, make it a requirement for all the family to participate, and don’t back down.
Enforce the no-tech rules even on the adults and make this time a priority. Screens are demanding more of our attention, which means we need to make a more concerted effort to connect in person.
Relish your precious child. Remember the beginning when you marveled at how incredible they were for every little thing they did? Get back to the place where you feel awe and wonder for who they are becoming. This tiny human you have the privilege of raising is with you for only a small amount of time and before going off to live their own life.
In those times you want to scream, try to remember this will all be gone far too soon.
In time, they will become more private with their thoughts and won’t want to tell you every, single, teeny, tiny detail of their day. They will deal with their pain and anguish with others and not be available for you to hold and soothe the hurts away.
When you look back on these times, make sure you can smile because you remembered to tell your child you love them and that you are glad they are here with you.
… with grace, if possible.
My kids feel incredibly bad about missing deadlines and not completing things. This is compounding their stress. For me, with the programs I run, I have decided to implement the I Got Hit With 2020 Rule. This means they made a commitment they fully intended to keep, but due to everything happening in this mess of a year, they simply couldn’t. This is all they have to say: “I got hit with 2020.”
By allowing my kids to use this phrase, they don’t have to feel bad about not completing the task. They don’t have to apologize profusely or worry I will be mad at them. They know I know they are terrific and that they don’t make promises to me lightly. This simple phrase lets us move past the issue and focus on the next task. It doesn’t mean I am not disappointed; it means I am giving grace where I can. Give your child the occasional option to fail forward right now.
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These six Rs aren’t earth-shaking advice. And they might not work for your family. The important thing is to try to reach your child where they are and not unduly add to their stress.
Sending you all good health, wellness, and balance in your homes.
Jamie, American Mensa’s Gifted Youth Programs Manager, has been a state-licensed teacher for more than 15 years. She received her Gifted Education certification in 2016. She was recognized as the 2008 Teacher of the Year at Bowie Middle School in Amarillo, Texas, and was a finalist for the 2011 Texas Speech Communication Association’s Teacher of the Year.