Examining expectations as a new school year begins

The beginning of school is generally a steep climb for parents. Keeping up with the emails, forms to sign, supplies needed and scheduling extracurriculars is a major task. Add on the COVID-19 guidelines and related updates, and it's enough to make the eyes cross for even the most organized parent.

First, let's acknowledge that living through a global pandemic has been and still is traumatizing. Many factors remain fluid and continue to change. Pandemic living often has us adjusting to new circumstances before we've adapted to the previous ones. The need to be flexible is high and can lead to confusion around expectations.

So, where do expectations for our children fit in during this strange, in-between stage of COVID we're in? Having clear, consistent expectations is important and reassuring for children of all ages. Under the current circumstances, however, it's easy to start feeling unclear and become inconsistent around expectations.

Consider the following as you and your child move into this school year:

• Re-evaluate your role

If your role with schoolwork during remote learning shifted to becoming over-engaged or disconnected, begin shifting back more toward the middle. It may have been necessary or unavoidable then, but likely won't serve your child now. Talk openly with your child about this shift in a manner that makes sense for their age. All children may benefit from added support now as school begins; however, don't confuse this with chronic rescuing. Be sure your expectations align with your child's abilities and needs over what you wish them to be.

• Remember children are children

We may be skilled at adjusting to changing circumstances, but children (particularly younger children) are still developing this skill and may require more time and space to transition. Age, temperament and learned coping skills (positive or negative) are a few factors that influence a child's ability to adjust and adapt. Academic performance may be different than it was pre-COVID, especially for children with learning challenges. They may be faced with increased social issues now that in-person learning has resumed.

Be mindful of existing mental health issues your child has that became exacerbated during COVID or new ones that are developing. Changes in mental health of children can also present themselves through physical complaints.

• Plant seeds of self awareness

One of the most important social emotional skills you can teach your child is the ability to tolerate discomfort around things they can't change. For instance, it doesn't benefit kids to keep waiting for life to 'go back to normal' or focus strongly on negative aspects of the pandemic. Help them balance between seeing the not just the details, but also the bigger picture. This life skill will benefit your child now and throughout life.

• Attend to basic needs

Not only theirs, but yours as well. Be sure everyone is eating and sleeping well. Pay attention to the impact news and social media have on your and your child's well-being. Check in with your own emotions frequently. If you're regulating your emotions well, your child is more likely to do so as well. This helps everyone feel more clear about realistic expectations.

If you feel your child needs help academically or socially/emotionally, proactively seek support before it becomes a crisis. Parenting is one of the most difficult joyful things we do. Be patient with your child as well as yourself this year.

- Alisa Messana of Hinsdale is a licensed clinical social worker and a mental health consultant.