Late the other night, after putting our respective children to bed, two friends and I hopped on video chat and debriefed on everything from I’m Sorry (please, someone, help me convince them to watch it!) to — just like everyone else — how we were weathering the storm that is the coronavirus.
Times are, to say the least, uncertain. It seems like everyone knows someone affected or ill, if they themselves are not. Schools will open, or they won’t, and either way the decision will negatively affect many people. And when I say “negatively affect,” I mean everything from food insecurity to lost years of education to unseen abuse and neglect to social isolation to…well, getting sick or dying from COVID-19.
Needless to say, whatever your feelings are about this (and believe me, like my child, mine vacillate throughout the day and sometimes crop up in unusual locations), they are probably completely normal. But that doesn’t mean that a household full of feelings is an easy thing to manage, particularly when many folks can’t burn off negative energy with a long walk/quiet alone time/trip to the gym/Target therapy/binge-watching I’m Sorry (can’t stop, won’t stop) as they might usually do.
In my classroom, whether virtual or in-person, we have lots of structured opportunities to check in about how we’re feeling. We have the usual ones, of course — when a conflict arises on the playground, when friends need extra support around inclusion, when we set class intentions and goals — but equally important are the scheduled times to just reflect and share in a more open way. This both gives me insight into how kids are feeling, and teaches them to check in with themselves and each other as part of their regular practice, which is a great step on the road to social-emotional health.
This same idea applies to checking in with your family, and it’s even more important than usual to do so right now.
Yes, it’s one more thing to do. No, I don’t have time for it either. None of us do. Have you met kids? They take up a lot of time.
But having these structured conversations does several things: it shows our children that adults are human (even their parents), with human emotions that we deal with in whatever ways we do. It shows our children that their feelings and thoughts matter to us, not just when they’re in trouble, or when we require something of them. (Except for the Minecraft play-by-play, which it would be totally fine never to hear about again.) And it opens the door for future conversations to flow freely. Dating. Alcohol. Drugs. Sex. And with my luck, probably more Minecraft.
But wait! You don’t have to just wade in blindly. There are some simple questions I like to use when checking in with my students, or my family. Don’t feel pressured to cram them all into one conversation; this is a check-in, not a chore or an assignment.
These questions can be answered in writing or out loud, depending on children’s ages and writing abilities. It might feel awkward at first, like an assignment or interview, but with practice it gets much more natural. It’s amazing what kids choose to share when given the opportunity, and how different it can be from what they choose to share on their own. Don’t be afraid to model answering the questions yourself! While it’s important to be strong and brave for our families, it can be empowering for kids to know that adults can feel uncertain and afraid while still moving forward with day-to-day life.
Here are some of my favorite questions/prompts for any age:
How are you feeling today? (For some, choosing from a list of emotions, photos of emotions, or even emoji can be a great way of expressing this!)
Is there anything you need from me?
Is there anything you need from someone/somewhere else?
What is something you’re excited about today?
What is something you’re not excited about today?
Is there anything you would like me to know about you today? (I never thought this question would yield anything, but over the years I’ve heard answers ranging from “____ is being mean when you’re not looking” to “I really like math even though I’m not good at it”…to “It was me who farted during Morning Meeting on Tuesday!”)
If you could do anything/be anywhere in the world right now, what would it be?
If you could change something about today, what would you change?
What is something you’re grateful for today?
What’s the best way to show you how much I love you today?
My son’s answer to that last one? “Lots of hugs. And M&Ms.”
Anything, kiddo, anything. (But please, let it not be more Minecraft.)