Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant shelter-in-place, many children may soon return to the brick-and-mortar classrooms after nearly one year. Returning to school will be a big transition for some students. Understandably, parents are happy to relinquish the educational responsibilities for their children to accredited teachers; however, parents must be mindful of the need to prepare their children as they return to the level of discipline necessary to succeed at school. According to the Collins Dictionary, discipline is "the quality of behaving and working in a controlled way that involves obeying particular rules or standards." Since the shelter-in-place began, many children have not followed a schedule, especially a sleep schedule.

According to the Sleep Foundation, school-aged children should get from 9 to 11 hours of sleep each night. Children who do not get enough sleep will not show signs of drowsiness or tiredness like adults. Instead, sleep deprivation in children manifests as appearing wired. Sleep deprivation is often mistaken for attention deficit disorder. According to Nationwide Children's, sleep deprivation may result in children finding it difficult to regulate their mood. They become easily angered and may present as irritable. Sleep-deprived children may be hyperactive and noncompliant in the classroom. They are often brought to the school administration's attention because they have trouble focusing and making the right decisions. The classroom disruptions result in sleep-deprived children missing "seat time" and may result in the child falling behind their classmates academically.

To ensure that children get an adequate amount of sleep at night, parents should develop a routine to signal the body and brain to enter sleep mode. Children should begin by engaging in quiet activities, turn off electronics, including bright lights. To facilitate a calm time, parents may also shut down, engage in quiet activities (reading, paying bills, making lunches, signing school forms), and wait until their children fall asleep before resuming their activities.

In addition to impaired sleep patterns, another impact of sheltering-in-place is that some children have become lazy and complacent, staying home every day, without a schedule or consistent routine. When schools closed, some kids started going to bed very late and sleeping well into the afternoon. To fill the school's void, many school-age kids became very dependent on passive entertainment forums. Kids who were sheltered-in-place binged watched television series and continuously monitored their Instagram, Facebook, Reddit, Messenger, Twitter, and Snapchat accounts. These platforms are entertaining, not requiring any effort.

A study reported in Healthline revealed that binge-watching television for 3.5 hours each day might cause cognitive (thinking) decline. The brain's area responsible for watching TV and learning a new skill is not the same. The Frontal lobe is responsible for thinking, organizing, and problem-solving. Many children have spent a lot of time utilizing their sensory and parietal lobe at the frontal lobe's expense. The attraction to social media sites can be addicting. According to the American Psychiatric Association, addiction is a complex condition of the brain that results in compulsive behavior. Addiction results in a re-wiring of the brain that causes a person to seek the object of their addiction. Some children, and their adult counterparts, are very attracted to social media, and it will take time to re-wire the brain so that they can return to having sustained attention and focus.

The main point is that becoming more astute will take time for some children. The myth that it takes 21 to 30 days for a habit to develop resulted from a 1960's report written by Maxwell Maltz called "Psycho-Cybernetics” (audiobook). However, a 2010 Lally et al. study revealed that it might take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a new habit. When students return to the school milieu, parents may have to be patient while the child readapts.

Some children will experience anxiety. The American Psychological Association defines anxiety as feelings of tension, worry, and intrusive thoughts. Because children have been out of the social realm, some students will experience social phobia symptoms, a fear of being in social environments where they are subject to the scrutiny of others. Parents can help children with anxiety by preparing their children to return to normalcy by introducing a schedule before returning to the classroom. Children should go to bed when they need to when school starts, as prescribed by the American Psychiatric Association.

In preparation for school rigors, parents may also provide their kids with a daily reading and writing schedule. Parents should limit their children's time on electronic devices. Overseeing this schedule will be difficult for some parents because oversight means active engagement. Many parents are working from home and cannot provide that level of supervision. Other parents may not have the energy or inclination to go into the battle required to change their school-aged child's laissez-faire behavior.

The Covid-19 epidemic and the shelter-in-place orders have taken an emotional, physical, and financial toll on families, so I advise parents to start the process and take small steps slowly. In the long run, a disciplined child is more productive and happier than one without structure. In the words of the late Frederick Douglas, "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men."


Healthline. Binge-watching TV may be dulling your brain. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/binge-watching-tv-can-dull-your-brain

Lally, H., VanJaarsveld, C., Potts, H., & Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modeling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 998-1009).

Nationwide Children’s. Sleep in School Aged Children: What to Expect. https://www.nationwidechildrens.org/specialties/sleep-disorder-center/sleep-in-school-aged-children

The American Psychiatric Association. What is Addiction? https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction

The American Psychological Association. Anxiety. https://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety/

The Collins Dictionary Discipline definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary

• Lisa Hill, Ph.D., is an associate professor in criminal justice at California State University, East Bay and a licensed marriage and family therapist. She also worked for county and federal probation departments for three decades and wrote a book based on that experience. She and her husband live in Tracy and have four children. Contact her at courageousconversations209@gmail.com.

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