The 2020/21 school year has come to a close, signaling the end of one grade and promotion to the next. Promotion is a significant milestone for some kids because they transition out of one academic, developmental phase and enter the next. Preschoolers are going into kindergarten; elementary school-age children may have promoted to middle school/eighth-grade; middle schoolers will enter high school; and high school seniors are heading off to college.

School milestones are sometimes anxiety-producing for some children. Kids sometimes wonder if they are ready for the next academic phase. According to Great Schools.com, in addition to being prepared academically, educators consider whether children are ready socially and are mature enough to be promoted with their agemates.

This year, academic transitions were unique because they followed the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19). Many students had to learn remotely, which consisted of much independent learning without teacher feedback. Some children are not sure whether they meet the criteria to promote to the next grade. Teachers cannot assess whether the student meets all of the requirements to move to the next stage.

The pandemic also resulted in isolation from family, a rich source of support and socialization. Many children have not seen their Best Friends Forever (BFF) in over a year. BFF relationships are critical to getting through transitions. Over the past 15 months, parents were forced to homeschool and entertain their children. However, parents cannot take the place of friends. Parents should understand that, at the very least, The Covid-19 virus, with all of the restrictions, overshadowed the joy that usually accompanies the end of a school year, promotion, and graduation.

Some children were fortunate to get a little taste of in-person school at the end of the 20/21 school year, only to soon return home for summer break. The brief return to school was yet another disappointing transition for some kids. It’s now summertime, and we are not totally out of the pandemic. Kids are returning to the bubble. Do parents have to wonder what it is like to be a kid today? This question is not for the experts to answer. Only kids can tell us what it is like to be a kid today. Parents only know what childhood was like for them years ago. Asking today’s children will provide current data.

I want to encourage parents to have courageous conversations with their children about Covid-19 life. The discussion should be direct and begin with, “How you are doing?” and then follow up with questions like, “What will you remember about this school year?” “What did you miss most this school year?” “What are you looking forward to next year?”

While you have your child’s attention, ask them one of the most important questions a parent can ask a child: “What is the reason you are happy?” Do not ask if they are happy because that question will not open up a substantial dialogue. Asking them to provide the basis for their happiness will require them to self-reflect and give the parent important insight into their child’s mental health. If the child is unable to provide a reason for joy, ask why they are unhappy.

Parents should have this conversation when they have ample time. According to the Association of School Psychologists, when talking about serious issues, parents should stay calm, listen, and offer reassurance when children talk. In my book, “Keeping Kids in the Home and out of the System.” I explain that all kids come out of childhood with a story. Ask your child to tell you their story. Parents are often surprised to learn that their story is different from their child’s story.

Sources:

Hill, Lisa, Ph.D. (2018). Keeping Kids in the Home and out of the System: Xlibra Publishings

National Association of School Psychologists. Talking to children about violence: Tips for parents and teachers. Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers

• 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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