Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Emotional Burnout from Online Learning

Remember when I used to write on this blog regularly- or at least more than once a quarter?  Me neither!  I think I have a couple of good excuses though.  

    Excuse #1- Since I last posted- 7 months ago- I’ve had to study for and pass the most important test of my professional career.  

    Excuse #2- I started working at a new workplace – initially meeting clients in person, then meeting virtually when COVID cases rose, and now that I’ve been able to receive my vaccinations, I’m meeting both in person and virtually for those clients who prefer to continue meeting that way.  

    Excuse #3- I’ve been balancing working part-time with overseeing my children do online schooling at home.  I might also add that ALL of my children have varying degrees and subtypes of ADHD- Good Times!

Everyone has been affected differently during this pandemic.  Some have suffered financially, others have suffered physically or lost loved ones and those around them to the virus, and many have suffered emotionally with increasing levels of depression and anxiety.  One of the most difficult and unexpected parts for me of 2020/21 has been parenting- more specifically, trying to balance the physical health and safety of my children (and the health of those within our household and others around us who are higher risk) with their mental well-being.  It is undeniable that whether a child is particularly social or not, social development with peers makes up a huge part of their identity formation and mental health needs.

Two of my kids and I made it through three-fourths of the year doing online learning.  By February (just last month) we were all BURNT OUT.  However, I’ve been feeling more secure knowing that I’ve been vaccinated and that both sets of my children’s at-risk grandparents were able to be vaccinated as well.  We made the decision to send our youngest child, who requires the most supervision doing online learning and was showing the most adverse effects of not being in an in-person school setting, back to school just last week.  I have to admit that my own mental health was a contributing factor to sending her back to school as well!

We decided that our other kids can push through another month doing online learning at home to make the transition easier since it will be the start of a new term by then.  It is already SO much easier for me to be involved in their studies with one less high-maintenance student at home! I am also feeling some guilt lifted because I am able to spend more one-on-one time with my middle child who has typically become accustomed to fending for himself or taking the initiative to get assignments done while I focus my attention on his younger sister who is in need of more direct supervision and guidance.  That’s another thing I’ve discovered- each child is different and there are some cases where a child might thrive, for various reasons, in a virtual classroom or being homeschooled, while another child could seriously suffer emotionally or fall behind academically. 

As for kids “falling behind” in school because of the pandemic, I highly recommend heeding the following counsel written by retired educator Teresa Thayer Snyder, which went viral.  If you don’t have time to read the entire thing the biggest takeaway is ““When the children return to school, we will need to listen to them. Let their stories be told. They have endured a year that has no parallel in modern times.”

“Dear Friends and Colleagues:

I am writing today about the children of this pandemic. After a lifetime of working among the young, I feel compelled to address the concerns that are being expressed by so many of my peers about the deficits the children will demonstrate when they finally return to school. My goodness, what a disconcerting thing to be concerned about in the face of a pandemic which is affecting millions of people around the country and the world. It speaks to one of my biggest fears for the children when they return. In our determination to “catch them up,” I fear that we will lose who they are and what they have learned during this unprecedented era. What on earth are we trying to catch them up on? The models no longer apply, the benchmarks are no longer valid, the trend analyses have been interrupted. We must not forget that those arbitrary measures were established by people, not ordained by God. We can make those invalid measures as obsolete as a crank up telephone! They simply do not apply. When the children return to school, they will have returned with a new history that we will need to help them identify and make sense of. When the children return to school, we will need to listen to them. Let their stories be told. They have endured a year that has no parallel in modern times. There is no assessment that applies to who they are or what they have learned. Remember, their brains did not go into hibernation during this year. Their brains may not have been focused on traditional school material, but they did not stop either. Their brains may have been focused on where their next meal is coming from, or how to care for a younger sibling, or how to deal with missing grandma, or how it feels to have to surrender a beloved pet, or how to deal with death. Our job is to welcome them back and help them write that history.

I sincerely plead with my colleagues, to surrender the artificial constructs that measure achievement and greet the children where they are, not where we think they “should be.” Greet them with art supplies and writing materials, and music and dance and so many other avenues to help them express what has happened to them in their lives during this horrific year. Greet them with stories and books that will help them make sense of an upside-down world. They missed you. They did not miss the test prep. They did not miss the worksheets. They did not miss the reading groups. They did not miss the homework. They missed you.

Resist the pressure from whatever ‘powers that be’ who are in a hurry to “fix” kids and make up for the “lost” time. The time was not lost, it was invested in surviving an historic period of time in their lives—in our lives. The children do not need to be fixed. They are not broken. They need to be heard. They need be given as many tools as we can provide to nurture resilience and help them adjust to a post pandemic world.

Being a teacher is an essential connection between what is and what can be. Please, let what can be demonstrate that our children have so much to share about the world they live in and in helping them make sense of what, for all of us has been unimaginable. This will help them-- and us-- achieve a lot more than can be measured by any assessment tool ever devised. Peace to all who work with the children!”

 Another thing I’ve had to work on while my kids have done remote learning this past year is chilling out and lowering my academic expectations for my kids.  This has been something that has been especially hard for me because I tend to be a perfectionist about checking everything off of a “To Do” list.  Unfortunately, sometimes my intention and approach comes across as a “Homework Nazi” to my kids and backfires, causing more stress and shame for them.  I am reminded that any additional stress or shame they might feel is the very last thing my kids need right now growing up in the middle of a global pandemic.

Back in Mid-November (even before Thanksgiving) my family put up the Christmas tree and our decorations and my kids made a paper chain counting down the days till Christmas.  We were in much need of early Christmas cheer and something to look forward to after a year full of disruption and disappointments.  Today after my little boy gets his online learning done he’s going to make another paper chain- this one counting down the days left till he can join his friends and classmates at school again after being separated from them for over a year.  For him, it will be like Christmas!

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

How to Raise a Happy, Healthy Child Through Every Phase of Life

The following is a guest post contributed by Abby Holt of craftability.org.

Photo Source: Unsplash

Becoming a parent means diving into the unknown. No matter how much you think you know about what it takes to raise a child, your kid will somehow manage to completely surprise you at every turn! Yes, parenthood means facing new obstacles, especially if your child has special needs, but you don’t have to stumble your way through it all. We’ve collected some valuable resources packed with advice on caring for your child through every year of their lives. 

Creating Structured Routines

Children benefit from having predictable routines set by their parents, and even older children will need your guidance on structuring their routines.

Baby Feeding Schedule: A Guide to the First Year

Best Ways to Help Children Fall Asleep at Nap Time

How to Get Your Teen Up for School

Teaching Your Child to Love Learning

Learning is a lifelong endeavor, and it shouldn’t stop when your child leaves school! 

Helping Your Child Learn to Read

Tips for Homeschooling Math

How to Help Your Teen Develop Good Study Habits

How to Safely Observe Wildlife from Your Home

Encourage Healthy Habits

It’s never too early to start teaching your child about healthy everyday habits, from healthy nutrition tips to physical exercise.

Toddler Eating Habits: A Few Golden Rules

9 Secrets to Managing Your Child’s Screen Time

8 Great Ways to Get Your Teen to Exercise

 Educate Your Child About Relationships

Throughout your child’s life, they will turn to you for advice on friendships and romantic relationships. These resources will help you prepare to answer their questions.

Getting Preschoolers to Share

How to Help Your Child Make Friends

Teach Your Teen to Set Emotional Boundaries

Many parents struggle with insecurity and doubt when they start a family. After all, it’s common for parents to hear lots of conflicting advice about what is best for their children. But with these resources, you’ll be able to discern which tips will be most helpful for you and your family.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Trauma is "Too Much, Too Fast"

I’m considering this post my personal emotional check-in/answer to the question I posed at the end of my previous post.

Back in April I was feeling “overwhelmed” (if I had to choose just one word) when I wrote this post.  Everything was “too much, too fast”.  I’ve been through hard times before and I’d like to think that I’m more patient than the average person, but lately rather than feeling overwhelmed I’ve found myself feeling annoyed and irritable.  I hate the uncertainty in the world and I’m sick of feeling “trapped” inside.  And then, of course, I immediately feel guilty for feeling that way because suffering is relative and there are those who actually are in a trapped situation- kids in abusive or neglectful homes who could benefit from the safety net of public schools opening, women in domestic violence situations who can’t as easily get away from their perpetrator, or the children and families still in detention centers or living in cages.  A cage has got to be the epitome of being trapped.  

My heart is usually drawn, first and foremost, to children and youth who are suffering.  I have admittedly never been interested in working with the elderly- as needful a population as they are.  However, I must admit that I’ve become much more aware of the mental and physical trauma that the senior citizes around the world are currently facing- not to mention financial concerns.  If anyone has a right to complain about lack of connection, feeling trapped, or facing the realistic possibility of death from COVID-19 it’s the elderly. 

I have two elderly parents right now in their late 80s who, fortunately, are still able to be very much connected to and supported by their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.  Although my parents have some risk factors in addition to their age, their health is currently stable.  My in-laws, however, who are roughly the same age as my parents, have faced some unique challenges over the past year including having to sell their home of decades and moving into an Assisted Living Center where they could both have access to 24 hour care since their children were not realistically able to provide that to them. [That’s the condensed version of the story anyway- omitting numerous falls, an emergency brain surgery, children taking turns to care for them in their home, and a convalescent period at a rehabiliation center before one of them was able to transition to Assisted Living]. 

My in-laws have adjusted well to their new living situation, but they are both currently struggling with feeling “trapped” as their facility has been on lockdown the past several months.  As upscale and nice as their particular facility is, I overheard my mother-in-law liken the helpless feeling she had of not being able to have visitors in her suite or not being able to leave the facility except for medical appointments and other necessities as being in prison.

Last month I was having a conversation with my mother-in-law (we can visit with them outside their windows or through glass if we want to go in person) and it became evident to me that in addition to the new stress and uncertainty she is facing surrounding COVID restrictions and precautions, she is also still grieving her former independence and home.  Speaking of her home she said, “I don’t believe I’ve ever shed more tears over having to say goodbye to my home than I even have over a living person who has died.”  I hadn’t quite understood the enormity of her grief and loss until I heard her say that.  Because the circumstances leading up to selling her home and moving into an Assisted Living Center were due to an unexpected event and her transition happened within months without much time to process everything, it fell into the category/definition of trauma being “too much, too fast.” 

When I heard my mother-in-law express her grief I also thought of the thousands of children in foster care who- at a moment’s notice- are moved from their homes without time to say goodbye, are given a garbage bag to collect their essentials, and are placed into a stranger’s home in cases where they can’t be placed with relatives.  “Too much, too fast” certainly applies to refugee families who are willing to leave their homeland under dangerous circumstances without much except the clothes on their backs in order to escape poverty, violence, exploitation or government oppression. 

On a personal level of experiencing “too much, too fast”, since I wrote an update four months ago, a couple of significant things have happened in my life.  These aren’t necessarily bad/traumatic things, but they have required much effort and encompass a lot of CHANGE:

-              - I finished up my Masters Degree in Social Work!  Which means, among other things, that I will have more time to read and write just for fun than for a graded assignment or research.

-                -I had a virtual job interview and I will be starting a new position in the Fall doing what I did at my last internship- providing therapy to children and adolescents- most of whom are in the foster care system or have been adopted.

    -Our family moved into a bigger home.  We’ve been looking for homes for three or four years now so although our move wasn’t necessarily unexpected or due to financial hardship or job loss, we certainly didn’t envision that our next move would coincide with a pandemic! 

-       Because we now have more space, we are in a position to house elderly parents, if needed, or to host another foster child or two.  (The prospect of housing not just one but two elderly parents certainly influenced our decision to start the school year out virtually rather than in person).  Although I still feel like we’re getting settled into our house, I am also aware that other populations- including the elderly, children in foster care, or refugees- are at particular risk for going through “too much, too fast” without needed supports in place.  I don’t know for certain who exactly will be joining our household over the next year or two, but I’m a firm believer that if you have more than you need, then you share.         

                               

Collective Trauma & Collective Support

Hey Readers, How’s everyone holding up?  I came across a quote last month which really spoke to me and I wanted to share it now.  What struck me in this quote is the definition of trauma as “too much, too fast.” which is such an accurate description of all of the changes that have taken place in our world, nation, and our personal lives since mid-March of this year.

Another unique and somewhat comforting aspect of this quote is the fact that we are all undergoing a “collective” traumatic experience right now.  Many times trauma can be so personal in nature that very few people are even aware of the silent struggles an individual may be going through.  “In the quiet heart is hidden Sorrow that the eye can’t see” is a line from a favorite Hymn of mine that describes this concept.

What makes this past year and global pandemic different from other kinds of trauma is that everyone is suffering to some degree and it’s not something that can be kept hidden.  One might think that because everyone is having to adapt to change it would make us more united and sympathetic towards each other.  Sadly, I have observed many instances where I’ve found just the opposite is true- especially in online interactions and in social media where judgments, criticisms, debate, and even conspiracy theories take precedence over empathy, encouragement, civil dialogue, and problem-solving.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the internet can be a great tool for connection and many are craving that connection and are especially in need of interaction right now.  I’ve also found it interesting that although both my husband and I would describe ourselves as introverts, we’ve both really missed interacting with others face-to-face on a regular basis.  I admittedly have not left the house much at all over the past 4 or so months.  Here’s something I shared on my personal Facebook profile regarding that:

Last week I had to get my driver’s license renewed and my husband came along to do a couple of errands as well.  I scheduled my appointment with the DMV early in the morning, so I decided to get a much-needed haircut before returning home.  My husband needed a trim and he and I were the only ones in the hair salon, and afterwards he was teasing me about how gabby I was with the lady cutting my hair.  I am usually much more of a listener than a talker, but apparently I was so excited to interact with someone in person that I guess I just kept going on and on- whereas other times I may have thought “Just cut my hair- no need to ask me questions.”  That was also definitely the first time I’ve been asked to wash my hands before getting a haircut and had a mask covering my face the entire time.

Going back to the quote that I shared: “Of course you aren’t as productive, feeling foggy, or wondering how you can possibly go through so many waves of emotions all in the same day.”  YES!  I love the validation that it’s natural to experience many different emotions in such a short time.  I know that my physical energy, productiveness, and moods have greatly fluctuated from day to day.  It’s okay to have ambivalent feelings.  For example, I love my children dearly and I find it so ironic that earlier this year I was feeling so guilty/resentful for not having more time apart from my schooling and work to spend with them.  And now that we’ve been quarantined together for almost five months there are days when they absolutely drive me CRAZY and I just need to go in a different room to have my own space.  School this year will be another huge adjustment as we recently made the decision to enroll our kids in online learning for at least the first term or two and then we’ll play things by ear.

At the beginning of this post I asked a question: How’s everyone holding up?  It wasn’t a rhetorical question!  I often hold a check-in at the beginning of my counseling sessions with younger clients with the objective of them simply being able to identify what they are feeling, often times with the aid of a visual chart.  Let’s consider this a group check-in.  Using the image below or however you feel like- comment how you’re doing, what your biggest challenge or right now is, or what you’ve found helpful to make it through each day.

                                 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Ready to Start, Ready to Learn, Ready to Help

Fifteen years ago my husband and I went through the training to become foster parents through our state.  This summer my husband and I finished up the training (and are 90% done with the licensing requirements!) to foster through a private agency for a slightly different demographic than we have fostered in the past- I'm sure I'll write more about that experience sometime in the future. 

Last year the following article was published in the December 2019/January 2020 issue of Foster Roster, a magazine sent out to foster parents in my region.  The article was written by the man who was our trainer over a decade ago and as I read it a lot of memories came flooding back- specifically surrounding the word "nervouscited" which is a great way to describe how I was feeling back then and how my husband and I are feeling now as we embark on a slightly different fostering path.

I'm sharing this article now for anyone who may need to hear any part of its message- wether you're just starting out on your journey to become a foster parent or are a veteran or have been considering the possibilities of fostering, or you have found your way here for whatever reason.

Ya’ Know, I’ve Been Thinking… By: Brian Young, Education, Utah Foster Care 

 Every month when I walk into a classroom for Class 1, at one of our region’s DCFS buildings, I look around the room at a group of new faces…. that have absolutely no idea what’s about to happen to them. You all remember that night, right? You were so “nervouscited” to finally start your foster care journey, which I understand, that you didn’t even notice that some of your spouses, if you had one there, were glaring at me with a “I can think of 100 places I'd rather be” face, which I also understand. 

A few months ago, I had a couple looking at me with a different face. It was more like a, “I think I remember you,” face and they asked, “Wasn’t it you that was teaching 15 or 16 years ago when we went through this the first time?” I nodded my head, smiled and thought, “I've been doing this for 20 years and feel, really old.” 

It’s made me think about a lot of things; how much child welfare has changed in our great state over the past 2 decades, how much more we know about how to better help kids and families who find themselves dealing with a situation and system they’d rather not be in, how frustrating and sad it is that sometimes it doesn’t work out the way we wanted or hoped, and how frustrating and sad it is, in a different way, that sometimes it does.

I think what’s been coming to my mind the most is all of you. With a little quick figuring and guesstimating, in the last 20 years, I've met over 3,000 families, roughly 6,000 people who had one thing in common - they had decided that sharing their lives with traumatized children and their families was something they wanted to do, without really even knowing what that meant. But there you were, ready to start, ready to learn, and ready to help. 

I say it every month in class, “People who don’t understand fostering really can’t help you understand and deal with the challenges of fostering.” But I also realize that people who don’t understand fostering, can’t fully appreciate those who do it either. 

You’re an odd bunch, you know that, right? You come to this to help, usually not realizing that “helping” means bringing these kiddos into your homes, lives and families, with all the “stuff ” that comes with them. You give them your heart, your time, your patience, your money, and sometimes whatever was left of your sanity, with the idea that if all goes well, you’ll be able to then watch them walk back, with a piece of your heart, to the family they came to you from. That’s if you have a “normal” case, whatever that means anymore. Add to that the extra stress of a case where it’s a constant battle with a bio-parent, a challenge to work with agencies who are sometimes having to work under a different set of rules than you, and sometimes they, would like, situations beyond your control that make you want to question the one thing you can control, whether you keep doing this or not. And you do. 

Now don’t go getting all misty-eyed on me, we’ll always have more work to do to stay focused. I know when I sit in meetings with DCFS and hear that foster parents are frustrated with, or not participating in efforts towards determining if reunification will work, or deciding way before a judge does that adoption really is the best plan for a child they’re caring for, or want a child moved, because the very behaviors that made sense while we talked about them in class, are now somehow unacceptable in actual real-life practice, we’ll always have more work to do. 

With all that said, what it comes down to, for me, is that I've had 20 years to work with some amazingly odd people. Thank you for trying, even when it seemed like a waste of time. Thank you for hoping, even when it seemed hopeless. Thank you for not saying out loud, in that moment of borderline rational thought, what you were thinking in that family team meeting, knowing you would have regretted it when you calmed down a bit. Thank you for helping those children you brought into your lives know it was ok to trust a parent again. Thank you for stretching your parameters a little, deciding that 9-year-old boy you said yes to really is kinda close to your initial request for girls only, from birth to 3. And the fact he’s a package deal with a 6-year-old sister, when you requested one child only, really is kinda like one, kinda. 

See? I told you, you are odd. 

Thanks and not just from me not that long ago I sat in a meeting with Melonie Brown, our Regional Director, who looked at me and said, “We love our foster parents! It’s crazy what we ask them to do. To take these kids in and love them like their own, give so much of themselves to help them, and then give them back. It’s just crazy, but we love them for doing it!” 

That obviously doesn’t mean there won’t be disagreements, challenges and frustrations, but know your efforts, even though it might seem so, aren’t going unnoticed. Even if you’re not hearing it, I am. 

One last time, thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to be a small part of your journey through the craziness. Even those of you who were staring at me that first night of class with something other than a look of excited anticipation on your face. Thanks for still being here.