School counselor of the year: What families can do to thrive this year

This post was originally published here.

Everyone involved in education is reeling from the changes and seeking ways to make it through. It’s hard to imagine how the start of this school year could have been any less predictable. But start it did and it will continue.

Here are the top five things I suggest from my years as a parent, professional educator and school counselor:

  1. Create structure through a daily routine. Having predictability during the day is good for both youth and adults. Especially when so many other things are in flux, kids benefit from an established routine. I tell families to make the day as normal as possible – wake up at the same time and get dressed. Have breakfast and snack breaks scheduled into the day. People are happier when they’re fed and hydrated.
  2. Identify a safe study space with minimal distractions. This is harder than usual as many parents are working from home. But minimizing distractions will make the day go easier. When it’s school time, remove phones and even block distracting websites. To make it more engaging, decorate the space. Little kids could even bring a favorite stuffed animal to join them.
  3. Use open communication. Find time every day to focus on your child and talk about their day. They don’t need a lot of one-on-one time, but they do need quality time. Talk about how they’re feeling, how their day went and make it clear that you’re ready to listen. Validate their feelings and don’t be afraid to share your own. You could even recall another time your family faced a challenge and discuss what you did to make it through that experience.
  4. Maintain social bonds. Children benefit from their relationships with peers. It’s not the easiest time to socialize, but it is doable. Try phone or video chats, physically distant activities, or whatever works for you.
  5. Find ways to be resilient for both you and your kids. This challenge won’t last forever, we will get through it. Give both you and your children the room to experience whatever emotions come and find ways to help you work through them. There are great resources online to practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques, such as Mind Yeti. Find whatever activities will keep you grounded – deep breathing, exercise, zoo and nature webcams and more. During the day, don’t forget to create breaks to get up and get the mind and body moving.

Jaime Clemens is the 2020 school counselor of the year. A mother of 3, she has more than three decades of experience as both a teacher and a school counselor. Clemens currently works at Mesa Public Schools.

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