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Mother supporting her son at home while doing homework.

Back to School: Processing the Pandemic

Children, families, schools, and communities have been through a tremendously challenging time for more months than we might have imagined. The pandemic became an intimate part of our lives in March of 2020, and we are not out of the woods yet. As we prepare and plan for a return to school, we have an opportunity to process our pandemic experiences and consider any valuable lessons we have learned.

When we process any experience in our life, we begin to make sense of it. Processing also allows us to organize our thoughts and emotions around what we have been through. It helps us build resilience (the ability to bounce back) and prepares us to take on new challenges from a place of clarity. This can be extremely helpful for children as they return to school amidst ongoing changes. Processing helps us put the past in order and make space to prepare for the future.

I love this activity for parents and caregivers, and if you have a school-aged child or teen it is a good one to do together. Draw a large circle on a sheet of paper and divide it in to quarters. Label the sections: gratitude, grace, grief, and growth.

  • GRATITUDE - In the first section, write words and draw pictures or symbols that represent things that you are grateful for. What do you or did you appreciate about your pandemic experience? Strange question, perhaps. Consider being grateful for extra time spent with your children or having less traffic to contend with when you did mask up and venture out to the grocery store. Your child might say watching movies with you during lockdown or not having to ride the bus to school was a highlight for them.
  • GRACE - In the second section, write words or draw pictures or symbols that represent areas where you’d like some grace. Give yourself or your child grace by being compassionate with those imperfect moments. What were those parenting challenges that you didn’t handle so well? How many times did you get frustrated with virtual schooling? Were you angry at the news or disappointed in a neighbor for not wearing a mask? We can all use some grace. Your child might say, fighting with a brother or sister, not doing well in a class, or gaming too much are areas where grace is warranted.
  • GRIEF - In the third section, write words and draw pictures or symbols that represent something you lost. Maybe it was time with extended family, or even the illness or death of someone dear to you. For your child, the loss of a sports season, a graduation ceremony, or a school dance could be significant. Naming it and feeling understood helps us to acknowledge and work through multiple losses. It is OK to feel grief, and writing down the things that you missed or miss helps begin the healing process.
  • GROWTH - In the last section, write words and draw pictures or symbols that represent ways in which you and your children have grown. What did you learn about yourself? Were you challenged to stretch your patience? Did you learn about your resilient spirit or your ability to respond to your child’s sadness with compassion? Maybe you learned to cook a new dish, or tried a new hobby. Those ordinary things take on new meaning. Challenge your child to think about how they have grown. Maybe your teen discovered that they do enjoy time with the family or cultivated an interest in music or civic engagement. All challenges present opportunities for growth. And when we recognize growth areas, we can celebrate.

Reflecting and processing the experience of living through a pandemic is an important part of preparing for the transition back to school as we work together to support our children and school community.

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About Michele Tryon, CCLS

About Michele  Tryon, CCLS Michele Tryon, CHKD community outreach coordinator and parent educator has worked with children and families for 30 years, providing services in the hospital, home, school and community setting. Michele is a Certified Child Life Specialist, a Certified Positive Discipline™ parent educator, a nationally recognized trainer/consultant for Nurturing Parenting Programs™ and co-author of The Nurturing Program for Parents and Their Children with Special Needs and Health Challenges©.