“Grown ups stink!” So said a thirteen-year-old highly gifted, emotionally overexcitable, empathic, creative, dysgraphic child to his parents. He’d been to a new school for about two-and-a-half weeks when he shared his feelings. He expressed feeling like he was “treated like a kid,” had “no control,” and that he missed on-line learning. It was so much easier to start with virtual learning and then ease into the classroom, he said. While summertime felt like finally finding calm in the COVID storm, it seems back-to-school has increased headwinds for everyone.
The entire planet is undergoing transitions as we navigate the post, not-so-post, COVID era. Feeling topsy turvy about masks, school, and adjusting to the newness of the old ways, everyone feels a lack of control. Humans crave control, and when it’s threatened, they become rigid in their thinking. They want structure and rules and systems. Teachers are suffering from a major lack of control. The amount of flight from the field and expectations to make up for lost time during the pandemic put teachers in particularly precarious situations. Not to mention they are dealing with students who are struggling academically and are having a hard time adjusting socially and emotionally. It’s so much easier when there is a delineated path with rules and structures, but that’s not always great for neurodiverse kids who often need choice and different ways to think and accomplish things.
As much as everyone seems to be grasping for control, the lesson in this storm is to slow down, listen, and give the benefit of the doubt. As everyone feels untethered, teachers, parents and kids would do well to pause, take a deep breath, and focus on collaboration. Everyone is dealing with something, and for adults and children alike to feel stable and in control, they must feel like their issues are heard. This is not the time to think that just pushing through will yield the best results. Brains are re-wiring to function in an unfamiliar milieu, and it takes time and patience to allow each person to adjust at their own pace.
Teachers and parents may think, “If we take the time to listen to everyone’s complaints or wishes, we’ll never get to the task at hand.” If the pandemic has taught us anything, it should be that people’s feelings matter, and that pausing is important. Most of all, listening so someone feels heard is the best way to address these unsettled and unsettling times. We’ve spent three years in individual silos. We’ve connected more, but relationships are not as deep. Social skills morphed from using sound byte texts, posts, and video calls. We all need practice relating in 3D.
Listening also means listening to oneself. What do you need? My challenge to everyone is to pause several times a day, make sure you are listening to yourself and to others, and work hard to make others feel heard. This means giving each other the benefit of the doubt and taking feelings seriously. You just might find that when you give space for people’s feelings (including your own), you build resilience and are able to move forward faster.