Newsletter June 15 20206/15/2020
Dear Beach Families,
We are very near to the end of an historic school year on multiple fronts. In the midst of a global pandemic wrought with uncertainty, anxiety, and fear, school in its traditional sense was abruptly interrupted and the bulk of the work was suddenly thrust into your laps. This, for many families, was likely nothing shy of a nightmare. For others, your children thrived. No matter how this impacted your family, we made it to the end of the school year. That being said, the concerns regarding COVID-19 that closed schools in March remain unresolved.
With COVID-19 as a backdrop, we also find ourselves in the midst of another profoundly important and historic movement with people in our city, state, country, and around the world taking to the streets to protest racial injustice and police brutality. Conversation about race and racism are likely new to some families and for others this has been an ongoing conversation or a profoundly personal experience. Helping even our youngest students understand these concepts and the concept of white privilege and how to be an antiracist are critically important.
As we approach summer a whole new set of questions and concerns arise for me, especially around supporting the social and emotional needs of our kids while helping them understand the significance of the current events of today. Some ideas to support this work can be found below.
Take care of yourselves, be safe, and congratulations on finishing the school year. I will see many of you again in September.
How to talk to kids about race and racism and how to be an antiracist:
This open letter to White families from Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacob, a Black parent writing for Romper.com is a much better and much more personal explanation as to why this work is so important. I encourage you to start by reading her letter before continuing with my response below.
As a biracial Asian/White woman I will be the very first to admit that I am not an expert on this topic. My family is the beneficiary of many positive social determinants of health including a history of access to education including higher education, access to high quality health care, and financial security. With that caveat I am happy to share what my family is doing as we engage in the work of becoming antiracists. First and foremost, I need to continue to educate myself on the history of systemic racism that has been present in this country since it was founded so that I can understand how I have participated and caused harm. I do not feel that I can support my children’s growth in this area unless I am personally and actively engaging in this work. To do this I read/listen to books, podcasts, newspapers, and anything else I can get my hands on to help me better understand the experience of what it is like to be Black in the United States, on how to better understand my privilege, on how to be an ally and an antiracist. I talk to people about what I am seeing, hearing, and reading. I try to notice when I am uncomfortable around people that are racially different than me to better understand whether my own biases are causing this discomfort. My husband and I talk about what is in the news with our kids, and we talk with them about what it means to have white privilege. We talk about how their skin color is different compared to mine and to some of our friends. We take them to child friendly protests (with masks on) so that they have a physical experience of being part of this movement. We talk about how my interactions with and perceptions of the police are different from those of our Black friends. We read fiction and nonfiction books and movies together and separately and talk about them. We talk about stereotypes, race and racism in what we are seeing, hearing, and reading and in the context of when the movies/books were filmed and written and whether things are different now. When we were in Washington, DC a little over a year ago we visited the Smithsonian’s African American History Museum. My son was 7 at the time. It was too much for him to fully understand, but definitely planted a seed for having more conversations about what it is like to be Black in this country especially now in light of the long overdue reckoning for racial justice for Black Americans. It gave both of my children the opportunity to begin to understand the historical context of why and how we got to this place today. The link below is a great resource to start talking with your kids about race.
My child is having having big emotional outbursts and more behavioral concerns:
Recently many families have mentioned an increase in challenges managing emotions and the related behavior concerns. I want to take a minute to fully appreciate what we have required of our children. We told them that they couldn’t go to school, see their friends, and play sports or engage in other activities because of a virus that was making people critically ill. They saw parents staying home from work. They saw parents wondering how they were going to buy groceries and pay bills and rent. And now they are seeing and hearing protests for racial justice and against police brutality directed at Black Americans. They may be seeing images of George Floyd dying under the knee of a police officer, protesters being beaten with batons and gassed by police in riot gear. This is terrifying for adults, let alone children that have no locus of control and limited understanding of what all of this means. Remember this when your child acts out or is more emotional than usual. Their reactions are normal and expected. When responding to kids, ask yourself, ”How do I act when I am scared and anxious?” and “How do I want people to respond to me when I feel that way?” This doesn’t make challenging behaviors go away, but sometimes understanding why a child is behaving a certain way can be immensely helpful when trying to support them.
All students have been taught about their amygdala and prefrontal cortex. They know that the amygdala is the emotion center of their brain, and when activated by strong emotions, it can disengage from the rational prefrontal cortex. When we consider behavior in this regard, their occasional irrational behaviors often make a lot more sense. The key is to teach them skills to manage big feelings before they find themselves in a fight or flight state. My website has 42 days of very short mindfulness exercises that your kids can practice. They can be found here. I would encourage you to go through the archives with your kids to find some that work for your child. Scroll through the slides to see each day’s activity. Additionally, I have a series of lessons/activities on my website that focus on helping kids build resilience. They are linked here in English and here in Spanish. A book list with links to digital books to support emotional regulation and information about our brain’s emotion center can be found here.
How do I support my children’s need to be with friends during the coronavirus and social distancing?
There is no easy solution for this. Families need to decide what their personal comfort level is with the risk of seeing others. Younger kids especially struggle to maintain social distancing. It is not a natural way for them to play. I recommend reading to educate yourself on what is safer and more risky. Determining what you are comfortable with and having candid discussions with other families is of the utmost importance.
Personally, I am seeing that both of my children really need to be with their friends in some capacity. My middle schooler has been doing well through this crisis, but has not liked weekends. She is grumpy and sullen and complains that she has nothing to do without the structure of school. I anticipate that this will get worse as soon as school is over. I struggle to balance physical safety with the mental health and wellness of my children. We have been talking with other families about the possibility of letting the kids get together. For me that would likely mean outside only. I know that they won’t likely be able to maintain social distancing, but I do know that they will keep their masks on and use copious amounts of hand sanitizer. I also trust the families with whom we would do this to share the same expectation of their kids that I do and that they would practice similar social distancing expectations as my family when we are not together. This likely feels too risky for some families and ridiculously cautious for others. I want to acknowledge this openly because, again, there is not an easy answer.