When the first shelter in place order was issued here in the Bay Area, we were told it was for 3 weeks. Now it has been extended for another 4 weeks. And while the good news is that our efforts to stay home are indeed flattening the curve locally, it is very likely that the order will need to remain in place even longer. If staying home is the only weapon we have against Covid-19, then staying home is what we must continue to do.

And that means home schooling must continue too.

I have spoken with many families over the past 3 weeks. I can hear stress, exhaustion, and frustration in their voices and can see it on their faces as we connect via Zoom. Children and teens are now learning via a screen or paper worksheets, while parents have added the role of full time teacher to their already long list of responsibilities.

As a former teacher and a mom, I understand the challenges of trying to guide our children through the rest of this school year. I understand the importance parents place on education, on trying to get their kids to follow their teacher’s instructions, and to not let their child fall behind only to struggle when school re-opens in the fall. (Fingers crossed.)

But your child’s academic growth is not as important as your child’s emotional growth.

We are all riding a roller coaster of emotions: sadness as we read the news, then happiness when we see our kids playing nicely together, then worry as we check on them at night, and then hope when we connect with an optimistic friend. Our kids are on a roller coaster too, but with less experience and fewer outlets to express themselves. Their emotions reveal themselves in behavioral ways, as they search for the right way to let us know how they are feeling. Don’t just look at the behavior which is the tip of the iceberg. Look below the surface to see your child’s experience and feelings.

This morning I Zoomed with a mom and her 7 year old son. This was our second conversation, and he was comfortable enough to talk with me alone for about 15 minutes while Mom made lunch for him and his little sister. (He loves waffles, pizza with sausage, and nature.) Then she and I talked while the kids ate.

As we discussed how things were going, Mom shared that yesterday her son refused to do his math worksheet, and only wanted to build a fort. She “gave in” and allowed him to do that, which resulted in several hours of happy independent play. I assured her that fort building and connecting with Mom in a positive way was much more valuable than a completed math worksheet. I suggested she choose a warm emotional connection over an argument every time.

Mom also shared that her pre-school daughter has a hard time leaving her alone while Mom attempts to work from home. Mom said that her daughter demands her attention all the time. I suggested that the little one is not looking for attention – she is looking for connection. So maybe her daughter could be allowed to be nearby with a quiet activity so she doesn’t feel banished by Mom. Or maybe Mom can hand her an alarm set for 15 minutes and tell her daughter to play elsewhere and come back when the alarm goes off. Just having the alarm with her will make her daughter feel more connected.

When this pandemic is behind us, when our children return to a physical school and parents return to jobs outside their homes, we will look back at this time with amazement. Parents will feel a sense of pride of the job they did keeping their families safe and healthy. No parent will remember the number of school assignments that their child completed. Every parent will remember the time spent together, the loving connections that were made, and the emotional growth that their child made.