Yin and yang: Your introvert’s and extrovert’s happy return to school
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught you a lot about resilience as you work from home, while also managing your children, and likely even educating them. Consequently, you’ve learned a lot about yourself and your family. However, there may be one revelation that took you by surprise. One of your children has thrived with at-home/online learning while your other child struggles. If that’s the case, you may have both an introvert and extrovert for children.
In brief, introverts tend to prefer quiet environments, whereas schools by their very nature invite participation — in the classroom, on the playing field, in the school band. In contrast, it’s that kind of participation that appeals to the extrovert who, learning from home, may miss the back-and-forth of the classroom or competition on the playing field.
With the approach of the new school year, many communities are trying a hybrid model — both online and in-person schooling. Below are coping strategies to help your introvert manage the return to the classroom, even if part-time, and tips to help the extrovert manage online learning.
How to help the introvert
- Learn why your child is happy to be out of school. What makes school difficult? Boredom? Challenges in getting work done in the more traditional classroom?
- Consider outdoor and social activity, which may require more prompting, but will make the transition back to social settings easier once those transitions are necessary.
- Maintain a schedule so that a lack of structure doesn’t become the norm. Have clear expectations about time devoted to schoolwork, chores, bedtime, meals etc.
- Encourage memories of good times from school. Try to focus attention on the aspects of school that are being missed, such as teacher support and acknowledgements. As a corollary to this, ask your child why he/she thinks society considers it important for kids to attend school.
- Have a plan for the return to school. Visualize what it will involve, what it will require, and problem-solve possible situations that might arise when he/she returns.
- Consider a reward system that is age and situation-appropriate — e.g., where something is earned after in-classroom school is attended for X number of days straight.
How to help the extrovert
- Assess what aspects of school are being missed most. Friends? Music class? Physical education or sports? Then determine how those activities can be substituted remotely: Regular FaceTime meetings with friends; online music lessons; or regular outside activity, possibly scheduled as a break in the school day.
- To help focus higher-energy children and adolescents who struggle with sitting in front of a screen, start the day with physical activity and/or schedule it midday as though it were a recess. You can also alternate the setting of the home classroom (e.g., morning classes in the dining room, afternoon classes in the kitchen.) Doing so can help break up a school day.
- Introducing a new activity can be a good distraction from the sameness that can develop with remote learning. Online cooking, art, and language classes have become very popular, and companies like GroupOn are offering discounts for such classes. A lot of community education centers are offering online opportunities as well.
- Give your child a role in planning or organizing things — planning an outdoor activity with a friend; choosing which movie to watch; or picking out a recipe to make for dinner.
How to help both children’s anxiety
Both children may have ongoing anxiety about the school unknown and the pandemic in general. There are steps you can take to manage that anxiety — for both children.
- Remind your child (and yourself) that these times are not permanent. Pandemics have an end, and no one plans to live in a socially distant world indefinitely.
- Be mindful that your child will pick up on your emotions. If you’re feeling stressed, he/she will likely reflect this as well. Try to frame anxieties as problems that can be solved (e.g., handwashing and scientists working on a vaccine.)
- Check in regularly — either at the breakfast table or before bedtime, for example. Encourage active conversation rather than settling for “It’s fine” or “I don’t know”. Ask them to share something good and something bad that happened that day. Ask them to share something they are grateful for.
Remember that there are other resources that can help. Contact your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if you have that benefit or consult with your children’s primary care physician who may determine your child(ren) need a behavioral health specialist.