With schools open again, educators are finding that the behavior of their students has changed. Similarly, according to Chalkbeat, social workers across the country are witnessing more verbal and physical altercations between students. Experts interviewed by the education news platform state that these reactions are a direct result of the stress and grief caused by the pandemic. Consequently, parents, educators, and social workers alike now face a need to develop strategies to help children relearn how to interact appropriately with people outside their homes.
Arguably, the best and most effective way forward is to abide by social learning theory. Your prior experience with children may have clued you in to the fact that children really do imitate adult behavior, even if adults don't always notice they're being observed. And with this in mind, there are some tips you can follow that may just result in meaningful progress.
Follow your own rules
If parents want to communicate ideas effectively, they have to follow through themselves. Discouraging gadget use on weeknights while binging Netflix yourself, or enforcing a healthy lifestyle at home while sneaking desserts or cigarettes will only teach kids that rules can be broken. Accordingly, it's unwise to enforce any rules you can’t follow yourself. Abide by any curfews you set for gadget use and cut out any unhealthy activities like smoking and drinking. And as you do these things, explain the reasoning behind each rule so your kids understand why they should be followed. This will lead not only to their following your rules, but to their becoming more understanding of authority and direction –– which in turn can help in the classroom.
Demonstrate social and emotional skills
Social and emotional skills may top the list of what helps kids build lasting connections that will anchor them throughout their life. That's why online health resource SymptomFind recommends activities like volunteering and showing random acts of kindness. Pursuing these activities teaches empathy by pushing kids to think about others' feelings — and to recognize how rewarding it can be to put these feelings ahead of their own. Similarly, being respectful in your own interactions can also teach kids to listen actively, disagree with different opinions politely, and avoid speaking over others. Try to explain your own reactions and interactions, and highlight when and how respect needs to be shown.
Promote continuous learning
When teaching the importance of behaving at school, consider showing kids that you find learning fun, too. As an example, immigrant parents taking programs from the Marion County Literacy Council can share their efforts to improve their English and show children what fun opportunities the effort opens up for them. Meanwhile, educators and social workers can talk about the fun of new lessons and hobbies like learning to play instruments or complete art projects. Knowing that adults themselves continue to learn — and love to do it — can motivate kids to find the ways they learn best, and will make them more enthusiastic to do their best both in school and in the real world.
Be open about your mistakes
When authoritative figures refuse to admit wrongdoing, kids learn that it's okay to refuse to be held accountable for their actions. You can avoid this by apologizing when you make a mistake and actively improving yourself after. If you accidentally lose your temper, apologize and work on controlling your emotions. If you made a bad call at work, take it as constructive criticism and try not to repeat that mistake again. These simple actions can teach kids the importance of self-improvement and shows them ways to get started.
Celebrate good behavior
Modeling good behavior is just the first step. According to the CDC, rewarding students' progress can significantly increase the likelihood of their repeating good behavior patterns by way of simple motivation. The reward doesn't always have to be something like ice cream, either. You can simply show affection through hugs and kisses, or state pride in their accomplishments. Celebrating good behavior teaches them to replicate the habits and actions that led to the celebration. Meanwhile, it also teaches kids to do the same for others! This can help them build stronger relationships with the people they meet in school and elsewhere in life.
Raising and teaching kids is a difficult experience in the best of times. But particularly now, with so many kids having struggled so much, it's more important than ever to model good behavior and encourage positive actions. The efforts will pay off such that they're rewarding for you and beneficial to the child.
Written for uwmc.org by Jane Brelle