There isn’t a back to normal as students re-enter classrooms. Students’ experiences during remote learning and being quarantined are different in many ways. The impact of those experiences also differs from youngster to youngster. Marie-Nathalie Beaudoin, a clinical psychologist, parent, and the author of, The SKILL-ionaire in Every Child: Boosting Children’s Socio-Emotional Skills Using the Latest in Brain Research shares conscious ways that parents can be the supporters of young people feeling hope, self-worth, and confidence.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello, and welcome to the parents as learning coaches edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud Podcast. Parents and caregivers play many different roles, at times, even somewhat conflicting roles as they support children’s development. The pandemic has shown a light on the importance of parents supporting learners. In this podcast, I’ll look to share my experiences as a teacher, educator, parent, grandparent, and continuous learner that can support your coaching efforts.
Steve: 00:32 Being back at school. Students in different locations are starting back to school in different ways. Some are in hybrid, back in school some days, not others, some are still all virtual. Some are in schools and are distanced with masks. Some won’t be back in school until a summer program or next fall. Whenever it happens for your learners, it’s going to be different from past school experiences. Some of you will have first graders or seventh graders or 10th graders who are possibly starting their second year as a learner at a given school that they never stepped foot in in the previous year, I’ve invited Marie-Nathalie Beaudoin, a licensed clinical psychologist from Sunnyvale, California to join us in a conversation about guiding parents in supporting learners during this unique time. Marine-Nathalie is the director of SKIPS, a program called skills for kids, parents, and schools in California. She is also the author of, “The SKILL-ionaire in Every Child: Boosting Children’s Socio-Emotional Skills Using the Latest in Brain Research.” And most important for this podcast, she is a parent of two. So welcome Marie-Nathalie.
Marie-Nathalie: 02:01 Thank you. Happy to be here today.
Steve: 02:04 I’m wondering if you could start by describing some of the impacts that this past year plus of the quarantining and the pandemic is likely to have had on students.
Marie-Nathalie: 02:22 What’s interesting is the impact of the pandemic is very, very different in different communities. We have some young people, generally, more around 12 years old or above who have done well being at home, but those were in families whose stress level was low and who all got along and were already doing well in school. But then again, a lot of families with young children in particular, or those with sibling rivalry or conflicts, or whose family had lot of stress either because of job loss or because of health issues, then they had a much harder time. Some became quite lonely or depressed, fearful and some were very stuck in their heads with self doubt or ruminating, dark thoughts. And then, use of video games and social media doubled in all age groups. So that’s kind of added another concerning effect on an entire cohort of youths who have been raised by that content and level of stimulation rather than by real people in the community.
Steve: 03:42 How are those issues likely to be affecting students as they return to that in-person classroom?
Marie-Nathalie: 03:53 We’re already seeing some of these effects as some of the schools are reopening here. Certainly on an emotional level, the biggest one we’re seeing so far is anxiety, fear, dread or not wanting to go to school. And one of the effects of COVID is that people have become scared of normal things in life. Normal things such as going to the grocery store or being sick. We had a kiddo who had a stomach flu at some point during the winter, and he was panicking that he had COVID even if he had a negative COVID test. The fear was way more intense than he would have had in a normal situation of being sick. And the pandemic has also left a number of young people scared of things such as giving a hug to family members or hearing a secret from a friend. It’s certainly had an impact on people’s nervousness about going back to normal activities.
Marie-Nathalie: 05:04 That’s one impact on the emotional level. On a behavioral level, children got used to a lot of freedom being at home and sitting in whichever posture they want and eating whenever they wanted having slime in their hands, lying down in their bed. So that might be an issue going back to school. And on an academic level, we know that that some kids will be behind, but then, kids are so resilient, children are so resilient and their brains are changing all the time. So I am hopeful that they will be able to catch up with proper tutoring and academic help.
Steve: 05:42 I was just listening in on a conversation between international school heads earlier today. And some of these schools in different places around the world are dealing with the fact that it’s time for international baccalaureate exam. So you have students having to take this test that large parts of their future ride rides on, which is always a stressful time. And now you have it in places where the schools are first gonna open up for the kids to come to school to take the exam. So the double whammy of, I haven’t been back at school for a year, and I’m going to walk into the school and get engaged in that exam. They were actually having discussions about what the schools might do to try and get the kids in for a week or two, just to get used to going back to the building before the actual day of that exam happening.
Marie-Nathalie: 06:41 Absolutely. COVID has created an added amount of stress and reduced our resources such as support from friends and families and quiet time to study, for example, for those students. So it has certainly has shifted a lot of things.
Steve: 07:03 You talk about the connections between what we know about the brain and social emotional skills. What should we as parents be aware
of as we think about those connections?
Marie-Nathalie: 07:16 The brain is constantly changing and developing and a lot of times, children are making efforts that are not noticed. We tend to notice, for example, if a child has an anger outburst, that will be very noticed and attract a lot of attention and the adults can talk about this for a really long time with the child. We will not notice the 20 times before that, that the child has made an effort and successfully contained his anger. And so adults oftentimes make the mistake of wanting to teach skills all the time, like teach anger management without looking at what’s there first. And in the meantime, the most important is not noticed, which is the child’s natural self-control ability of his anger. So you could argue that it would be way more important to ask the child when he succeeded in controlling his anger and how he did that, so that we can build on that, than focusing on the fact that he lost control of his anger one time this week and teaching him a lesson.
Marie-Nathalie: 08:20 So when we’re focusing on the efforts, we’re identifying the existing neural networks for self-control, we’re helping the child become aware of his or her ability to regulate sometimes, and we are able to understand the ingredients of those burgeoning skills to develop them. So I called that bottom up work, meaning that we’re using lived experience to build up to learning as opposed to teaching a lesson, an intellectual lesson, and trying to force it on experience. And that’s what I talk about in the “Skillionaire in Every Child,” is, I really list a number of practices and questions and strategies that teachers and parents can use to really help children build on their own natural ways of regulating their emotions. In some ways, the brain that generates the poison is the best to find the antidote. So the brain that generates the anger is the best to generate the unique self-control mechanism that will control the anger.
Steve: 09:40 I think you’re setting me up to move ahead to another question here. There were two quotes that I pulled when I read some of your writing and this first quote seems to lead right into what you just said. And the quote was, “if emotions are part of the problem, then emotions need to be part of the solution.”
Marie-Nathalie: 10:05 Definitely. Our brains tend to encode, remember and dwell more on emotional events and unfortunately for us, especially the negative ones. So in that sense, we’re kind of swimming upstream to cultivate positive emotion, but it’s work that we really have to do for children to learn to live a more satisfying life and to feel competent in addressing things. So if we look at going back to school, there’s many negative emotions about going back to school and some students of all ages are definitely worrying and imagining a scene that is way worse in their mind than what the reality will be. So it’s important for us as adults to have conversations with children, kind of identifying those worries and helping them find solutions to these worries, and also bringing forth the more satisfying moments that they have experienced in the past at school and as they are going back to school, the satisfying moments that they experience during the day.
Marie-Nathalie: 11:06 One of the things I’ve been telling a number of students in our program is that, well, going back to school at this time can be exciting. It’s an adventure, right? They’re the first generation in history to ever go back to school with masks and plexiglass around them. And so, there’ll be movies made about this, it’ll be in history books and they’re participating in it. So may as well imagine themselves in a movie or imagine themselves as an actor and make it fun and notice as many things that are different as possible. So parents will need to really help children kind of encode and story what it is that went on at school that day that was fun or unusual and how they addressed the weirdness of telling a secret to a friend 6 feet apart. So make it into an adventure.
Steve: 12:12 I’m laughing to myself as I was supporting my stepdaughter as she was writing one of her papers comparing Barack Obama’s speeches with Martin Luther King’s speeches. And as I was having the discussion with her, I realized that she was missing some components of the civil rights movement. And as I began to share them with her, she suddenly looked up at me and went, “oh my god, you were alive then.” So I’m just having the thought that years from now, the high school students will be the the grandparents and their grandchild will be reading from their history book about the pandemic and asking them. They’ll be ready to tell those tell those stories about that first day going back to school after after being out for a year.
Marie-Nathalie: 13:08 Absolutely. And that reminds me, a lot of people are focusing on the loss of the pandemic, but there was such social movements and such learning on a socio-political, cultural level, that it’s important that we don’t forget all the learnings that that happened on the side. And even things that we took for granted before are more appreciated. I was talking to a college student recently, and he was telling me how he used to grumble and complain about the bike ride between the different buildings to go to his classes before the pandemic. And now that he’s locked in a room doing all his classes online, he misses those bike rides so much. So we’re going back to normal life in some ways, a new version of the pre-pandemic life, enriched with more gratefulness for things that were there and also faced with novelties.
Steve: 14:11 I’m wondering if you can touch on this last quote that I pulled from your writing. You said, “youngsters feeling a sense of agency, hope, self-worth and confidence should be our goal as parents.” What is it that we as parents need to keep in mind in making that happen for our children?
Marie-Nathalie: 14:33 There’s a couple of things I think that I always encourage parents to keep in mind is, first, the relationship matters more than the task. So if the child is really nervous about going back to school and that you’re going to be late to school for that first morning, it doesn’t matter so much as the way you are handling this as a parent. If parents can model calm, model trust that it will be okay and if they can protect their relationship, not yell at the child for being late, but rather be compassionate, be the caring parent, that is way more important. I also mention to parents that invisible efforts and visible problems tend to skew relationships. If parents focus more on the visible problems and are not aware that there’s probably many efforts that were made before, then they might see their child as a problem child, or as having a big problem and miss the boat on the fact that the child has made countless efforts that were successful and therefore not noisy.
Marie-Nathalie: 15:49 And so it’s very important to keep that in mind. And maybe the last point that I’ll make is that with adults, a sense of competency comes after a lot of practice. It’s only after we’ve practiced kicking the ball at soccer or cooking something many, many times that we feel good about ourselves. With children, it tends to be the opposite. Practice will come after they feel competent, when they feel that a goal is within reach. When they feel that they’re capable of doing something, then they’ll be more interested in practicing. And it’s not adults telling them that does the trick, it’s a conversational process where children realize for themselves that they’re capable of doing this and then they’ll be able to push through the difficulties.
Steve: 16:47 Does that mean helping the child see the progress?
Marie-Nathalie: 16:52 Yeah and it’s through a process of questions and I go through a lot of that in the “Skillionaire in Every Child.” Helping
the child notice that, hey, they solved the situation. And and it may have happened randomly. Most of the time it happens randomly, a child wants to avoid trouble and so they’re just going to try a lot of things left and right but they don’t really know what they did that succeeded and that applies to their relationship to doing well at school to their emotions. And so really kind of going back and saying, hey, I noticed that, you know, we went to school this morning and you didn’t have any fears this morning, or there was no tears, what is it that helped you this morning? How come it went so well? And helping the child unpack that.
Steve: 17:49 Well, thank you so much for joining us today. Would you tell our listeners the best way to find out about your book and your resources and perhaps be in touch with you?
Marie-Nathalie: 18:00 The best way to find out about these resources is to go to my website at www.mnbeaudoin.com. Essentially my name, and then they’ll have access to my books and to the programs and some videos.
Steve: 18:20 We will put that we’ll put that that link into the lead-in to the blog so folks can easily find it there. Thank you so much.
Marie-Nathalie: 18:30 Thank you.
Steve [Outro]: 18:32 Thank you for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley, or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.