How pandemic stress affects interactions between parents, students and their schools

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The school year here in Central Texas has started off with some misbehavior — not just from kids, but from parents.

There are reports of parents yelling at school board meetings regarding masks or books, while others have been escorted out of meetings for being too disruptive. One parent physically yanked a mask off a teacher’s face.

Shanna Reeves, who works at Westlake Psychiatry and Psychology Associates, is an Austin licensed psychologist and licensed specialist in school psychology.

She tells KXAN’s Britt Moreno research shows parents are stressed the most because of this pandemic. However, it’s the children who could shoulder some of these emotions or worse yet, the blame.

Younger children often think they are the cause of their parents’ stress. All children might experience some sort of angst seeing their parents and school staff at odds.

“Parents are the central adult figures in a child’s life, but a teacher is your parent at school, the leader of your school family, so I can imagine the internal conflict that a child might feel having these two diametrically opposed viewpoints,” Reeves said.

Reeves explains it’s ok to disagree, but it’s not ok to yell or shout. She stresses a person’s viewpoint is better heard when that person speaks rationally without shouting.

She cautions over concerned parents that when they are too engrossed in school issues, that leaves less emotional bandwidth for parents to exercise tolerance with their own children and might remove them from being there for their kids.

The bond between parent and teacher is somewhat fractured these days as people have opposing views about masks.

“We do know from a school psychology lens how important it is to have alignment between school and parent” said Reeves. She advises parents try and understand the other person’s perspective and exercise empathy.

Parents, she says, should talk to kids about how unique this entire pandemic has been and applaud them for accepting all the changes.

“Kids have demonstrated throughout this pandemic a remarkable resiliency and flexibility. And as parents and adults being able to model those things is critically important,” she said.

“Anxiety is contagious” said Reeves, so parents might want to be on the lookout for red flags in your children’s behavior, which can indicate children are stressed. Some of these warning signs include loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, a child losing a friend group or unwillingness to participate in activities they normally find fun.

She asks parents to be open to listening to children.

“Bottom line is what we are seeing are children so glad to be back in school and with their friends and to have that sense of normalcy,” she said.

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