Celebrating Small Victories

As we cross the finish line for the first leg of this school year, last year’s unprecedented and stressful combination of school closures, virtual learning, and constant COVID-19 anxieties can sometimes seem far away. However, it was not very long ago that all of us, and our kids, were constantly adjusting to new transitions and losses both large and small, and in a situation previously undreamt of. Last school year was exceptionally challenging, and parents and teachers know that this school year has been equally difficult, just in a different way. After finally adjusting to their upended routines and limited social interactions, plus more downtime, kids were asked once again to make a huge transition and return to their “normal” routines, which no longer seemed quite so normal. In the aftermath, more and more students have been struggling with anxiety, schoolwork frustration, and difficulty with rules and routines. It is also useful to keep in mind that the stress of the pandemic has put most (if not all) kids’ brains on high alert, resulting in stress reactions such as disruptive behaviors or withdrawal for many; this is expected, and makes good sense from a neurobiological perspective. Our brains are really good at trying to keep us safe, after all.

It is easy to get stuck focusing on what to do about these difficult behaviors, and the challenges that so many kids have had and continue to have this school year. While it is definitely important not to minimize or ignore these struggles, it is also equally important to acknowledge and celebrate how much all of our kids have really achieved this year. After all, it is no small feat to manage all of these transitions, on top of the stress of a pandemic, when your brain is still in the process of developing! By pausing to acknowledge and point out your kids’ small, everyday accomplishments during this crazy era, you can go a long way toward bolstering their self-esteem and promoting resilience. For one child, maybe getting started on her homework with only one prompt counts as a huge achievement right now (even if the homework didn’t quite get finished). For another, managing his frustration towards homework by using his words, not physical aggression, is a victory worth celebrating. Yet another child may benefit from praise just for making it through the school day, and this demanding school year, and hearing how resilient and brave they have been; another may love to hear that you noticed how patient she was with her younger brother today when he knocked down yet another Lego tower she built. These small moments can mean the world to a child when they are working so hard to cope this school year. 

Although it may be discouraging to hit bumps in the road as we try to get back on track this school year, by reframing what counts as a victory and a success, we can help our kids shift their focus to what is going right, as well. In this way, we can foster coping skills as well as much-deserved confidence in kids who have learned and grown so much in such a short amount of time. 

Kati Ann Stein, PsyD

Licensed Clinical Psychologist