Motivating our children post pandemic

If I hear “This is good enough” or “Why do I have to go to school today, when I can sit in my room and e-learn,” I am going to lose my shit!

School’s back in session full time—and while we may have reclaimed our space in our homes, if your child is anything like my son, hybrid education has become a slippery slope of half-assed effort and pure lack of motivation.

I know, educators and health professionals keep telling parents not to feel that our kids are “behind” in schoolwork. We’ve all been going through a catastrophic event. We should focus on our kids’ physical and mental health, yada yada yada.

All true, but let’s be real. The pandemic has sucked the motivation right out of my kid. How about yours? We need a plan for post-pandemic life. Something beyond bribery, which is about all that has worked so far.

I have a boy whose normal speed is a mile a minute when he enjoys what he’s doing, like playing sports or hanging out with friends. School, on the other hand, has always been a struggle. Phrases like “it’s boring” or “I learn nothing” are thrown across the kitchen table most mornings. Attending school was not an option—at least, it wasn’t before the pandemic. After a year of e-learning and my being constantly available, my son’s attitude for school and homework has whittled down to nonexistent. My rambunctious boy has slowed to a snail’s pace. He just doesn’t want to do anything—or I have done too much? 

As our world shut down last year, I took full advantage of the time home with my family—and as a woman who struggles with her own ADHD issues, structure went right out the window. I know this was the case for many families. And as the months of being mostly together, mostly at home, dragged on, many kids simply got used to more relaxed rules and a parent’s ready accessibility. In many parts of the country, the continued uncertainty of when school schedules might return to normal has only exacerbated the situation.

At our house, we have managed a slow return to baseball, and that has helped my son’s energy level. Getting to do something “normal” helps his mental state, too.

Nonetheless, a lot of us parents with children who are ADHD or ODD are faced with a bigger difficulty returning to a typical school routine. The battle of getting our children to log on remotely will now simply shift into a battle of getting into the swing of things like attending school and doing homework not being an option. As a parent of an ADHD, ODD child, I am faced with a daily dilemma and emotionally exhausting dance of “I don’t want to go to school.” 

Last August, adolescent psychologist, best-selling author, and mother of two Dr. Lisa Damour, was interviewed by UNICEF regarding ways parents could help their kids through the COVID-19 outbreak:

Children need structure. Full stop. And what we’re all having to do, very quickly, is invent entirely new structures to get every one of us through our days. I would strongly recommend that parents make sure that there’s a schedule for the day—that can include playtime where a kid can get on their phone and connect with their friends, but it also should have technology-free time and time set aside to help around the house.”[i]

Great advice. And we moms know this. We know kids like structure; however, if you’re as exhausted as I am, this will be a necessary challenge. We may have been doing our best to muddle through the last year, but Dr. Damour’s advice still rings true as we try to find our way back to a more normal routine. Set up a routine. Period. 

We are entering summer, which for many of us in a normal year tends to involve less structure. But as we, hopefully, put the pandemic in our rearview mirror, it seems even summer routine is worth addressing. I’m thinking time for outside play, time for household chores, and Mom’s personal care time all need to be part of our summer routine. Children across the country have been so accustomed to Mom being right there beside them that some are becoming dependent in unhealthy ways—and moms are forgetting to take care of themselves. Our goal as mothers is to raise strong, independent children. 

If your kid has become too accustomed to little being required of them, what do you do?

George Fleming, a researcher and clinical psychologist specializing in childhood disruptive behavior, wrote an article last year offering several pieces of advice for parenting through the pandemic.[ii] As for changing behaviors, he first suggested praising specific positive behavior. Second, reward a child for “a pre-specified goal behavior (e.g., listening the first time, using manners),” making sure to offer rewards that the child truly enjoys—and that vary according to the magnitude of the behavior or task.

I’m a fan of gift cards. Hey, my son likes gift cards. This would be the “bribery” referenced earlier. But used judiciously, it’s an effective reward and not just a last-ditch bribe.

Finally, Fleming suggests using fair, consistent consequences for undesirable behavior.

Unfortunately, many parents may be seeing an abundance of undesirable behavior. We’ve just let a lot of things slide for a year. Maybe it’s time we spend some moments thinking about what needs to change in our homes, then have a frank conversation with our children. Fleming suggests holding family meetings, both to discuss and set up a reward system and to outline a discipline system. Kids need to know what to expect all the way around. And you have to be sure to follow through on rewards and consequences so that your child knows that you are sincere on both counts.  

At the end of the day, we do love our children, so take a deep breath: You can do this, mommas. Be strong and don’t cave to temper tantrums, whining, slacking, etc. Follow through with a plan for rewards and consequences. You and your whole family should benefit from this—and our children will slay next school year!

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Felicity Nicole
Felicity Nicole
Owner , She Is You
I’m Felicity Nicole, and I was born and raised in the Chicagoland area. A tomboy at heart, I can be found hair up, favorite sweatshirt on, cooking up something yummy for my family. I am remarried to a wonderful man who totally gets me (woohoo!)., It turns out God does give us second chances! I am now a stepmom to two adult children who are super beautiful and a nonstop blessing in my life. Watching my son play baseball is by far my greatest joy. I am a transformational coach and Reiki Practitioner on a mission to help women redesign their lives. This mission comes directly from my own personal experience with self-discovery. From an abusive marriage to a healthy, fulfilling relationship, through multiple careers and a lifetime of coaching the women in my own life, what I realized is that I have always had power and tenacity deep within me…I just needed to let it thrive again. My courage and determination to walk away into the unknown and redesign my own story is a shining example that where there’s a will there’s a way. On the lighter side, I like my pizza thick and layered in meat and cheese (remember, I’m from Chicago). I spent 22 years in the veterinary field, where I brought home WAY too many fur babies. And if I had one thing to bring with me to a desert island, it would be coffee.
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