Back to in-person school has been pretty rough for the kids, in related but different ways. Both Anand and Kavi are starting at new schools — middle school for Anand (6th grade, age almost-12), high school for Kavi (9th grade, age 14). They’re doing better now, 2-3 weeks in, so I thought I’d take a minute to talk through what was happening, and what’s helped.
For Anand, he had a ton of anxiety around going back to school. He had trouble with in-person school to begin with, and really liked being remote; his grades went up, he impressed his teachers, etc. A lot of that was not needing to sit in one place, and being able to play a simple video game quietly as a fidget/focus while attending class. I understand why Anand can’t do that for in-person, it’d be way too distracting for the other kids, but it’s a shame, because it really does help him focus.
Mostly, what’s helped with the initial anxiety of back-to-school was going over everything with him in advance, so he knows what to expect — Anand hates to be surprised. Walking him in to school (two blocks) and talking over what’s going to be happening that day. And then sitting down with him in the late afternoon and going over the homework, making sure he knows what he’s supposed to do and has actually done it all.
Anand doesn’t really have a lot of homework — maybe 30 minutes total most days, and often less. It’s usually just what they didn’t quite finish in class. But he was incredibly sulky and resistant to it at the beginning. (Both kids were also EXHAUSTED the first week of school, and slept a lot — so did we. Interacting with people again in-person is awesome but also v. tiring.)
We started doing our own work at the dining table with him during that time, and I think it’s helped to normalize homework for him. And after doing it for a few weeks, I think Anand’s starting to trust that it’s not going to eat up hours and hours, and he’ll have lots of downtime afterwards when he can do what he wants. I won’t say it’s all perfect yet, but it’s definitely improving. Hopefully, we stay on this track.
Interestingly, Kavi has been dealing with similar things, but we didn’t expect it from her, so it kind of threw us. She loved in-person school, was thrilled to go back, is highly social and had lots of fun making friends and hanging out with old friends. The first week was awesome.
The second week, though, things crashed. She didn’t feel well on Monday — headache, stomachache. No fever or other COVID symptoms. We let her stay home. Same on Tuesday. We did a home COVID test just to check, negative. Wednesday, she was feeling a little better, and her friends were harassing her to come to school, so she went, and it was okay, but then Thursday, back to the stomachache. It was pretty clear to us at this point that it was probably stress-related in some way. That was the day we started sitting down with Anand to do his homework, and we had Kavi bring hers too.
As it turned out, she had been having a really hard time keeping track of her assignments, and wasn’t at all sure what she had due, etc. She’d zoned out at various points in the first three days and missed what various teachers had said about late assignments, etc., and so she was feeling completely lost and overwhelmed. This is pretty typical for ADD, executive function challenges, and even though she doesn’t yet have a formal diagnosis (like me and Anand), she probably has at least some tendencies in that direction. We’ll get her re-evaluated at some point.
I’ll pause to note here that some people may have the impression that you have to do a full many-thousand-dollar workup to get an ADD / ADHD evaluation, and that’s not generally the case — pediatricians and internal medicine docs are able to do basic assessments and prescribe meds if needed, and all of that should be covered by insurance. In Illinois, Illinois All-Kids means that ALL children have health insurance, regardless of the family’s financial situation.
The expensive one is the full brain workup, and while it would be fascinating to get a really thorough map of one’s brain, if your goal is to find out whether you have ADD/ADHD and explore meds, your regular doctor can probably help you.
At least for now, I think if Kavi does have ADD, it’s mild enough that she can probably cope just fine with some executive function training and organization. Building good habits to support her. Meds are great, but if she doesn’t need them, even better.
So, once we realized what was going on (and we probably should have anticipated this, because Kavi actually did fall apart in exactly the same way at the start of middle school), we sat down with her and went through all of her assignments, step by step, figuring out what was missing, helping her figure out what she was stuck on, making her write to the teacher when she had questions.
Kavi was extremely reluctant to write to her teacher, which I finally realized probably comes of out of her perfectionist impulses, not wanting to admit she might need help, so we had to talk through some of that too. I told her that I am CONSTANTLY writing little apologetic cheerful notes to people saying I’ve forgotten something, and if they could clarify…which is true. That is my life.
Getting them caught up basically ate all of Sunday — Kevin and Jed and I sat at the dining table with the kids, and took turns helping them sort through their first two weeks of assignments, and then helped them actually finish the work and submit it (Anand was often forgetting to do the last step of actually hitting Submit, it turned out. Sigh.)
Pausing to note that a lot of kids don’t have this kind of parental support at home, for a host of reasons. When I was going through cancer treatment, I wasn’t able to do any of this kind of thing — I was too drained, and mostly asleep on the couch towards the end of chemo.
All of this is making me wonder if we need some more structured ‘start of school check-in’ a few weeks into the semester, at least for those new to the school, where their advisor sits down with them and goes over the work, making sure they’re actually on track and understanding what they’re supposed to do. Our high school has a tutoring center, with people trained to help with executive function, but when I asked Kavi about it, she said she didn’t know when or where it was, or how to access it, or when she was supposed to go.
Back when I was teaching basic composition, we cancelled a few classes a few weeks into the semester to have required 15-minute office hours with all the students to go over their first papers, and I think that’s a good practice, getting them used to actually going to office hours, getting them past the fear and intimidation of talking to teachers about your work, etc. Maybe we should make that more widespread.
Anyway — back to our family. Sitting with them that Sunday and working through it all was honestly exhausting, and made me draw on reserves of patience I don’t really possess. I was faking patience by the end. We don’t love sitting with them for evening homework either, but we’re doing it, because it clearly makes a big difference. I *think* we won’t have to do it forever; at this point, Kavi mostly just needs a reminder to start, and then she cheerfully goes through it on her own.
Anand takes a little more coaxing, and sometimes bribery — I am not above baking for them when needed. Last week, was chocolate-chip scones, then Kevin made banana bread muffins, and I think I’m going to make cheese scones for next week. We have also resorted to popsicles, etc. to get Anand out of his sulky mood and actually willing to sit and do the work.
(As another side note, part of what makes it difficult is that Anand finds it all really boring, and so wants to chat and tell jokes to help get himself through it, and that makes it all take much longer, and Kev and I both usually have a ton of work still waiting for us, so we want to power through and finish fast, which doesn’t mesh well with Anand’s style — sometimes, we can’t take it anymore and resort to asking Kavi to help him for a bit…)
Anyway. The time-consuming work of parenting, I suppose, but this is not work that comes naturally to me (unlike baking treats), and I have to kind of force myself to do it, but Kevin has carried most of the kids’ homework for a while, and I think it’s time I help him some (especially because I still have school board twice a month and other evening commitments when I have to leave him to do it all…).
It’s getting better, I think, and they’re building better habits and feeling less dread-which-leads-to-avoidance. Week three has been much better. If we can teach them that it feels way better to just get the work done, rather than procrastinating, that will be the major lesson, more important than any given physics or French problem.