Episode 222 – Supporting a child’s education during a global pandemic is no easy feat. In this episode, we chat with Lissarette Nisnevich about managing anxiety for parents, educators and young children during this challenging time. With the unique perspective of an educator, childcare entrepreneur, and mother, Lissarette shares her strategies on how to approach making the right decisions to provide a safe environment for young children to learn in.
Try your very best to use that positive language and model that positive behavior because this is not the end. It’s always fine in the end. And if it’s not fine, then it’s not the end. We will make it.
Lissarette, welcome to the preschool podcast!
Thank you so much for having me!
It’s our pleasure, as always, Lissarette. So, this time around on the show we have a wonderful guest by the name of Lissarette Nisnevich. She is an early-childhood professional and consultant.
I’m going to talk to her today about a topic that is very top-of-mind for families, teachers, educators alike, which is returning to school and childcare programs during COVID-19 and how we can help with the anxiety that this brings on, in particular for children. So, Lissarette, thanks for joining us on the show. Let’s start off learning a little bit about you. You’ve got a very interesting history.
Yes, so, I’ve been in the early-childhood education field for about 15 years now. I started as an assistant teacher. And then I was a teacher, a director and now I’m a business owner. I’ve traveled around the world to 30 different countries in which I’ve worked as a teacher, as a trainer, developing curriculum and as a volunteer.
I really love what I do. And now that I became a mom and I’m back in New York City, I opened my own chain of daycares and preschools. And I’m pursuing a PhD in childhood psychology. I love helping parents and I love working with children.
Going to 30-plus countries is no small feat. Why did you decide to go out international with some of your work?
So, the first time I traveled was actually suggested by a friend and I thought it was a great idea. And then the second time, I just really wanted to see what was out there. I wanted to meet people and I wanted to see places. And I didn’t know it then but I wanted to grow as a person.
And traveling and meeting people and understanding that we all want the same things, no matter where we’re from, helped me grow and become a better educator and a better human being.
So, I think after one country, I wanted to go to the other and another opportunity and so on. And I stopped once I met my husband. But I still would love to continue expanding my horizons.
Cool, very cool. And that makes a lot of sense. Okay, talking about returning to school during COVID-19: I guess let’s start with the question of making this decision. If you’re making a decision as parents, “Do we send our child back to childcare? Do we send them back to school or do we keep them home?” What are some of the criteria or things we should be thinking about to inform that decision?
I’m going to first start with the point of view as a teacher or as a person who has to go back into work and make sure that the environment is optimal for learning. When we’re making these decisions as parents and we want the best for our children, we need to take into consideration our personal situation. Each family is unique and they have unique situations.
And so our school districts are different. We have different pediatricians; we have different socioeconomic status. And so our choices and options might look different. So, it makes me a little bit sad when I go online and I see mommy groups and everybody judging everybody’s decision from their perspective without putting themselves in other people’s shoes first.
And so before we assess, “Well, should I keep my child home or should I send them back to their school?” What is your situation? How is your family structured? Do you have elderly family members living with you? Are you able to afford a private school with low ratios? Are you going back to public school?
All of these factors come into play when making your decision. And ultimately it is a unique, case-by-case thing. So, I would highly recommend for parents to really sit down and evaluate their options and take into consideration as well the things that we know and the factual information that is out there – not opinions, just the factual information coming from your pediatrician, from health care officials, from the people who want to keep us safe.
And so we know that fewer children than adults become infected. But the fact that kids get the virus is not uncommon. We do know that children become sick but the deaths are very rare. And we also know that children can spread the virus to others but we just don’t know how often.
So, when you take these factors into consideration – your family situation into consideration, and what is your school or your daycare or your learning setting doing – all of those things together should give you the answer you’re looking for.
Yes, very, very good points. And certainly as early-childhood educators who understand that every child is unique, certainly it would resonate that every family and their situation is unique with making that decision, as well.
One of the topics that has been somewhat of a debate, I would say, with different points of view – especially if you look at sort of mainstream media versus early-childhood professionals – is about children quote-unquote “falling behind” if they’re at home. Is this something that you think families should be concerned about or not? And if they are, what are things that they can do about that?
So, it’s completely understandable that, as parents, you’re worried that your child might fall behind and then be a learning experience might suffer in the future because they didn’t get the educational experience they needed at the moment.
But when I get these questions, which I’ve gotten myself from some of my families and friends, the main thing I want people to really, really keep in mind is the following: teachers are trained, educators are trained to help children catch up. We have children who come from a different country to enter a brand new classroom in a brand new setting and they catch up.
So, what we need to really focus on is making sure that your child is ready to do that when the time comes. Do not put so much pressure on them for the academics because the brain is what needs to be ready to learn. And a child will not be ready to learn if they are stressed, anxious, if they are uncertain. And a brain that’s under stress cannot learn.
So, parents need to worry more about providing their children with safety, calm and positive experiences that when the time comes, trust me, they will catch up. But a teacher cannot help a child that is having stressful reactions, that is having anxiety because they just literally their brain is not ready to tune in for the learning experience.
So, as much as we want to worry about the the academics, what we need to worry about right now is making sure our children, their mental health is in the right place.
Yeah, and that makes a lot of sense based on some of the other Podcast episodes sort of about some pyramids of learning and development where there’s sort of like these base levels, these fundamental pieces that have to be there. So, that certainly aligns to that.
And so when we talk about something like anxiety, let’s start off, I guess, setting a baseline with what it is. What is anxiety and how can we identify that children might be experiencing anxiety?
Okay, so, anxiety looks different in adults than it looks in children. For adults, we could say it is a mental health disorder. And it obviously [there are these] feelings of worry and fear that when you are anxious, they interfere with your daily life.
Now, when you are a child, anxiety is not going to look like it would look on you or me. An anxious child may not have the vocabulary to tell you how they feel. So, they are going to show you things like they’re not going to want to go to sleep, or waking up in the middle of the night when they’ve been sleeping all night before. They might show you physical illness symptoms like they might throw up or they might get a random fever.
Or you might see a shift into anger and misbehavior on a child that is usually easygoing. And the reason is, we resort to anger when we cannot express what we really feel or we don’t know how to handle what we’re really feeling. And sometimes being scared manifests itself like that.
Those are very good points. I guess if we’re experiencing this with our children at home, or as an educator in the classroom with children that have just been coming back to childcare school programs, how can we react and help to mitigate this?
So, as parents, our first priority, as I mentioned before, should be to try to have an environment that feels safe, that we know what’s going on, that there’s some sort of control. Having conversations with our children. And when they are not verbal yet and they’re very young, just modeling that behavior, just showing them, showing yourself assertive and showing yourself calm and ready to support them with their emotions. Because we are their support. And when they see that we don’t know what to do and that we are anxious, that immediately transfers onto them.
And now for teachers comes a bigger challenge because teachers were thrown also in a very anxiety-inducing environment where there’s virtual learning or these classrooms that we don’t know what’s going on and all of that. And so the same thing applies: teachers need to arm themselves with as much information as they can and try to keep their classrooms as we always do, regardless of a pandemic or not: feeling like a safe place, feeling like a place where children can come. And for some children, their classroom is there safe place.
And so we need to assess our children; we need to create routines; we need to make them feel that we know what’s going on and if anything happens, we will be there for them. So, having journals for children that are writing and where they can draw and they can release whatever anxieties and worries they are feeling.
Creating a worry time in which we all sit in a circle and talk about how we feel. And finding out that other people feel the same way you do in a classroom helps you feel better, it helps you feel part of something bigger and that makes you feel stronger.
You can have one-on-one with your students if the time permits. I feel now, again, it’s an important time to check in on our students’ mental health and make sure that everybody’s doing okay. If somebody needs extra support, we have resources available out there to be able to refer the parents to.
It’s so hard because we cannot do… we used to do hugs and all of these things to support one another. And now with the social distancing, talking and really checking in on that mental health, it’s really, really important.
So, it sounds like having that safe environment, creating a space that children can feel safe in where we have routines and other elements that are just really supportive of a calm and safe environment is really, really critical part of this.
What about as a parent? So, as an educator or childcare program, let’s say we’re doing lots of these things. But as a parent, maybe I’m anxious and I don’t know what’s happening in the childcare program throughout the day. Is there anything I can do on my end to help with anxiety with my child from, from my end?
So, know yourself. You have to know yourself and you have to know where you are. Some of us, we are naturally just very friendly, talkative. And the situation might affect us more than other people [who] have different personalities because we miss the hugs, we miss talking with the teachers and that little meeting in the morning or that little meeting pick-up that we can no longer have because of social distancing.
So, for parents, I feel it’s also important for you to take a moment, take a step back. Make sure that you are okay; make sure you take a little moment for yourself so you can keep being that strong person your child needs at that moment.
And a way you can do that is sort of similar: to try to have conversations, you can even write it down yourself and make sure that… “Okay, is everything alright? Do I feel okay? If I don’t, then,” let’s say that you are already a regulated adult who knows how to cope with certain emotions, “What can I do or what do I need in order to feel better or in order to feel safer?”
Communication is also key. You have to talk to your teacher. And if it seems you cannot have those conversations that you need and that feedback that you need to make sure and to feel secure and reassured, write emails. Teachers are usually pretty good with that. And I’m sure they will find it the time to set up Zoom meetings with parents.
But you need to tell the school and you need to tell the [administrators] and your teachers the things that you need in order to feel that things are going great. And I’ve heard from friends that some schools are doing amazing with their communication and they’re making parents feel reassured.
So, I feel that if you’re not getting enough of that, that’s what you need to go for. Email your teacher, email the administration of the school and make sure you keep a constant communication and checking with yourself whenever you feel that you might need to.
Yeah, communication, communication, communication. We talked about it in previous Podcast episodes but can’t be stressed enough from both sides, right? And if you’re coming from the school or childcare environment, keeping your parents and families well-informed. And then as you mentioned, if you’re a parent and you have questions and you want to know things, you should reach out.
Last but not least, you talked earlier a little bit about how every family in circumstances is different. And there’s likely some children that are more at risk in this situation than others. Are you finding that to be the case? And if so, is there anything we can or should do differently for these children?
So, I’m going to be very honest – that’s just who I am. This situation is affecting us all. And I hear you, parents, and I hear you, teachers. But I feel like the group that is being affected the most is children with special needs. And those children, right now, we’re accommodating for a very specific group of people. What happens with those children who… have a special plan with their school in order to be able to reach their educational goals and now they have to stay home? And home might not be the environment they need, according to the plan designed by their doctors, their psychiatrists, their counselors.
And so it is important that our leaders, that the people who are in charge of making policies and arranging things, to not forget the most vulnerable members of our society. And I am a big advocate for children who just really need that extra support. And right now, because we all sort of feel that we all need that extra support, we are forgetting about them.
And this situation is affecting the most those children who might not be able to return to a classroom which is the only place where they can thrive. And we should keep that in mind. And I urge the teachers to check on those children who might not be able to return. And I urge these schools to try to advocate for those who don’t have a voice.
Yeah, thank you for saying that. It’s a good way you put it in terms of thinking, if you think you have it hard right now, think of those families and children who do have special needs and require specific programing and routines. That’s got to be a real challenge right now. So, let’s think about them.
Lissarette, thanks so much for all this wisdom. Anything you would leave our audience with before we wrap things up today?
So, I want to say, remember that although we all love rainbows, before rainbows we have rain. And if you can dance in this rain, do it. Show your child how to do it, as well. We will get out of this; we will make it through. Try to stay positive.
I know it’s easier said than done but the way you talk to your children can really change their perspective for life. You can say that you’re trapped in your apartment or you can tell them that they’re safely in their home. And that can really change how they see things and what’s happening.
Our words and how we explain things and how we model and express situations, they can literally change the way our children perceive the world forever. So please, parents, try your very best to use that positive language and model that positive behavior because this is not the end. It’s always fine in the end. And if it’s not fine, then it’s not the end. We will make it.
Yep, good points. Lissarette, if our audience wants to get in touch with you or learn more about your work, where can they go to get more information?
Parents, if you want to get in touch. I’m here for any questions, consulting, whatever you need. Please go to my Instagram – I am very responsive on my DM’s. That is @Lissarette, find me on Instagram. And my website is www.Lissarette.com.
Wonderful. Lissarette, thank you so much for sharing your insights on returning to school during COVID-19 and helping children and families through this stressful period. I’m sure our audience will appreciate all this wisdom and practical advice. And we appreciate you taking the time to join us on the Preschool Podcast today!
Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure and I hope you have a wonderful rest of your school year, too!