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The resources listed here are intended to help you navigate the complex and ever evolving landscape of being a parent supporting children during an extraordinarily difficult time.
As much as is possible, set up a consistent learning space for your child. Make sure school supplies, technology, charging station, etc. are close at hand. Try as best you can to have the area free from distractions. Having a consistent place that has just what they need will help your child get into a focused mindset. As you work to set up the environment, make sure you empower your child with some decisions that will help with buy in. Even if they can’t decide where in the house, maybe they can pick out some supplies, or decide where to put their pencils, etc.
If your kitchen counter or kitchen/dining room table is doubling as a work area, set up a caddy, tray or cart so that necessary supplies are close at hand and easy to pack up when your child is done for the day. Try placing your child’s ChromeBook/iPad at eye level for Zoom calls by placing it on a stack of books, etc. so your child doesn’t hunch over and strain their neck and shoulders. Finally, if one place isn’t working, change it up and try something new. What’s most important is that you all find a way to get to work!
We know this is VERY tricky when all members of your household may be working and learning from home! For younger children, have a particular place to save work (art, toys, buildings, etc.) so that they don’t bring them into their learning space. In addition, it can help your child to wear headphones with a microphone so that they can focus on their Zoom session and also block out distractions, as well as minimize noise for others who may be working in close quarters.
If your child has attentional difficulties, facing them toward a wall and away from the room and windows can be very helpful. So can noise cancelling headphones. And finally, minimizing disruptions from siblings, pets, etc. during learning times will keep your child and the rest of the class focused.
One of the best tips to help your child feel positively about his/her learning is to set up a routine and be as consistent with the routine as possible. Set clear expectations for learning times, breaks, playing, etc. and review the expectations frequently so you all adhere to them.
Set up a time each morning to go over when your child can expect to spend time connecting with you; when you are not to be interrupted; what they can do during breaks, etc.. Setting up a daily list of “have tos” and “can dos” is key clarifying your family’s expectations. Many of these things will be recurring, so it is really just reviewing and/or clarifying what’s different and the timing of each day.
It may be that you need to be close to your child, especially if they are younger, in case they need help with assignments or staying on task. No matter the age, it is still good practice to gradually release independence. At first, your child might work on their own for only ten minutes. You want your child to feel good about this new routine. As they become more comfortable, add a few minutes each day. You can work up to an hour or more before you or they need to check in. It is important to project confidence in your child’s ability to manage themselves and their work and to celebrate their accomplishments. The more you have confidence in your child to work independently, the more confidence they will have in themself!
While teachers will explicitly teach your child the routines, procedures, and skills they need for distance and in person learning, they will still need varying levels of support depending on their ages as well as on developmental and learning needs. Follow your teacher’s guidance, and try to give your child space to try on their own first.
Suggested language: As children get older they learn to do more and more things on their own. I want to teach you something new that older children and grownups do! You are ready to do your Zoom calls and work with less help from your grownups. We will have our together time when you wake up and after lunch, and in the meantime you can check in on your breaks to let me know how you did. The rest of the time, I know you’ll do your best to focus on your work! Let’s look at your schedule.
It can be so tricky to have your child complete their work/activities at home! Just like when you’re helping your child be more independent, making sure you have a consistent, routine time each day (special time or together time) to connect with your child where they choose the activity and you fill their bucket. (See Together Time for more information.)
Here is a short, clear article from Psychology Today (find Part 2 here) with the top 7 strategies to avoid power struggles at home.
In addition, being clear and consistent with your expectations helps a LOT. You may initially encounter more power struggles, but they really do get fewer once they understand the boundaries and limits. Remember that your child’s temperament will also affect how often and intense power struggles happen. Check in with your child’s teachers, the Learning Specialist, or the Dean of Students if you are really struggling in this area and they can help you get more support.
Take several big, deep calming breaths, saying aloud “I need to take some big breaths right now.” Sometimes your child will follow suit without being asked. Once you’re ready to communicate, be firm, clear, and keep your conversation short and simple.
Do your best to limit the amount of talking you do. Remember to focus on behavioral manifestations and not critique your child as a person (avoid words like “always” and “never”). Try to let your child save face, and ask them to help choose between a couple resolution options so they can feel more empowered.
If what has caused the upset is a child’s specific want or desire, empathize and acknowledge their wishes so they feel heard and try to say when they can have the thing that they want even if it’s not right now.
Perhaps most importantly, find a time daily to connect with your child without phones, work or other interruptions. Setting aside 15 minutes each day for “special time”or “together time” with your child that you and they can count on helps them feel better about being independent and following your family’s expectations. During this special time, let your child choose the activity (from up to 3 things you select) and stay focused on the activity and your child the whole ten minutes – it helps fill them up for when they need to be independent.
Studies show that long term, having a secure attachment to your parents/caregivers is most important to having close relationships with others. Connecting with family of all ages is still social time, and while children have less time with their peers right now, children are resilient. They may not be talking, sharing, and playing with their peers as much, but they are learning how to entertain themselves, be alone, and will likely quickly adapt again, catching up on their sharing, connecting and other cooperative skills.
Here are some tips from Understood.org on supporting your child’s social and emotional wellbeing during this difficult time. They recommend that parents open the conversation, asking what is getting in the way of their connection. Listen, show empathy, be patient, problem-solve some solutions together, and slowly build up to more social interactions starting with what feels the most safe, first.
Perhaps playing games online with a friend, having a video call with a family member, or watching a movie together over Zoom could be a way to get over the hump. When children have something to do together, they often have an easier time connecting. If your family is comfortable with it, having a social distance get-together with one other peer at a time with a socially distant, outdoor activity (playing Magic outside, making friendship bracelets, riding scooters or bikes, going to the beach and bringing your own set of sand toys, going on a hike, etc.) is a good low stakes way to reconnect with peers.
“First of all, your kids are right—it’s not the same. For younger children, it’s tough to play through a screen. For older children (and adults!), it’s challenging to make eye contact and read social cues via video chat. You can only see head and shoulders, and even facial expressions can be hard to read, especially if the other person is moving around and reacting to things going on in their space. But the more you practice this kind of socializing, the easier it becomes, notes Janine Domingues, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute.” Read full article from the Child Mind Institute with step-by-step suggestions to support a socially anxious child.
Remember, writing letters, drawing pictures for others, texting, video chats, and having conversations all count as social interaction too.
Many families and children are experiencing more anxiety now than ever before. In addition to feeling socially isolated, COVID has greatly impacted normal routines and the resulting fears of catching COVID and going about daily life are real for so many of us. Learning to manage anxiety is really about building up tolerance to it, not making it go away. The more we can help our children rely on themselves, instead of us, to help them feel better, the stronger they will feel.
The Child Mind Institute recommends that parents: Structure the day, avoid giving too much reassurance so your children don’t learn to rely on you too much, model calm yourself, and look for the positive. Read the article linked above for more information. Remember, one of the best ways you can help your child is by taking care of yourself! Check out some information about managing your own anxiety in the tab below.
Empower your child by helping them understand more about coronavirus and how to protect yourself and your family by reading books, doing some curated internet research and sharing that knowledge with you (and/or others) could really help your child calm their worries during this time of great uncertainty.
Do you have a child who has big feelings AND resists talking about feelings? Traditional approaches like “You’re so mad, I get it!” and “I know you’re so upset, you’re allowed to feel this way” often evoke a child’s anger, running away, or putting hands over ears.
This 10 minute video explains why kids may resist your emotional support and teaches and model five strategies that tend to help these children.
Links and articles curated by Common Sense Media:
Articles about Back to School from The Child Mind Institute
Psychology Today – Coronavirus and Child Anxiety
Understood.org’s Back to School Resource Homepage
How to Avoid Passing Anxiety on to Your Kids
Tantrums Are Healthy and Tantrum Tamer
Three Ways to Avoid a Power Struggle with Your Kids
A Kid’s Book About Covid-19
Do Not Lick This Book
What Are Germs
Magic School Bus: The Giant Germ
Sherm the Germ
Protecting You … Protecting Me
Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO and the Corona Challenge
What Is Coronavirus?
A Kid’s Book About Anxiety
A Kid’s Book About Mindfulness
A KId’s Book About Belonging
If you find your own worries* getting the better of you, this article by psychologist Dr. Becky Kennedy is a helpful starting place. Much like helping your child with their anxiety, the key with managing your own is to learn to tolerate it when it arises and also build more skills around coping with it so that you feel better and it doesn’t come up as often. Normalizing and managing your anxiety makes you a wonderful role model for helping your child through their own anxious moments.
*Please note: If you find that your anxiety is affecting your child and your family in an ongoing way, reach out to a professional who can help you with your particular needs.