As we continue to navigate the various changes in our lives as a result of current events, we are seeing just how much ourselves and our children are socially and emotionally impacted by working from home, navigating remote and hybrid learning, and feeling social isolation from friends and family. All around the country, public and private schools have been making decisions about the best approach for their students. For example, some districts have chosen to remain fully remote while others have developed hybrid models to provide some in-person instruction. Many parents and teachers have noticed changes in their child’s academics (for good or for bad), as well as their social skills and emotional functioning. Children are isolated from the social interactions in which they learn so much from and may be stuck behind a screen for much of their day. Social interactions go beyond just learning how to build and maintain relationships, but they also help our child’s language, communication, and emotional development.
Stress levels have risen as children and adolescents attempt to learn this ever-changing system and obtain the appropriate support they need. Individuals with disabilities are especially vulnerable to anxiety and depressive symptoms when they are participating in remote learning. The uncertainty of everything is also weighing on both children and their parents. Maybe you have seen more behavioral challenges with your child or teen, such as refusing to participate in school, more tantrums, or increased self-isolation. The good news is, there are ways that you can help your child remain focused and motivated, as well provide social-emotional support at home:
1. Have a designated learning area: Creating a designated space for your child will help to put some “space” between home life and school life. You can get creative with this area to maintain the motivation, but it is important to make sure that it is also quiet with minimal distractions.
2. Develop a routine: For our children, they require some structure right now without rigid schedules. As this year has shown, there is so much uncertainty and everyone has had their world turned upside down.
3. Breaks: Even though they may be at home, they still need a brain break. Have them enjoy the fall weather, exercise, and socialize with you and their siblings. Staring at a screen is tiring and our eyes need breaks as well. Try to find activities that they can do on their breaks that eliminate screen time as much as possible.
4. Stay in contact with the teacher(s): What we have seen is that teachers are also trying to learn this new way of educating their students. It is important to maintain contact with your child’s teachers to help your child stay on track, while also keeping the teacher informed about any concerns or struggles your child may be having. If everyone is one the same page, it provides more room for harmony and support.
5. Keep the conversation open: Being open and honest with your child may be beneficial for them. We may not have all the answers, but our children are confused and scared. You are also opening the gateway for them to come to you when they are struggling academically, socially, or emotionally.
6. Zoom/Outdoor play dates: One of the biggest challenges for parents has been deciding if it is safe or not for their child to have an in-person play date. Although it may be hard to think about yet more screen time for your child, scheduling times for virtual social interactions may help relieve some of that worry as well as have them maintain some social interaction. Alternatively, having playdates outdoors is a great way to connect with peers.
7. Mindfulness activities: Social emotional learning may have been put on pause in some school districts, but that does not mean your child cannot still learn coping techniques. By increasing our mindfulness, we can become more aware of what our bodies and our mind’s need. Below are some ideas to help with mindfulness:
• Taking a nature walk
• Fidget Toys
• Calm Down Jars
• Yoga for kids
• Breathing exercises (e.g., Balloon Breaths) – Go Noodle
• Meditation apps: Headspace for kids , Stop, Breathe, & Think , and many others!
Parents are often under tremendous pressure these days to wear multiple hats: the parent, teacher, and therapist, among others. Please take the time to recognize the steps you are taking to support your child. As always, we are here to support you and your child and have additional conversation regarding any questions you have about your child’s academic, social, or emotional well-being.