Back to School, Distance Learning and Beyond
Summer is over and school is back in session. Some kids are physically at school, while others are in a hybrid program or continuing with distance learning. Whatever your situation is, our lives are not back to normal. Even if they aren't telling you, this time is especially hard on our kids. They all left school back in March, and didn't see their friends or teachers in person again.
Even if you have a bright child who is introverted, or if you already home school, COVID limitations have created a dramatic shift from normal. Depending on your child’s age, temperament and schooling situation, a variety of things might be happening or on the verge of happening any moment now.
Typically most children have changes in behavior when there are big changes in their lives. If your child is emotionally sensitive, physically intense, has sensory issues or is highly introverted or extroverted you have probably already noticed some major changes in your child’s or teen’s mood and/or behavior over the past six months, and now that school has started again. It’s important to continue to be patient and gentle with them as they are still adjusting to their new normal.
We are all feeling the stress of our disrupted lives, different ways of socializing and our limited ability to leave the house, coupled with the fear of the unknown. Children rely heavily on predictable routines to feel safe. Even if your child or teen is home schooled, their routine has changed if both parents are now working from home, they can’t go on field trips or have physical play dates. Introverted children now have more people surrounding them and less quiet time, while extroverted children have lower social interaction with peers. Kids who aren’t home schooled are now adjusting to using online resources and you to teach them. Some may also be afraid if distance learning was difficult for them in the spring. You will be adjusting to this as well. On top of all of this, it may be difficult for everyone to get enough movement, which is hard, but the worst for those kids who have a physical overexcitability. Considering all of this, it’s not surprising many kids are having higher rates of anxiety, frustration and difficulty regulating emotions, especially our bright, sensitive kids, whose brains never stop.
Not to worry, I’ve got you covered, and you’ve got this. Here are some ideas to help you and you’re kids make the next shift without panic, meltdowns or shutdowns.
If your child is struggling with distance learning specifically:
1. Give a screen break at the end of the day. Many kids have Zoom fatigue from being online all day. Going outside to sit or walk, and otherwise connecting with the physical world can help them to recharge.
2. If they are unwilling to participate in the class offer to do it with them, and be on the sideline. Take it slow as they adjust, and be in communication with the teacher.
3. If they are refusing to do the classwork, make it part of their routine, doing a little at a time, with short movement and fun breaks in between. Since they are at home, many kids may have a difficult time switching their mindset from home time to school time. Having a structure and routine in place will help with this transition.
4. If you are working from home, you can set a good example and parallel school with work. As you are keeping a schedule and working, they will be keeping a schedule and working from home too.
5. Talk to the teachers. Keeping the lines of communication open with your child or teen's teacher will be essential for their well being. While most schools have a better plan than they did in the spring, this is still a new way of learning and many schools are open to adjusting what they're doing to help students to be successful.
6. Partner with other parents. Connecting with your parent friends can be both supportive and offer a break. Some families are pairing with other families to study together virtually or in distanced learning pods in person. If you do choose to meet in person, it can give you a break, and your child an opportunity to see a friend face to face, but also carries the risk of meeting in person, so please follow social distancing and safety recommendations given by the Center for Disease Control to keep everyone safe.
All of the aforementioned challenges require working closely with your child’s teachers or administrators when possible.
It is important to approach them with a friendly tone, expressing acknowledgment of the challenge they are facing teaching in a new format and your desire to partner with them to help your child to be successful. Explain your child’s challenges to the teacher and ask for ways the child’s needs can be met. Feel free to make your own suggestions such as:
Child be permitted to take a break from the group when feeling overwhelmed, or if class goes over time scheduled
Student may be permitted to send a private message to teacher with questions instead of talking in front of the group, especially when addressing more private matters like wanting to work ahead.
Be in communication with teacher about what level your child is working at and if they are ready to move to a higher level or do an independent project. Be able to provide evidence to the teacher of what your child is doing.
Ask the teacher if it is okay for the child to do homework during the lecture if it is not disrupting the class. If the student isn’t on camera, and only listening, permission may not be needed.
Provide articles/information that supports your concerns, as many teachers don’t understand some of the unique challenges of gifted children.
You can also work with your child to minimize stress.
1. Keep yourself in check and up the self care. Make sure you are taking breaks, getting enough sleep, and having proper nutrition. This will help you to be more patient and emotionally available to your kids who really need you right now. If your kid is losing it and you are losing it with them, no one is doing okay.
2. Create and maintain a routine for each day, which incorporates healthy habits, a couple little chores, school work and play breaks.
3. Continue to eat meals and snacks. Include healthy foods and water. Avoid the urge to binge on sugar and junk, which can contribute to mood swings later. Proper nutrition will help you combat stress, and your child’s stress.
4. Dress to improve your mood. While it might be tempting to let everyone’s hygiene slip, or live in P.J.s or sweats, don’t. Cheery clothes and good hygiene can improve everyone’s mood, and is part of that routine that helps our children feel safe. Try having a spirit week with different themed clothes each day to keep up morale. You can also do this with friends, and share the fun online.
5. Spend extra time playing with your children and teens. As with other areas of their lives, be kind and patient with them. Follow their lead and let them choose what to play. Play will help them to process what is happening, and will help all of you to better regulate your nervous systems.
6. Reduce stress and practice calming strategies. Play physical games like tag and hide and go seek. Take calm breaks while playing to practice deep breathing, using comfort objects and visualizing calm spaces.
7. Play every day. No matter what your age, play makes you happy, helps you to learn new things and relieves stress. Most ages can play online games with friends, play board games and card games. Make your own games.
8. Help Kids Explore your world. This can be going out in your back yard and looking at plants and animals, looking at different things in your house or doing science experiments.
9. Find ways to safely connect with others. The internet can be one of your best resources in this area. You can have virtual play dates, hang outs and trips to the museum.
10. Create a self care, comfort kit. Do this for yourself, and make one with your children. Your self care kit should include items that engage each of your 5 senses in a pleasant way. Include a weighted object and something that can help you move. Gum, breath strips and mints are great. Add a sketchbook, coloring pages, and/or a journal. Bubbles and balloons for blowing are good for practicing deep breathing in a fun way. Beautiful pictures, and pictures that evoke positive memories are a nice add, as well as some of your favorite music. Also consider using ideas from a sensory diet. Use the kits to help kids get in the mood to study, relax when their tired or to calm an intense mood.
11. Keep in mind everyone is doing the best they can right now. Tension may rise as we spend more time together. Try to be patient with yourself and others. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt when possible, and make repairs as needed.
12. Give space where possible. It’s important for everyone to have their own place to safely retreat and regroup daily.
13. Chunk out the day. Taking on a whole day of home study can be overwhelming, especially for kids and parents who haven’t done it before. Take it in small pieces with short, movement breaks in between. If possible, give your child or teen choices as to which tasks they want to tackle first.
14. Children may be even more emotionally sensitive than usual. Calmly give them words for what they are experiencing and model positive ways of managing stress. Help them to use their calm kit, practice deep breathing with long exhales with them, and allow them to utilize comfort objects. And don’t forget the hugs!
15. Find humor where possible. Laughter reduces stress and anxiety, and makes life more fun and everyone is calmer.
16. Help your child or teen to look for the helpers. When scary things are happening around us, it can be calming to notice who is helping and what is going right. Assist your children in finding those people, and empower them to be helpers when possible.
17. Choose where you focus your attention. By allowing yourself to focus on safety, helpers and what is going right you will feel more empowered, and hopeful. Help your children to do the same.
18. Notice what you can control in your life and make the most of it. Helping children to notice what they can control will also help them to be more open to participating in new things, especially those things that may be uncomfortable or frustrating.
19. Stay present, and remind yourself, this is only temporary.
20. Set and maintain appropriate boundaries. It’s easy to loosen up when everyone’s home. It’s important, however, to continue to set and maintain appropriate boundaries. Like routines, boundaries help children and teens to feel safer because they know your limits. Be gentle, yet firm.
21. Help them to have at least one thing to look forward to each day, and reward their efforts, even if they are tiny. Studies show, positive reinforcement is much more effective than punishment.
22. Talk to someone. Plenty of helpers are here for you and your children. Research shows online therapy is just as effective as meeting in person. Don’t hesitate to reach out for support in your area!
About the Author: Christy, is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, practicing in San Diego, California. She has over 10 years of experience working with children, teens, parents, families, couples and individual adults with complex psychological and relationship problems. She specializes in the needs of gifted, bright and high achieving people, as well as those who have suffered past trauma. Christy uses an eclectic approach, meeting the needs of whomever she is working with. Her work addresses the needs of the whole person, incorporating mind and body.