“It takes a village to raise a child”, the saying goes. As this pandemic continues, however, as a parent, you likely feel like you’re on an island with your child. At Gersh Academy and West Hills Academy, we regularly hold meetings to keep parents up-to-date and informed on our specialized and unique programs. Though we cannot be with you and your children in person right now, we still wanted to make every effort to keep all of our dedicated parents as knowledgeable as possible.
The staff at the West Hills Academy compiled a list of the best ways to support your child while distance learning takes place. We recognize that parents are the most significant and impactful adults in a child’s life. Without the support and encouragement from parents, navigating childhood and adolescence can be a pretty bumpy road. By working together as educators and parents, especially during this uncertain period, we can prevent regression and increase the efficiency of our students’ educations, as well as keep our spirits strong during our times on our respective islands.
Here are some tips from our teachers on how best to support your child during this time.
Make School Work For You and Your Child
So many of us are used to hectic mornings, struggling to wake up tired children and teenagers and rush them off to school as we prepare for work ourselves. A hidden benefit to distance learning is that it is more accommodating in terms of scheduling. Choose the hours that work best for you and your child. If your child prefers to sleep in, this is a chance to allow it. That way, the student will be more well-rested and able to take on the planned activities in a more focused way. Just make sure, after deciding on the time of the day that works best, that this becomes a regular part of the daily routine. Establishing a daily schedule leads to the predictability and stability necessary for our students to progress.
An additional way to set up your at-home student for success is to create a workspace that is free from distractions and is organized with all learning materials close at hand. Adding tools like headphones to block out any outside noise, fidgets or sensory objects to help maintain concentration, and a chair that the child finds comfortable can bring the environment closer to their traditional classrooms and help replace some of the accommodations to which your child might be accustomed. Adding breaks into the “learning” section of the day will also increase the student’s focus.
If your child continues to feel unmotivated, including incentives may be the way to go. Add a sticker or reward chart to the learning area. Set goals with your child, and together, come up with prizes to earn when those goals are reached. Even with so many activities still unavailable, there are still a lot of possible incentives. Simply a special dinner or dessert might do the trick, or a scheduled weekend movie night in which the student decides the movie. A game or puzzle night or a planned outing to a favorite park might be what encourages your child. Setting up these small goals and rewards, specified for the individual child, might lessen those daily battles and get your child in the mind of working hard in order to earn something desired.
Check In Daily
Over the past couple months, our children’s lives have changed significantly. On top of the underlying threat of COVID-19, which may have affected those close to your child, they have also endured a sudden lack of socialization, a change in workload, a forced acclimation to distance learning, and, now, a possible awareness of daily widespread protests. This is a lot for anyone to take in, let alone a young person. Because of the intense amount of change happening, it is vital to check in with your child and talk about their knowledge about and feelings on the enormous transitions they’ve had to make.
Having these daily conversations will also build some of the social skills they are currently restricted to practicing virtually with everyone else. As parents during this time, we have the ability to model and help build important coping skills for the future. We also can show what empathetic communication looks like, something we are always working on in the classroom. These daily check ins with your child will assist them in processing their likely difficult emotions and clarify any misconceptions.
Give Teenagers Both Space and Connection
Though having a toddler in quarantine might be exhausting physically, having a teenager in quarantine is almost certainly exhausting mentally. They might be disappointed in missing out on planned experiences, and are experiencing loneliness without seeing friends regularly, if at all. Maybe they are suddenly anxious or unmotivated, unsure when this time will end and worried about their safety and the safety of those they love. Most likely, your teenager will have some sort of emotional reaction and, therefore, changed behavior during this time.
Difficult behavior in a time of uncertainty and lack of connection is normal, and common. You might be surprised that your teenager, currently apart from so many people, prefers independence and space. Allow them this time to process and figure out strategies to cope, but try to connect when possible. Introducing a family game night–even if it’s Minecraft, and even if there are complaints at first–will ultimately bring the family closer together. Maybe daily neighborhood walks to get out of the house, or a weekly family hike, would suit your family better. Either way, establishing a connection with a trusted adult while given the freedom to be alone when needed can go a long way in promoting resiliency and keeping spirits up.
For those students truly lacking connection with peers, consider encouraging them to set up a virtual get-together with a classmate. If your teenager is really struggling, look into teenlineonline.org. This resource connects your child with trained teenagers and enables them to vent, share with, and receive support from peers.
Take Care of Yourself
Right now, many parents are missing some of the revitalizing alone times and are definitely missing the rest of the “village” usually a part of their child’s life. Of course, it is second nature for a parent to forget about themselves in favor of sacrificing it all for the needs of their children. However, we also know that a parent focused on self-care, stress management, and mindfulness is also a parent most ready and able to help and support a child.
Model your own coping strategies for your children so they know what to do for themselves. Take the time to take a bath or read a book alone, livestream a social media event, exercise by yourself, or chat with a friend or family member. By engaging in these sorts of self-care activities, you will likely feel rejuvenated and your child will see what it looks like to take care of yourself.
This time in our lives is no doubt difficult, and definitely unprecedented. It is for you, as well as your child. Because of that, above all, keep in mind the social and emotional well-being of everyone in your family. Set the schedule that brings the greatest possibility of success to your child, have regular important conversations, and make every effort to stay connected. And, take care of yourself. You are the center of your child’s village and none of this happens without you.