The Westview School Blog
Given the disruption to our daily lives and uncertainty of what the future holds, it’s no wonder that the Covid-19 pandemic has many of us feeling anxious. By making a conscious effort to manage anxiety levels in your family — you can build your family’s resilience now and for the future. Here are some specific steps you can take to manage your child’s anxiety during this challenging time:
Recognize it! Common signs of anxiety in children include: irritability, sleep disruptions, behavioral outburst or tantrums, physical aches (i.e. head and stomach aches), crying and increased sensitivity, difficulty concentrating and physical symptoms like racing heart, fast breathing and clammy hands. Seeing regression in children at times of stress is also quite normal; this could include accidents in children who are potty-trained, thumb-sucking or other “baby-like” behaviors, increased clinginess or resorting to other previously outgrown behaviors. Additional signs of anxiety commonly seen in individuals with ASD include greater sensory sensitivity and rigidity, increased self-stimulation and repetitive behaviors/vocalizations, aggression and self-injury.
Acknowledge that it’s normal to be anxious! Children—and adults—are likely to be feeling a range of emotions right now and it’s critical to remember there is no wrong way to feel, now or ever! Ask how your child is feeling using the means they can best express themselves—be it words, drawing or choosing an emotion face from a feelings chart. Before offering solutions, re-assure your child that it’s understandable they are feeling that way.
Find out what your child knows. Uncertainty breeds fear in people of all ages. Ask your child to share what they understand about the situation, be it in words or pictures. This will provide you an opportunity to correct any misinformation and provide age-appropriate facts. While you’re at it, limit your child’s exposure to the news—as this can heighten their anxiety. The following are a variety of resources for explaining Coronavirus to kids of varied developmental levels:
- A kid-friendly comic for advanced readers.
- Social stories like this and this can be particularly useful.
Manage your own anxiety. Children turn to caregivers for information on how to react in uncertain times, making it all the more important to monitor your own emotions right now. Like all humans, parents are entitled to their own emotions but be aware of what you model for your children. Try to model a calm demeanor when interacting with your kids and turn those times when you lose your cool as a teaching moment: “Wow! I’m feeling very stressed right now, so I’m going to take 5 deep breaths.”
Use these four basic strategies as much as possible:
- Establish and maintain a daily routine.
- Get your whole family physically moving.
- Get outside and get some fresh air.
- End each day by identifying one thing for which you are grateful.
As we all struggle to adjust to the unexpected and unprecedented changes to our daily lives, parents everywhere are being pulled in a dozen different directions simultaneously. Not only are we having to learn how to work from home, maintain communication with our colleagues, and figure out new technology to facilitate that communication, we’re also having to learn how teach our children, navigate multiple online learning platforms, facilitate communication with our kids’ teachers, and organize their materials. This doesn’t even consider the fact that spending more time at home means more laundry, dishes, housekeeping, grocery shopping, and cooking… not to mention dealing with a public health crisis, keeping our families healthy, and staying in contact with family and friends. Whew… just WRITING that list makes me tired!
I think it needs to be stated directly: no mortal human can possibly maintain this lifestyle without letting a few things slide.
What if I told you there was a way to complete some home chores, teach your child important self-care skills, AND help them practice critical social engagement skills all at the same time? Well, there is! By having your child join with you to complete necessary household tasks, you can get extra benefits for your time. Besides, if they’re having fun, odds are good that YOU will, too, and we can all use a few extra smiles these days! The key to successfully achieving this balance is how you set up the interaction. Some ideas to keep in mind are:
Apprenticeship – Many children in today’s world have some confusion regarding social roles and concepts like “authority” or “responsibility.” Setting up a clear, leader/follower style interaction can help kids to practice following an assigned role. For children who have particular difficulty assuming a subordinate or follower position in an interaction, it can be helpful to put them in the leader role for a task they already know well and you can assume the follower role.
Playful engagement – As with any activity involving children, having fun and making it playful is a great way to get their engagement and participation. Silly songs, playful tickle games, or funny word play can occur in nearly every activity and can transform an otherwise dull chore into a memorable, fun time together.
Compromise on quality – Conversely, nothing kills a playful mood quite as fast as being corrected repeatedly over trivial or minor details. When we become overly focused on the product or outcome of the task, we often lose the engagement of our children and consequently their ability to learn the skill or to engage socially with us.
Some specific examples of how this might look are:
1. Folding towels/laundry: For a younger child, you might start with towels while you hold one end and the child holds the other end. Without letting go of your corners, you can give a “high 10” and put the ends of the towel together. Then, you could either have the child hold those corners while you get the bottom/crease of the towel or you can hold the towel while your child gathers the next section. Adding a few playful and unpredictable cues like “1… 2… 3… STOP!” or “1… 2… 3… BLOW!” before giving the expected “1… 2… 3… GO!” can add an element of fun while simultaneously teaching your child the importance of attending to subtle cues in their social partner. For an older child, you could take turns being a “distraction monster” while the other folds or racing with equal stacks of clothes/towels to see who can fold them the fastest. This racing method can be adjusted so that the winner is the person who folds the “neatest” or some other standard. Bonus hint: kids are more likely to enjoy games that they win… no harm in letting them win a few just so you can demand a rematch… double the laundry getting folded!
2. Washing dishes: Assigning specific roles is a great way to begin an apprenticeship/expert interaction and manage the expectations so that they are appropriate for your child. It also helps keep the interaction social, as it becomes necessary to coordinate your actions with your partner. You can wash the dish and your child can load it into dishwasher, or vice versa. For added challenge, one or both of you can wear a blindfold (beware fragile glasses and dishes!)!
3. Vacuuming/Sweeping/mopping: Physical movement is great for us in so many ways! Feel free to have a dance party with your brooms (extra flair points for a big, dramatic dip!). You can take turns, race, or compete in sweeping. You can move furniture while the other person cleans under it. Word games like “name 3” (name 3 items in a given category within 5 seconds… like cars or types of fruit), rhyming games, I Spy, 20 questions, etc. can make even the most repetitive task more enjoyable!
4. Making a bed: Collaboration works well with this task, as you can each stand on each side of the bed and work together to move each layer and/or pillow. Playful disruptions, like tug of war or gentle pillow fights can teach social engagement and self-regulation (i.e., not hitting too hard or getting upset when you get hit). A version of “red light/green light” where they try to make the bed quickly, but have to stop when you say “freeze!” can break up the monotony and promotes sustained attention and shifting between tasks.
5. Feeding and walking pets: A “word walk” can be fun, where you name things in a given category (all the red things, or things that begin with the letter C). Practice adjusting your speed and coordinating with your partner. Follow-the-leader, with silly moves like stepping up and down on a curb, zigzagging across a parking lot or field, or hopping on one foot is another way to add some fun and practice following others.
Of course, these activities will likely need to be modified slightly to fit your child’s age, interests, and language level, so feel free to take as much creative liberty as necessary. Some trial and error will be necessary as we adjust and learn from our previous attempts. Sometimes, these ideas work well the first time, but more often, we’ll miss the mark several times before we can even get close to striking the balance. My advice is to keep trying and focus on your successes! Many of the strategies above are non-specific for the task where they are listed, so you can borrow and accommodate in as many creative ways as you like. You might even want to post your own ideas in the comments below. In the meantime, stay well, be patient (especially with yourselves!), and try to have some fun!
Ken Montfort, PhD
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Administrative Director, The Stewart Center
Ok, so the truth is out there. This homeschooling stuff is hard. Really hard. This COVID-19 learning has only further confirmed to me that I could not be a teacher. I will gladly “rush into the fire” when a kiddo is having a meltdown, but it is temporary, and then I get to help someone else. But to have to teach the same kiddos day after day for hours on end is for the birds. Teachers deserve a medal, a Wheaties box cover, and the oft-coveted margarita machine. Unfortunately, desperate times call for desperate measures, so it is incumbent upon us parents (working or otherwise) to hold up the torch and go forward into the quest for our child’s education. Having dealt with some bumps and bruises of the “new normal,” I thought I might pass along some strategies that may be helpful to others:
“Don’t sweat the small stuff”- So, this is the most important tip. If you don’t read anything else, read this one. Everyone is in the midst of a global pandemic. This means everyone… worldwide (this is what “global” means… my kid taught me that). This is a stressful time for kids, for parents, for teachers, for everyone. Many of you are not used to having to watch your kids every day, all day. Many more of you are not used to having to teach your child all day long as well as care for them. Even more are not used to working remotely from home while having to teach your children, watch your children, and also take care of your house. If your child’s schoolwork is too much for you or your family to mentally handle right now, then put it away. Save it for another day or just don’t do it. The mental health of your family is more important than your child’s April e-learning lessons during a global pandemic. I don’t want to discount or dismiss the importance of education, but at this very minute in history, it falls behind health, safety, and security. If the work that your child’s teacher is giving you is too much for your family to mentally handle, then do not add more stress to yourself. If you need to reduce the school workload, talk to your teacher about it. I am certain that they are more than willing to help you find an appropriate workload to accommodate your needs. Which flows into…
“Focus on the Important Stuff” – When you do help your kiddo do work, focus on what is most important. Does that mean that reading can take a backseat so we can focus on math? If that is what is most important to you and your child, then sure! Maybe your child will need to read much more than worry about math. Maybe science is the best way to help them with math and reading. Maybe the 3 Rs (Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic) all need to take a break so that you can teach your child to cook, clean, or sew. Focus on the most meaningful tasks for you and your child during these times.
“Monkey See, Monkey Do”- Kids learn by watching, and whether we want to admit it or not, we are modeling behavior for our kiddos, especially how we handle stress and frustration, how we relax, and how we communicate when we are frustrated. Children will often copy the words and actions of their parents. Controlling your own behavior will help to control your child’s behavior. Try to be calm and neutral as much as possible. When you do handle things in a not so appropriate manner, acknowledge it and show them how to handle making a mistake (i.e., own up to the mistake, apologize, make amends, etc.).
“Control”- While you can’t control the virus and what is going on outside your house, you can control some things inside your home. Create clear routines and expectations for yourself and your child. This will/can include schedules, social stories, feelings cards, visuals, task lists, break cards, etc. Be sure to also set up break times and reward times to help reinforce appropriate behavior. This should also include setting up break times for yourself, as well! Allowing your children to take a part in the creation of the schedule and activities will help their buy-in, which will also help their willingness to follow along. For kiddos that frequently engage in power struggles, allowing them opportunities to make choices (i.e., choose what assignment to do first, choose what to eat for lunch, etc.). will help them to gain some power in their daily routine.
“That was Funny and Moving” – Engaging your emotions and senses can help foster learning. Come up with silly songs to remember details. Tell funny jokes to recall a spelling pattern. There is also a great deal of evidence out there that tells us that multi-sensory approaches to learning help to encode information. So, when learning letters, for example, it helps to hear them, say them, and then finger write them in the sky or in shaving cream. The more senses that are engaged, the more likely the child is to learn the lesson.
“Be a Behavior Detective”- Look past negative behavior to figure out what your child is trying to communicate. Remember, all behavior is communication, and knowing why a child is behaving in a certain way (i.e., the “function” of the behavior) will help you figure out what it is your child is trying to tell you. Sometimes, all it takes is an honest, open conversation with your child regarding why they might be behaving a certain way. In other times, it takes some assistance to figure that out. If you need help, do not hesitate to ask for it. Your teachers and support staff are happy to assist you with creating strategies to help prevent or appropriately respond to behavioral and academic challenges. Which reminds me…
“Ask for Help”- Your teachers, principals, and support staff are all available to help you and your child. They are there to assist you and your child(ren) with the work, the structure, and even the motivation. They can talk to you and/or your child and help you all to problem solve any issues you may have. This is a novel situation for everyone, and its ok to not know how to handle it. Everyone needs help sometimes, and that is ok.
“The Joys of Busy Work”- “Busy work” has always had a negative connotation and understandably so. It is meant to just keep kids “busy” and, by contrast, not “actively learning.” However, I now understand the basic 2 premises of “busy work”: 1) independent practice – that is to repeat skills that you readily know so as to not lose unpracticed skills, and 2) to allow the teacher time to help others or to actively do other activities. Busy work does not only have to be worksheets. Busywork can also be play-based (i.e., build me a house with those legos, make me a pizza with playdoh, draw me a picture of our house, etc.). Most kids, especially younger ones, learn by doing… and this can include just engaging in a creative activity that they enjoy. Having lots of “busy-work” is essential to allow your children time to be occupied so that you can accomplish all you need to do! Which reminds me….
“Please Put on Your Safety Mask Before Helping Others” – In case you missed the very first point, I just want to reiterate it again. Manage your own stress appropriately by ensuring that you are taking care of yourself. I know you keep hearing this, but self-care is so important! Take time out of your day to make sure that you are taking care of yourself. If that means that the dishes don’t get done, so be it. If that means that your child misses an assignment, so be it. Get some fresh air, take a nap, read, etc. Please just make sure that you are appropriately managing yourself so that you can better manage everyone and everything else!
Good luck out there! We all can, and will, get through this together.
In my time at The Westview School, I have occupied the roles of Middle School Teacher, Behavior Specialist, and Psychologist. With the COVID-19 pandemic and the changes to our work and school schedules, I now occupy all of these roles at one time in my home with four other people. Managing the role of working parent is always a challenge, but these times have made it more challenging. Even my colleagues who are used to working at home are not used to working at home with their children!
To help manage my work and home life with these blurred boundaries, I have found the following helpful:
Have a routine. Just like during the days when we worked in the office, have set times of the day that are for work, for family, and for you. Working from home can blur the boundary between family and work, so it is important to add structure to the day. Avoid working after the hours or times of day you set. Avoid asking your child to do academic ‘table-work’ outside of the hours that have been set for school.
Be flexible. If your children need you in the morning for school work, your work schedule may need to be later in the day. On the other hand, if your work needs you in the morning, your children may need to do school in the afternoon. We are used to school and work occurring simultaneously, but that may need to change. As we tell our children: Change is okay! We can be flexible!
Enlist help. We aren’t able to send our kids to our family or friends’ homes or bring a babysitter over; however, we can be creative! Is there a grandparent who can play or teach over video-chat on a consistent basis? Get with other parents and use academic sites with a social component, popular gaming sites, or gaming consoles to time up your child’s time with their peers’ time. When you need quiet time do not be afraid to put on a kid-friendly movie.
Set up the environment for success. An environment free of distractions, with all needed resources, and with adequate comfort is essential for employees and for students! For more information, see the blog post by Mimi Le, LMFT/LPC.
Have fun! Remember to play while you work and work while you play. Children and families will remember this COVID-19 pandemic for a long time to come. Create meaningful memories by being flexible and fun within your boundaries. Sometimes that may mean deviating from the plan or relaxing expectations for the sake of the relationship. This is okay!
Remember self-care. We all need some time to recharge and be ready for the next day. During this time when we are fulfilling multiple full-time roles (parent, educator, and/or employee), we must practice self-care to make it through the weeks until our Work Safe-Stay Home order is lifted. Self-care may take many forms, including a bit of alone time, exercise, baking, reading, bathing, or any number of other activities that relaxes and ‘recharges’ you. Self-care will help you be kind to those around you, but also to yourself. In close quarters, this is necessary for everyone!
Remember that your best is good enough! You may not be the 60-hour per week employee that you once were. You may not get all of the laundry finished before bedtime. Your child may not get all of his or her worksheets completed. This is okay. Prioritize, prioritize, and relax when it isn’t all completed. Your best parenting, mentoring, tutoring, cleaning, and working is good enough.
We’re all in this together, even the medical doctors and mental health professionals who are supposed to have all the answers in times of medical and emotional emergencies! However, in this unprecedented time, we are all truly figuring it out together. Be kind to yourself, your children, your coworkers, and others- and it will all be okay.
Natalie Montfort, PhD
Clinical Psychologist/Director of The Stewart Center