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Talking Points for Substance Abuse

Much like the “birds and bees” talk, many parents shy away from or are unsure of where to begin the conversation about drugs and alcohol. Yes, children will get plenty of information about the risks of substance abuse in their health classes at school, but those topics are not always introduced until middle school. And as shocking as it may sound, it is important that children in the elementary age group be aware of the harmful effects of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco use. 

 

Having these conversations early can help set the foundation for open and honest communication between parents and children. Furthermore, while peers have a strong influence, parents should be the ones with the strongest influence—so these talks must start at home.

 

  • Use teachable moments to broach the subject of substance abuse. For example, when your child gets a cold, make a point to talk about how cold medicine is helpful for combatting cold symptoms, but that it can be harmful for the body if taken when unnecessary. This is also a good time to talk about how medicine should only be taken as directed, i.e., always ask a parent before taking any medicine, follow appropriate dosage instructions, use prescription medications exactly as prescribed, and do not take any medicine unless given to you by a parent, doctor, or school nurse.
  • If giving your child a daily vitamin, use this time to talk about how we cannot over do it when it comes to medicine—even the super tasty gummie vitamins can be harmful if we take more than directed. 
  • Make a point to stay involved and ask about how your child and his friends are spending their time. There is a difference between being curious and being nosy. Stay neutral in your response, reserve judgment while your child is sharing, and come from a place of compassion and understanding so that your child will feel comfortable opening up without the fear of getting in trouble.
  • Have conversations about peer pressure and how something that seems “cool” can be very uncool in the long run. Use vaping as an example of a habit that seems harmless but is actually anything but. Without scaring your child, let her know that the effects of inhaling these unknown chemicals are dangerous—just like you wouldn’t eat something if you didn’t know what it was, we should never put these flavored chemicals into our bodies just to fit in.

Use goals as leverage. For instance, if your child is very into athletics or music, talk about the logical consequences when it comes to performance and drug use. A smoker is going to get extremely winded on the soccer field, just as an intoxicated person won’t be able to follow sheet music as smoothly/clearly. Discuss the risks of underage drinking as well. Remind them that these sorts of citations or problems in school remain on their record. Colleges, hiring managers, etc., will want to see a candidate’s full background. Ask your child if the risk is worth the reward—they will never be able to say that it is when keeping their goals in mind.

What’s in a Name?

No, we are not talking Shakespeare. We are instead tackling the distasteful tendency to name-call, which is a behavior that nearly all parents and educators have to deal with at some point. In confronting this obnoxious behavior, some parents might believe that they are making a mountain out of a molehill. Some common instincts or remarks are: What’s the big deal, anyway? Everyone gets called names at times. It’s just a little harmless teasing. Follow the “sticks and stones” mindset and you’ll be fine. While these reactions to name-calling do not intend to do harm, the impact may be a different story. 

 

Intent vs. Impact

For middle and high school age groups, a teen’s level of social-emotional intelligence has matured enough to have a serious discussion about intent versus impact. This distinction helps adolescents realize that their words have power, whether they are wielding them maliciously or not. Parents and educators can help clarify this with open and honest conversations. For instance, today, we unfortunately see and hear the term “gay” being thrown around as an insult or put-down. While this is nothing new, and may be intended as a harmless joke between friends, the impact could be devastating. 

 

If you hear your teen throw terms or slurs around in jest, without snapping or placing blame, ask your child the following questions:

  • What do you mean when you call someone gay?
  • Is it a dig at or comment about their sexuality? Or are you actually outting your friend?
  • If neither of those was the intent, what statement are you inadvertently making when you use “gay” as an insult?
  • Do you think being gay warrants random insults?
  • What if your friend actually is struggling with his/her sexuality? What message are you sending him/her when you use it as a slur? 
  • Think about the LGBTQ+ community; how are your insults or jokes inadvertently hurting or putting down that entire community? Were you aware of this when you decided to name-call?

 

A predictable response from many teens is the obligatory eye-roll or a retort such as, “I was just kidding, it’s just a joke, relax.” To which a simple response might be, “A joke is meant to be funny; there is nothing funny about a slur that insults an entire group of people.” Again, the purpose of this type of dialogue is to demonstrate how “just a joke” can end up having a much greater impact, unintentional or not. Use this talk as a springboard to discuss other related issues, such as current news stories, social media posts, text chains, and any other forms of communication. In this day and age, and with everything going on in the world, children need to know that what they say (or type) can and likely will come back to haunt them in the future. Politicians, celebrities, and other adults behaving badly should not give the green light to teens to engage in nasty, bullying behavior.

 

Finally, an additional point to make when addressing this issue with adolescents is to talk openly about how their use of slurs or offensive generalizations makes them look to the people around them. When name-calling or jokingly humiliating a friend in public, people around you may not know that you are kidding. If nothing else, this is simply a bad look and may cause others to look down upon them for their crass words and behavior.

Managing Impulsivity

Children are naturally impulsive to some degree—this is due to the fact that the brain, specifically the prefrontal cortex, is not yet fully developed. In fact, it is not until one’s mid-twenties that the prefrontal cortex reaches full development and maturation. While we educators see varying degrees of impulsivity regularly in the classroom, one main calling card of students with ADHD is a tendency to be impulsive to a larger degree and/or more frequently. As we slowly transition back into classrooms for in-person instruction, children will undoubtedly and understandably be excited and eager to interact. However, it will be just as important as ever to set expectations and utilize strategies that help students monitor and manage their impulsivity.

 

Important things to consider

When it comes to ADHD, it is extremely important to remember that this disorder impacts the way the brain works. This means that hasty or involuntary levels of response are not solely a behavioral deficit; students’ brains are actually hard-wired to react immediately. More importantly, no level of scolding or punishment will help to curb these impulses to act out or speak out. Reprimanding a student with ADHD for a behavior that he or she cannot fully control is not only wrong, but damaging. Therefore, teachers, as much as possible, should control their own impulses when reacting to students who yell out or behave rashly.

 

Another important consideration is the fact that students who are impulsive do not always register or recognize that they are being impulsive. They are often unaware of the disturbance or disrespect that their inadvertent outbursts demonstrate to others. Due to this unawareness, it may be helpful to try a tally chart for one day as a way to show your student the frequency of his/her disruptions. Pose this practice gently—the tally practice should not feel like as though you are trying to show them how “bad” they are. Reassure your student that this is a way to recognize our impulsivity and work to curb it with time and patience. Here’s how it should work: ask your student to estimate how many times he/she calls out during the course of a school day. Then ask him to mark a tally each time he notices that he has spoken out of turn or yelled out; you will keep your own tally as well. At the end of the day, return to the original estimate and ask whether the student still agrees with that original estimation. Then compare tally marks and discuss how or why you two may have come up with a different number of tallies. Is it because you both have differing interpretations of what is classified as “calling out?” Or does your student not always recognize when he is calling out? Again, this is meant to be an open discussion about how we can improve—not a scolding session. 

 

It is important again to lead with understanding and compassion. This is not a conversation to place blame or highlight the student’s struggles. Instead, this is meant to open up a dialogue between teacher and student about how both parties can implement strategies for a more positive classroom environment. Consider also asking the student the following questions:

  • Where in the classroom do you believe you would be most successful and focused?
  • Is there a subtle hand signal or gesture that we could use as a reminder to raise your hand before shouting out?
  • Would a small/discrete sticky note on your desk with participation protocol be a helpful reminder?
  • How many times today do you think you participated using the appropriate protocol vs. calling out?
  • Do you appreciate positive praise in front of others or do you prefer positive feedback privately?

Perspective is Reality

Attitude is everything—especially during these trying times. Students of all ages are undoubtedly impacted by not only their own daily stresses, but also by the stress that the adults in their lives are currently managing. The sponges that they are, even young, elementary-aged children are picking up on the fact that mom, dad, and other adults around them are coping with greater levels of stress and concern these days. They may not know exactly what is going on in the world right now, but they are certainly aware that something is “off.” The uncertainty of the school year alone is disconcerting for kids, but parents can help. Just as we adults may exude tension or worry, we can also work to put out a contagiously positive attitude.

 

Self-care and words of affirmation 

One way that adults can help to foster a positive attitude is to model and encourage self-care and positive self-talk. These affirmations can be especially beneficial during times of high stress, conflict, or tumult. Teach children these reminders and explain them as deliberate attitude adjustments to use when they feel themselves going into a negative headspace. 

 

Examples of positive self-talk and affirmations might include:

  • Because I’m smart, I am capable of making my own decisions.
  • My attitude is something that I can 100% control, even when other things are out of my control.
  • I am allowed to take a moment to calm down when I need it.
  • No one is perfect; everyone in the world has flaws.
  • My differences make me unique.
  • I am allowed to make mistakes—everyone does.
  • My failures don’t mean that I’m a failure.
  • I will give it all my effort and that will be good enough.
  • I will choose to lift others up today.
  • My parents are proud of me, even if I mess up sometimes.
  • Worrying will not solve problems, but creativity can.
  • People who really love me will accept me for exactly who I am.
  • I know what is best for me.
  • I have a lot to offer and my ideas are worth sharing.

 

Teaching kids about how to use self-talk to build themselves up gives them a foundation for strong self-esteem. These helpful mantras also help children to remember what is important in moments of stress or struggle—a positive belief system can make all the difference in a chaotic moment.

 

Set a purpose for the day

Another great way to change a child’s negative perspective is to intentionally articulate what positive things today will bring. Parents can use these conversations as a beautiful way to start the day. Setting expectations for a worthwhile day, especially when children are feeling down and out, can act as a positivity springboard for the whole day. 

 

Phrases could include:

  • Today I’m going to try my best to accomplish _________.
  • I plan to challenge myself by _________.
  • One thing that I’m really looking forward to today is _________.
  • I hope to have learned more about _________ by the end of today.
  • I’m most looking forward to seeing/talking to _________ today.
  • Steps that I’ll take today to reach a larger goal include _________.
  • I’m going to help someone out today by _________.

Parents as Advocates: Tackling Dyslexia

October is Learning Disabilities Awareness Month—31 days dedicated to building community awareness about learning disabilities in an effort to provide supports for all children. As important as awareness is, however, parents whose children suffer from dyslexia are plenty aware of the struggles their children face on a day-to-day basis. That is why another “A” word can be even more powerful for families—advocacy.

 

No one knows your child better than you do. Keep this in mind when advocating for your child’s needs. In parents’ efforts not to come across as a “helicopter parent,” they sometimes assume it is in their child’s best interest to follow the expert’s lead, avoid making waves, and be passively agreeable. They do not want to be the bulldog. These fears are common, but that doesn’t make them true.

 

You are your child’s greatest advocate, and here’s how to accomplish that:

 

  • Under the Individuals with Disabilities Act, our nation’s special education law, children and their parents or guardians are guaranteed certain protections and rights. Once identified as having a qualifying disability, schools are legally required to provide special education services to your child. Also under IDEA, the law provides parents with something called procedural safeguards, which are put in place so that parents are aware of and have a voice in every aspect of their child’s special education evaluation and IEP process. As part of the process, the school must provide you with documentation and explanation of your rights—STUDY UP ON THESE DOCUMENTS. It is commonplace for IEP meetings to move quickly, with a “sign here if you don’t have any questions” style of rapid wrap-up. It is your job to closely review these documents and to seek clarification before signing anything.
  • Another best practice for advocacy that goes hand in hand with knowing your child’s legal rights is to stay organized. Keep a binder of all necessary documentation regarding your child’s diagnosis and any other evaluative documents that you accumulate as you work through the process. Items such as test results, doctor’s notes and recommendations, educator’s observations, report cards, writing samples, and any data concerning your child’s academic skills should be kept for future reference. The binder keeps essential documents organized and acts as a paper trail of progress and correspondence among your child’s team.
  • It is also essential for parents to be fully prepared for special education meetings. Because of this, the binder’s benefits are two-fold: paper trail and parent playbook [or however you want to define the two benefits]. Of all members of your child’s academic team, you are the person that knows him best, so your seat at the table matters most. Advocating for your child means preparing questions ahead of time and speaking up if they aren’t answered clearly. Meetings tend to move quickly, so request an additional meeting if you haven’t gotten clear answers. Do not assume that the team will automatically clarify for you, so be prepared to ask follow-up questions if needed.
  • The binder is also a great resource for you to use for note taking during IEP or 504 meetings. Not only will you have your own notes to refer back to after the meeting, but the process of taking notes shows that you are actively listening and invested in your child’s special education services. When parents demonstrate this level of involvement and support, it’s the child who benefits.
  • Another helpful advocacy move is to email a summary of the main discussion points that you took away from the meeting afterwards. This keeps everyone on the same page regarding the decisions that were discussed and allows you to share your own perception of how the meeting went. If anything is unclear, your email will start that conversation and provide clarification. In that email, ask about a follow-up meeting so that dates can be arranged and any other necessary steps can be taken.
  • Speak to teachers about your expectations, your child’s expectations, and the school’s expectations. This will prevent any miscommunication and unfortunate surprises. When setting expectations for your child’s success, it is important to be honest, positive, and realistic about the growth that you’d like to see. It will be difficult, but as much as possible, remain unemotional and unbiased about the feedback that you get from your child’s teachers and other professionals—cool heads prevail.

Virtual Learning: Remind, Reassure, Reset

The struggle is real for kids right now, regardless of how academically inclined they have felt in past school years. Learning is hard. Full stop. However, virtual learning has its own learning curve in addition to the actual learning going on right now! Is your head spinning yet? Yeah, theirs are, too. Social media is helping to shed light on the issues that virtual learning is causing in homes across the country, with numerous videos demonstrating just how emotionally taxing this “new normal” has become.

However, kids need to know that this isn’t normal. Elementary-aged kids sitting in front of computer screens all day isn’t normal. Missing “school” due to connectivity issues isn’t normal. Clicking a button to virtually raise your hand icon isn’t normal. Having to rejoin class 10+ times each day because of platform glitches isn’t normal. Most importantly, NONE of this is their fault. Yet, utterly frustrated sobbing children are becoming more and more defeated every day. What’s a parent to do? Remind, reassure, and reset.

  • Remind your child that many, many aspects of virtual learning will be inherently beyond their control. These little beings are not tech wizards, and they shouldn’t be made to feel incompetent because of this.
  • Remind your child that error messages, blank downloads, broken links, etc., are not their responsibility as young learners.
  • Remind your child that every other student is also struggling. Their peers may be more comfortable with certain aspects of virtual learning; it may come more naturally to others. However, no one is innately equipped to thrive in this virtual world—it takes time.
  • Remind your child that the teachers are new to this, too. Their teachers would love to be back in the classroom interacting and exploring with them. They, too, are frustrated with the technology and expectations put on them.
  • Reassure your child that it will not always be like this—learning will return to normal. They will rejoin the brick and mortar classrooms and have a greater appreciation for in-person schooling like never before!
  • Reassure them that their teachers are on their side—that they are always rooting for student success and trying to shoulder the technology burdens whenever possible.
  • Reassure children that all of these challenges, while insanely frustrating, are helping them to become resilient. That with each unique difficulty, they’re learning patience, problem solving skills, grit/determination, creativity, and responsibility.
  • Reset the vibe in the room when things get emotional. IT IS OKAY (and necessary) to take a break and step away from the screen! Help your child reset when emotions run high:
    • Close the computer
    • Eat a snack
    • Run around the block
    • Jump on the trampoline (even a mini trampoline inside)
    • Juggle the soccer ball
    • Color in a coloring book
    • Snuggle with the family pet
    • Stretch on the floor
    • Blast some music for an out-of-control dance party—whatever you need to do to encourage a “mindset reset” when the tears start flowing.
  • Reset the negative self-talk. If you hear your child verbally beating herself up over her perceived shortcomings with virtual learning—don’t let it go unnoticed. Help her reset by reminding her of all of her strengths and talents. Tell her explicitly that any new difficulty or misstep does not negate these strengths and prior successes.

Financial Literacy

The teenage years are often marked by an increased desire for independence, which typically means the beginning of financial decision making and thus greater responsibilities. Finance talk is not typically number one on the list of priority chats for parents to have with their kids—there are often more pressing issues happening among today’s teens.  However, truth be told, many of today’s millennial adults would have benefited greatly from a crash course in financial literacy prior to fleeing the nest. Car payments, student loans, interest rates, and budgeting strategies come down hard all at once, and many young adults find themselves drowning in debt before they have even established their full-time career goals. As a sign of the times, instructional stepping stones for financial literacy for middle and high schoolers are now part of many school curriculums. However, parents can also play a critical role in preparing their kids for financial freedom and teaching the important management skills that come with those responsibilities.

 

    1. Begin financial conversations by discussing wants vs. needs vs. assets. In order to use money responsibly, kids need to know how to clearly distinguish and prioritize needs over wants—and then budget appropriately. For instance, they might want to go to a baseball game later this month, but they absolutely need to put gas in their car first and foremost. Also, in conversations about preparing for college, parents should explain that education is an asset; yes, higher education is expensive, but it’s something of value that they will use throughout their entire career. The expectation is that they will get a return and eventually earn substantially more than what was originally spent on tuition.
    2. Talk about the key aspects of a budget and how to stick to it. Parents should encourage teens to set up a budget and track their spending habits. Whether they are earning an allowance, babysitting on weekends, or working a part time job, the first step for setting up a budget is to estimate their monthly income. Then, help teens categorize spending, starting with “needs” or necessary bills. Remaining money in the monthly budget should be considered for two additional categories—savings and “fun money.” If necessary, browse the best apps for easy budgeting so teens can manage and monitor their spending from their phones.
    3. To curb extraneous purchases or frivolous spending, put things into perspective. If a teen is raving about a new outfit that she wants for the school dance, ask her what she’ll be sacrificing for that outfit. Can she still buy a dance ticket after buying the outfit? Will she be able to join her friends after the dance to get a late night bite? Did she factor in the fact that she won’t be earning babysitting money on the night of the dance? How could this one outfit throw a wrench into her monthly budget? It’s not easy to say no to something that is truly desired, but putting things into perspective can help teens make smarter spending decisions. That outfit might be the equivalent of an entire week of work—is it really worth it?
    4. Don’t waver if teens blow their budget. It’s much easier to give in if teens need a few extra bucks here and there. However, financial responsibility is lost when parents bail out their kids anytime they need more money. Teens need to learn from their errors so that next time they are able to make better financial decisions.

 

Bicycle Safety for the Summer Months, Part I

School’s out for the summer, although it has felt like school has been out for much, much longer due to the Covid closings. Now the children have the complete freedom to enjoy the outdoors without the need for Zoom meetings, online check-ins, Google Classroom assignments, etc. Biking is a summertime favorite for many children and teens. And with more time on their hands, we are definitely seeing that more young bicyclists are enjoying time out in parks and racing through neighborhoods.

 

As fun and exhilarating as biking can be, it is the recreational activity that sends more children to the emergency room than any other sport or pastime. Because of these known dangers, it is important that kids are fully informed on bike safety and biking precautions before hitting the road. Below are important considerations for helmet use that will help children and teens remain safe during their biking adventures.

 

Helmets are a must

Medical research states that wearing a helmet reduces the risk of head injuries by 88%. Head injuries can happen anywhere, even if kids are going out for a quick trip up the sidewalk or around the driveway. Therefore, parents must consider this safety measure as non-negotiable—if kids are not wearing a helmet, they should not ride anywhere. Selecting a properly fitted helmet is just as important for biking safety. Follow the guidelines below to ensure that your child’s helmet fits properly:

  • The helmet should fit snugly to the child’s head. There should be little to no movement if the child shakes or turns his head. If the helmet rocks or slips forward, backward, or off to the side, it’s ill-fitting.
  • Choose the larger size if you find that your child is in between two sizes. However, before riding, place extra padding into the helmet so that the larger size fits snugly. Pads to match the model of the helmet are often available or may even come with the helmet. Follow the instructions for inserting the pads so that areas of the head are properly cushioned.
  • A helmet that is not buckled is relatively useless; during a fall, the helmet can easily fly off, rendering it ineffective. Be sure to remind your child that the helmet must always be buckled securely before riding. Instructions on sizing and securing the straps will be included with the helmet, but a proper rule of thumb is that the strap should look like the letter “V” under your child’s ear when properly buckled.
  • In the event of an accident, or if you see visible damage to any part of the helmet, it’s time to buy a new one. Even if the helmet looks fine after an accident, the foam or padding could be compromised by the impact. This means that it will not be fully effective in the event of another crash or spill.
  • Remember, even if your child isn’t the one steering the bike, he must wear a helmet when riding. Whether he’s the toddler in a carrier on the back or standing on pegs while his friend pedals, a head injury is just as possible.
  • This is not exactly a safety tip, but allowing your child to pick out her own helmet will help to ensure that she wears it. Some helmets come with stickers or other decor so that kids can personalize the helmet to their liking. Again, the helmet is only good to her when she’s wearing it.

Self-care for Children

There has been a great deal of talk about the importance of self-care. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a great deal of stress, worry, and unease for all of us. What we don’t hear enough about, however, is how crucial self-care can be for children’s well-being. During this time that adults need to preserve their own mental health and well-being, they must also tend to their children who require the same, if not more, self-care. Like general hygiene routines, children must be instructed on how to take care of themselves—this includes emotional care, too!

 

Youngsters may initially find it difficult to actually place their feelings into a category. This is especially true in the heat of the moment. Instead of clearly articulating their feelings, kids may just lash out, cry, or shut down. When this happens, parents typically scurry to diffuse the situation quickly—rightfully so—rather than attempting an in-depth conversation about recognizing feelings before they erupt. Yet there are proactive measures that can be taken. To ease future emotional moments, try the following:

 

  • Parents can help little ones recognize and verbalize their feelings by explaining the difference between a situation that might make one angry versus scared or upset.
  • Use scenarios that relate to your child’s age and interests and speak about these experiences hypothetically. Use the word “pretend” as your term to signify each scenario as strictly practice for identifying future feelings/emotions.
  • For children that have specific social needs, visuals are helpful when teaching and discussing abstract concepts such as frustration, loneliness, etc. Consider using cartoons or emojis to help children visualize and conceptualize scenarios with particular emotions and facial expressions.
  • Parents can also encourage kids to clarify the level of emotion that they are experiencing with a rating scale of some sort. For instance, a “1” would indicate a mild level of joy, anger, sorrow, etc., while a “5” would signify an extreme level of feelings.
  • As kids get older, parents can encourage more advanced forms of expression, such as journaling, drawing, painting, photography, meditating, etc.
  • For many kids, expressing and expelling pent up emotions comes with physical activities. When children are struggling with stress, frustration, anger, etc., parents can prompt activities such as jogging, roller blading, juggling a soccer ball, kickboxing, dancing, golf, and any other sport or physical activity to release energy, center one’s focus, and mediate aggression.

 

In addition to recognizing emotional triggers, part of self-care involves removal from situations that could be emotionally toxic. Like all social-emotional skills, this comes with practice. For children, it can be especially difficult to speak up and advocate for themselves when they need a break or a breather, but this can be greatly beneficial for mental health and well-being.

 

Therefore, in addition to recognizing one’s feelings, parents will want to encourage children to speak up when they are reaching the emotional threshold. Strategies could include:

 

  • Asking teachers or other adults for a “brain break” when frustration hits. This could be as simple as taking a short walk in the hallway or getting a sip of water to cool down.
  • Creating a hand signal or code word for children who are hesitant to voice their feelings. When kids say this word or give the specific signal, parents know then that he/she needs a moment to himself.
  • Explaining to children that everyone, no matter how social or friendly they are, needs a break from the crowd sometimes. Make them feel comfortable taking that time for themselves to calm down, collect their thoughts, or just be alone for a moment.
  • Similarly, in times of stress, children can find comfort in positive self-talk. But again, this is a learned practice—parents will want to model positive self-talk to demonstrate how it works. If a child is feeling anxious about a competition or test, practice soothing self-talk strategies to boost confidence and lower anxiety. Silent mantras such as, “You will do your best!” “You worked really hard for this!” “Everyone is already proud of your accomplishments!” go a long way when pepping children up.

Distance Learning with Multiple Children at Home

Distance learning is tedious enough. Between the emails, Zoom meetings, various portals teachers utilize, and workloads from each class, juggling at-home learning during this new “virtual school day” can be a tall order. Even more difficult, though, is this juggling act when there is more than one school-aged child in the home. How can parents possibly manage distance learning for two or more kids? Obviously, this is new territory for everyone. To ease the stress and confusion, we’ve compiled suggestions and strategies to assist families who are learning at home with multiple school-aged children.

 

Designated work areas

One major hurdle when it comes to remote teaching and learning is organization. It should come as no shock that organizing a learning space is paramount to ensuring continuity of learning now that the usual classroom routines and structures have been thrown out the window. Students need to have a designated quiet place to focus, read, correspond, and create. While this seems obvious, many families are struggling to get children to focus on their remote classwork simply because the environment is not conducive for concentration. While the kitchen counter or a child’s bedroom may have previously been the homework area of choice, times have certainly changed—we’re no longer talking about rushed homework tasks in between soccer practice and dinner time.

 

If teachers and parents expect children to sit and focus for an extended amount of time, they need to provide a comfortable space, free of distractions. When siblings are working in close proximity, distractions are bound to emerge. Therefore, it is important that each child has his or her own private work space, equipped with comfortable seating, a laptop or other device, necessary school materials, and some form of desk or surface on which to work. If space is an issue, parents should consider lap desks as an alternative to bulky furniture desks.

 

Headphones 

Headphones are a true lifesaver when it comes to remote learning. Since many teachers are utilizing Zoom calls and other video tools to conduct teaching and learning, students would benefit from noise-cancelling headphones that allow them to focus solely on the instruction. Headphones also spare other house members the headache of trying to block out the instructional videos and video chats.

 

Individual check-in times

Many parents are finding that, on top of their own jobs working from home, they have now suddenly become homeschool teachers of multiple grades levels and content areas—as if everyone doesn’t have enough to deal with right now! To avoid being stretched too thin, parents should consider designating certain time(s) of the day for each child to check-in, seek help, review work, etc. Limit this form of “parental assistance” to a half hour per child if possible. If parents find that a child needs more support, they should communicate with the school and specific teachers about classes and assignments that are becoming unmanageable. To stick to the 30-minute check-in period, children should be encouraged to jot down their necessary questions ahead of time and be prepared to articulate where and how they need assistance. Set a timer so that children know that they are “on the clock” for only a specific amount of time. Whatever questions or issues that they are still having after check-in time has expired should be directed to their teacher.

 

Coordinate brain breaks and snack times

With multiple kids in the house, coordination is key to productive distance learning. Depending on each child’s age and learning needs, siblings may need more or less time for movement, screen-free learning, “brain breaks,” etc. As much as possible, try to establish universal times throughout the day when children break from learning to keep motivation, focus, and energy levels up and running.

 

It is important to move, converse, socialize, play, and create throughout the day to interrupt the monotony of virtual learning; however, if one child is playing outside while the other is concentrating on school work, parents may want to rethink the learning schedule. Allowing simultaneous break times ensures that kids aren’t being distracted by siblings during work sessions. There is no jealousy or “unfairness” factor if siblings are getting a break at the same time. Be consistent with breaks as much as possible; use a timer if necessary to set limits for learning versus playing.