“We are all on edge these days.” It’s a comment I’ve heard (and said) frequently these last two weeks, mainly related to the worry we parents carry for our families during the coronavirus shutdown. More specifically, though, many of us are now feeling it concerning our kids’ educations. How can we possibly do a good job at schooling our kids during this CoVid-19 quarantine?
To answer that question, Creating a Family recently hosted a radio show with Heather Forbes, and we gleaned a few tips to help you. For those of us who are not educators by profession, the added layer of responsibility for distance learning feels intimidating and overwhelming. We’ve suggested these general tips so that you can give yourself the grace to be flexible and responsive to your family’s unique needs during this stressful time.
There’s no “right answer” for how to implement these tips, except to remember that while we are shut in together as a family, we have the opportunity to prioritize felt-safety, connection, and emotional well-being together.
Tip #1 – Establish a Routine for Schooling
Creating a predictable structure for our kids – especially those who have experienced trauma – is the foundation for helping your family find success in this season. The routine should be simple, visual, and consistent. If your kids are old enough to help create the plan, get their buy-in to increase your odds of success.
Keep in mind each child’s needs and abilities when crafting the schedule so that you can offer some flexibility and responsiveness to your child’s tolerance levels. When you see signs that he is maxing out or that it’s not fun or engaging, collectively take a step back. You can come back to it later or modify the plan as you go.
Tip #2 – Diffuse the Power Struggles
For a child who has experienced trauma, the rapid changes of recent weeks can be very triggering. When a child has lived through chaos, neglect, or abuse, seeking or grasping for control is a survival response – a sign that the child’s sense of safety is being impacted. When you see those power struggles rising, pause, and take a deep breath. Remember that his response is not about you.
Diffuse the grasp for control by slowing things down at the moment, once you’ve had your pause. Offer choices for how to proceed. Say something like, “Would you like to do your word cards in the living room or on the floor of my office?” You are sharing your power from the point of strength and calm while offering a voice to his need.
Give a Voice
When struggles erupt over the routine, point him back to the schedule that you crafted together. Here’s an excellent example of why a written or picture schedule is so helpful – it’s a non-shaming way to re-focus him. Remind him that he had an essential voice in the creation of the family plan. You can give another opportunity for him voice to be heard by asking – in a calm moment, after diffusing the struggle – if maybe the routine needs a tweak.
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A Side Note About Power Struggles
Heather Forbes made a point in her interview that resonates: this dual role many of us are playing during the quarantine is potentially triggering for kids. The relationship kids have with teachers is very specific to a task (learning), and a place (school) and thus has much less emotional risk for kids. The connection you have with your child feels riskier to him because it involves acceptance, longevity, and security. When you are both teacher and parent, it can trigger fear, uncertainty, and insecurity for him. Be alert to how your child might express that struggle as well.
Tip #3 – Relax Your Expectations
One of the tough things about parenting in a crisis is accepting that you set the tone in your home. But it’s also a unique opportunity to model some higher core values for your kids.
- If your kids can see you relaxing your expectations in response to the challenges of this quarantine, they are witnessing adaptability and respect.
- If they see you choosing to flex the teacher’s plans to suit their immediate needs better, they are learning self-advocacy and problem-solving. Those are great real-life lessons that we all need as we grow.
Maybe your family would benefit from a poster that gives some grace-focused House Rules. We’ve all seen the trendy “House Rules” signs. Perhaps you can get the kids to help you create one that speaks of lower, reasonable expectations for schooling together. The project can double as Art class, too!
In This House We:
Give second chances
Forgive each other
Try our hardest
Take brain breaks
Remember that every other family in your school community is facing the same struggles. Relax your expectations of your kids, of yourself, of the teachers, and of the definitions you have of “success” right now. If you can prioritize attachment over academics, you are succeeding!
Tip #4 – Make Space for School
Practically speaking, if you can create a designated educational space, it will cut down on time needed to “set up” for the day. But it also helps create the feeling that “this is where we do schoolwork.” Stepping into that physical space can help your kids step into the head and heart space they need to be ready to learn.
We realize not everyone has the ability or the space to set a place up just for school. Get creative together to implement this tip:
- Assign “school bins” to each student in your home, equipped with all the supplies they need when they come to the family table.
- Create centers around the house for math, reading, and science. Rotate the kids through the spaces with their learning devices.
- Allow the kids to choose where they want to work for online math games vs. creative writing.
Be prepared to be flexible about location and space when they need that from you. However, also be ready to change the physical spaces up a bit in response to what success you see (or don’t see) from your kids.
Tip #5 – Foster a Love of Learning
This unique time in your child’s learning career is a perfect time to nurture a love of learning for the sake of learning. Get them hooked on great stories together, then act portions of the story out. Emphasize a variety of learning styles and try them on for size. Get hands-on with the things that interest your kids. Take a break from worksheets, onscreen learning, and apps. Talk about and practice how to learn and how to be curious. If you can help them fall in love with learning, then you’ve nailed this distance learning thing!
You Are Not Alone
We’ve said it a lot in recent weeks, but we sincerely mean it. You are not alone in this crazy, uncertain time. Creating a Family has many resources and many folks who are willing to stand alongside you and weather the storm with you. Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or find our online Facebook support group to connect and find like-minded people!
If you are looking for another great set of tips for succeeding in this new venture of distance learning with your children, please check out Sue’s Tips for Schooling. It’s a relatable list by a good friend of Creating a Family, Sue Badeau. She’s prepared a ten-minute video and has a tipsheet if you are interested. You can reach her through her website.