With many New Jersey school districts opting for a hybrid or fully-remote learning schedule for the fall, most of us are stressed about how to effectively get our kids to adapt (and how to keep working without going insane during this unusual time!). Although the situation is certainly not ideal, there are things you can do to set you and your child up for a successful school year. We spoke to some of the state’s top child psychologists, plus a mom who’s in our shoes, for their advice on how to reduce the stress of remote learning.
Create a Routine
“It’s beneficial for both parents and children to have a morning routine that follows the same pattern each day,’ says Vanessa De Jesus Guzman, a licensed professional counselor and owner of Free to Be Mindful in Ridgefield. “This can include washing up, changing out of pajamas, eating breakfast, then going to their set school space for the day. This primes the brain for learning.”
Dr. Steven Sussman, PhD, a child psychologist in Mountainside who specializes in working with kids with oppositional defiant disorder says that when it comes to success with remote learning there are three words parents need to remember: structure, structure, structure.
“This takes work on the parent’s part,” says Sussman. “Get up the same time and have breakfast. Set up your schedule to try and mimic the regular school day.”
Dr. Sussman says a big problem he sees with remote learning is that kids are becoming sedentary, sluggish and overweight. He suggests building physical activity into the schedule and putting the kibosh on unlimited snacking.
“Before starting school for the day, go for a 15-minute walk or do a game of catch outside,” he suggests.
“We know that exercise improves focus. This will make kids more alert and ready to work versus coming to the desk still sleepy.”
Have a Set School Space
“Whether it be at a desk in their room or at a specific chair at the kitchen table, it is important to have a designated space with materials available and free of distractions,” says Guzman. “Once school is done for the day, the space isn’t revisited until the next day. This can provide much-needed separation if a child is home all day.”
Sussman advises parents to make sure the space is clutter-free, to limit distractions and have absolutely no video games around since most kids will turn to them as soon as the parent jumps on a work call.
“Have your child use their backpack, just as if they were going to school,” says Sussman. He also suggests color-coding folders – for example, blue for math, red for English, to help kids stay organized.
“As adults we must remember that organization is a learned skill,” says Guzman. “For the first two weeks parents can work alongside their children when it comes to organizing them. Having a family calendar with virtual sessions, projects and assessment can be helpful for the entire family. By parents putting in the work and attention to detail throughout the month of September, it can help develop this skill for their children for the rest of the academic year!”
Have Compassion (for Yourself and Others)
“After our experience last spring we have an idea of what to expect; however, that doesn’t make it less challenging,” says Guzman. “Having grace and compassion towards children, educators and even for themselves can help parents take overwhelming times with more ease. If a child is reaching the point of frustration, taking a break may be necessary. The same is true for parents. Engaging in mindful activities such as taking belly breaths, blowing bubbles and moving the body by going for walks can help families keep the peace during these times.”
Bessie Frimpong, a registered nurse, fitness & lifestyle blogger at Very Bessie and mom of a 12-year-old boy and 3-year old girl in Newark, New Jersey agrees. “As we’ve seen with the onset of this pandemic, things change almost moment by moment, day by day. Just as we’re trying to navigate through the constant barrage of changes, so are the school administrators and staff, and many of them don’t quite have all the answers to begin with. Many of the schools have never had to come up with a remote learning method, so we have to be willing to extend grace, as all of this is new to everybody.”
Remember to Check In
“Many schools have morning meetings or advisory periods to check in on how children are doing,” says Guzman. “Parents can do similar things at home. Having genuine and honest conversations with kids during walks, while playing a game of cards, or even over dinner can provide parents a pulse as to how their child is feeling.”
If your child is constantly coming to you for help, this can be tricky especially if you’re caring for other children or trying to work from home. “Tell your child that if she sees you on the phone to move on to the next piece of work and when she sees you hang up, then come to you for help,” says Sussman. Setting a few ground rules will save you from constantly being interrupted and may even encourage your child to find a solution on their own while they’re waiting.
Keep a Sense of Humor
Sussman says that parents will get a better response from their kids if they try to infuse a little humor into the school day. “When parents get serious and stern it doesn’t work,” says Sussman. He finds unique ways to keep the students and parents he works with laughing, rating kids on the schoolwork like it’s a game show to add a little fun and excitement to the day-to-day.
Focus on the Positive
“Remember that at no point have we ever been given so much opportunity to share input regarding our children’s educational needs,” says Frimpong. “I know so many of us have been bombarded with survey after survey and Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting. But ultimately, I am enjoying the fact that some of the concerns that parents may have shared pre-pandemic, are now being given more consideration than ever before. I think it’s promising to know that based on our feedback as parents and caregivers, we are contributing to the improvement of our children’s educational experience, despite the challenges. That way, when it is safe to re-enter the classrooms, things may be better than where we left off.”