Andy Blum, LCSW, Early Childhood-5th Grade Counselor

As we head back to our new school life this week, we have an opportunity for a new start. Before break, it felt like we were thrown into a boat and told “row, this is your new reality.”  This reality was true for parents, teachers, administrators and our kids.  Public school had the benefit of spring break to get ready.  We did not. And we survived. And our kids learned.  Now we have some idea as to how to navigate “distance learning,” and Conscious Discipline offers some tips that may be helpful. 

An overarching issue in this situation is that we have so many questions with unknowable answers. This creates a sense of anxiety. In Conscious Discipline, Becky Bailey, its founder, always talks about our brain and how it is pattern seeking. We look for predictability.  If it is not there, we create it based on past experiences.  It is why we feel so disconcerted when a store like Target changes its layout.  In our current situation, we are unable to predict what is going to happen.  This causes anxiety in us and our children.  It is our brain's way of shifting and adjusting to a new way of thinking.  The anxiety allows us to change, to adjust, and to deal with the new.  It is not a comfortable state, but it is necessary.  Our brain is figuring out how to deal with situations.  It is important for us to see it like that.  Anxiety is not a bad thing.

How we handle this uncomfortable state matters. Conscious Discipline gives us some helpful suggestions:

  1. Create a schedule. Schedules create a sense of safety for your child.  It is the predictability our brain seeks and will reduce conflict and power struggles. Children will know what to expect. Some additional considerations:
    • For young children (to up age 8), make sure your schedule is in pictures (young children think in pictures).  
    • Make sure you place the schedule where your child can see it and access it.  
    • Have a sequence that works best for you and make sure that it can change.  
    • If you want, you can have them check off or remove an item when it is done.  
    • You also can give them a choice when a choice is viable. Choices give children a sense of control and again limit power struggles.  For example, “You can get dressed or brush your teeth first, which one works for you?” 
    • Make sure to add play time or free time where there is nothing scheduled.
    • You may also want to add in who they can go to at that time.  Mommy is free from 9-11, Dad 11-1.
  2. Create a home learning routine. Most of us have already been doing this, but here are some tips:
    • The learning session should be in a specific location that is designated for learning. They may even want to make a sign so they can create more structure in the house.
    • The things they need for school should be there.  
    • Allow for Brain Breaks. Brain Breaks are movement activities that get the blood flowing. Simply standing up delivers 15% more oxygen to the Brain. Your child needs a 3-minute Brain Break throughout the day to help maintain focus. Make sure your child is moving.
  3. Provide opportunities for success.  A child that has experienced success has a brain that is better prepared for learning. The success can be as simple as they completed their Zoom call for the day. Once they experience success, then more challenging work can be achieved.
  4. It is important for them to have jobs and feel like an integral part of the family and community. Showing kindness to others has also shown to increase happiness. Let them be helpful.
  5. Be mindful of your point of view and focus on what we want to have happen not what we don’t want.  Instead of saying, “Stop whining,” you can say, “Match your voice to mine and ask for what you want like this.” Or instead of saying, “I am going to lose my mind,” say, “I am going to take three deep breaths.” 
  6. Hit the Pause button. Give yourself and your child a break. It is okay. This situation is stressful. Our brains don’t function well when we are stressed. If your child is crying and under the table, they are not going to learn. At that point, focus on safety and connection, and pull back. Consider a walk, an extra Brain Break, whatever you need. You cannot force a child to learn, and trying to do so usually results in a power struggle. It is okay to let go, reconnect with your child and help with their mental state first. 
  7. Finally, wish each other well. We are all in this together. It is hard for all of us. It is not what any of us signed up for. Yet, we are here; we are showing up. We are being flexible and adjusting to new things. We are working together for the greater good and we got this!

Wishing you all well.  Virtually here for you,

Andy Blum, LCSW
EC through 5th Grade Counselor