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Q&A: Navigating the COVID-19 Crisis: SEL and Distance Learning – Tips for Parents and Youth to Stay Safe and Adjust

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Melissa Straub is the founder of High Impact Youth Training Solutions, LLC, a consulting company that provides educational training and guidance on issues directly affecting youth, schools, and communities. We spoke with Melissa about how parents can deal with the challenges they’re facing in balancing working from home, virtual schooling, and the constantly evolving COVID-19 pandemic.

Q: The pandemic is a once in a century event that American parents, or even their parents, have never experienced. How can we address our children’s fear of the unknown at such a volatile moment?

Talking to your kids and assuring them they are safe is essential. Talk about what COVID-19 is and what it’s not, and debunk the rumors and false information. Reassure them that we all will get through this with a unified effort, but that we all need to take responsibility in order to stop the virus’ spread. Model the behavior you’re instilling and be aware of your own actions and words. Use age-appropriate language and simple terminology.

Let the children participate in setting the new norms for school scheduling and their other day-to-day activities and expectations. Children like to be heard and involved, and they crave structure. It’s OK for them to be fearful and it’s normal to have some sense of hopelessness. Reassure them, validate their concerns and encourage continuous conversations. 

Q: You touched on the importance of involving kids in setting the rules of the road during this time of home confinement. How can we do that constructively?

First things first, sit down and discuss what the new normal should be. Have the kids participate and provide input — they love to have a voice. Parents need to accept that the typical school day may be shortened and the work may not be as demanding as if the kids were attending school normally – you just have to go with the flow. Instill regular routines around bathing, sleep times, mealtimes and free time with some flexibility. Explain that teamwork and patience will be needed from everyone, since schedules and activities may have to change at times due to family members’ needs. Mom and dad are also working and have deadlines that need to be considered.

Q: Being cooped up in the house with your family for weeks or maybe months is bound to lead to some friction. How can we mitigate these conflicts?

There is no doubt that emotions are heightened within the family unit due to all of the unknowns and the stress of adjusting to distance learning. There will be some psychological fallout, feelings of isolation, anxiety and disconnectedness. We all need to pay attention to those ever-evolving emotions and do our best to address them. Having periodic check-ins or family meetings is key. Take that opportunity to initiate conversations and provide validation. If there is a notable change, please contact your family physician or look for online solutions and resources. Don’t ignore the issues, as they may get worse. Explain that it is normal to feel this way, that “we” can get through it, and this time in our lives is unprecedented but will pass in due time.

While we are all now familiar with the term “social distancing” and are practicing it the best we can, we still need to be social. We are social creatures by nature and kids more than ever will crave to fill the void in their lives. Encourage your kids to reach out to friends, family and others using the gift of technologies like FaceTime and Skype. We should also recognize the misinformation and bias that have become rampant during this crisis. Parents should be talking about diversity, inclusion and empathy throughout this time.

Mindfulness is a tool that can help ease both the mind and the body for all family members. Support moments of self-reflection, quiet and breathing, if only for a few moments a day. Taking a few minutes for the mind-body connection is essential during times of crisis and can help you adjust to the stressors.

Q: For many families, internet and TV time quotas have gone out the window, as parents can’t entertain their kids while they’re working. At the same time, the kids could be exposed to some frightening stories and messages related to COVID-19. How would you advise parents to deal with that?

Discussing the news and media coverage that your kids are seeing and hearing online is very important for demystifying the elephant in the room. Try to impose limits on the potential exposure, turn the TV off when children are in the room, and provide for open-ended conversation at the dinner table each night. While they are in the distance learning zone, outside of the educational material they have to engage with, have them explore other sites to keep them occupied. Several sites are offering virtual museum tours, educational resources and fun activities to keep children engrossed.  Emphasize the need for them to be socially responsible with the content they encounter by stressing the simple message, “If you see something, say something.”

Finally, have the courage to stand up and make a difference to help one another. This crisis is one that involves all of us and humanity will be measured when it’s finished.

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