In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone is trying to work through uncertainties. We know that parents and caregivers are trying hard to fill their children’s learning needs while balancing their own work and the needs of their families.
When having children at home daily, you may experience challenges in managing their needs, behaviors, and expectations – all of which can be made trickier with children with developmental or other special needs. Here are some tips to help support all children in developing a sense of routine, control, and normalcy during this difficult time.
Develop routines together
While this applies to adults as well, children are especially vulnerable when events disrupt their daily routine and when they sense a great deal of uncertainty. When they feel anxious, kids may exhibit challenging behaviors. Even if your child is not worried about the virus, the mere fact of having to stay home can be a source of stress. During stressful times, children may regress or show slower progress in learning skills and managing behaviors – which just means that their brains need a break and room to absorb the unexpected situation.
To minimize the disruption, you might develop a schedule that resembles their day-to-day routine. Include your child in the conversation and talk about what can be the same as every other day (e.g., times to get up, have dinner, and go to bed), as well as what will need to be different. When something has to be different, try to think of alternatives that are similar enough to their regular routine. For example, plan a “reading time” instead of the regular circle time in their classroom. The closer your new routine is to their typical, the more children will feel at ease. Write down the schedule on a piece of paper using words and drawings that are straightforward for children to understand, and post it somewhere easy to see. If there are any songs or cues the teachers use in school, include the same prompts at home for smoother transitions. Also keep in mind that no matter what you do, you and your child’s routines will be different – so be forgiving to yourself and your child when things don’t go perfectly. If something is not working, it is okay to readjust and acknowledge the challenge of this situation to your child.
Make space for emotions
It is important to acknowledge that there are uncertainties and everyone is having a hard time – even the adults! Tell your child that you are doing your best to keep them safe. It is perfectly normal if the child exhibits challenging behaviors or seems withdrawn. When your child is calm and relaxed, talk about what to do when they feel anxious, upset, or down. Create a small “I need to work out my feelings” space in your home with materials like play dough, crayons, pillows, and safe squishy toys. Have a conversation with your child about how to use the space when they need it. Drawing or writing out feelings helps express emotions, and making a shape with play dough and then squishing it down helps work out frustrations. Have your child redirect their frustrations by screaming into a pillow or safely throwing soft things at a designated place. Adults can use the space too! Model appropriate behaviors and direct your children to go work out emotions in appropriate ways.
Keep social contact with friends (at a distance)
One of the biggest challenges of not having school is the lack of social interaction with their peers that they see regularly. Try to arrange different ways to keep social connections with your child’s friends. However, also respect what “social” means to your child. Some kids may want to video chat with their friends while others may find it awkward. Sending drawings, cards, letters, and emails, or recorded videos are all appropriate ways to stay socially engaged.
Play is a pathway to learning!
While it feels stressful to think about everything kids are missing by not being in school, it is very important to remember that children learn so much through play! Also, play helps children cope with anxiety and regulate emotions. Many organizations (including us!) are sharing ideas about how to have fun and learn at home during challenging times.
When looking through these resources, you may find that you need to adapt the activity to work for your child’s interest and needs, your home environment, and your own comfort. You may have different supplies, or your child may have different ideas about ways to experiment. You may end up with a result that you did not expect, but remember, process is the most fun and important part of the experience! Let your child take the lead on their experience since every child has their own approach and gets excited about different things. They will learn in their own way regardless of their skills and abilities. So, step back and observe, and try enjoy the time together. You can learn a lot about your child’s interests, capabilities, and feelings by watching their play and exploration.
If you are looking for ways to play at home, check out the Museum’s Joyful Discovery resources, like Beyond the Chalkboard and explore our social media channels for regular posts from the Museum staff.
Additionally, these two websites offer good activity ideas that children can do while being out of school:
Have fun, and keep safe and healthy!