Dr. Sempepos’ 3 R’s
March 20, 2020
The past week, millions of students have abruptly switched to learning remotely amid the Coronavirus Pandemic, pushing school administrators, staff, and teachers to establish, on the fly, methods to transfer the classroom to home: remote learning experiences. While educators are utilizing academic technology that has never been used on this scale, there are several tips for parents to keep in mind while at home with their unique remote learners. The following is my list of 3 R’s ….
- Keep in mind that children do best with structure and consistency. The occurrence of this unfortunate pandemic that resulted in school building closures have changed all of our life experiences: educators, parents, and students have had to abruptly accept this transformation. We need to strive to bring predictability into the lives of our children and students. During these times, it is important to maintain a sense of structure and consistency. Though the Berkeley Heights Public School District has endeavored to maintain a routine through its current remote learning design, it is still important to create simple routines throughout the day to help keep children and adolescents focused. Within a routine, it is important to create, based on your child’s age, a balance of learning and free time to increase motivation. To promote a feeling of control, it may be helpful, when appropriate, to consider providing your child/ children an element of choice in selecting the order of tasks, or a preferred activity that can be added to the day’s schedule/ routine. Also during school work and other more laborious activities, the use of a visual timer, paired with reinforcement, may also be helpful.
- Reinforcement of desired behaviors will help.
- In psychology, there is a term that is called, the Premack Principle, which suggests that an opportunity to engage in more probable behaviors (or activities) will reinforce less probable behaviors (or activities). An example of this is when parents ask their children to eat their dinner now (low probability behavior) before eating dessert (high probability behavior). Over time, the child will learn to eat dinner to have access to the more preferred behavior of eating dessert. Our children have not experienced remote learning in this capacity, so this idea can help with encouraging academic engagement. For example (continuing with a food reinforcement theme), if your child is reinforced by a donut, you can place the donut on a countertop in view (the treat being visible promotes motivation) and state that once you complete your coursework, then you have earned the special treat. The idea of saying “first” you can do this, “then” this will happen can help make the expectations clear. These suggestions may help if you find your child stalling to do work.
- When thinking of the schedule - layer preferred tasks with non-preferred tasks, while providing positive reinforcement along the way.
- If your child is engaging is attention seeking behavior that is not productive. Consider planned ignorance. This means that you will purposely ignore the undesired behavior (withholding attention). If you use this strategy, it is important to do the opposite too: reinforce with attention a desired behavior. Also, please know that often when addressing a behavior, the behavior can initially seem to worsen; be strong and move through it, eventually it will change with consistency and the proper reinforcement.
- The use of visuals can help with maintaining motivation towards remote learning. There are a variety of tools that you can use to help. One such, is the use of a behavior chart. A behavior chart provides a visual where a child may track his or her performance. It also keeps expectations clear in mind. There are a variety of different ways to construct charts. I found one website that is a free resource that helps in the creation of such. It can be viewed via this link:
- Although listed last in my “3 R’s”, it is probably the most essential point. Stress/anxiety is a normal healthy function; it alerts us to threats and motivates us. However, prolonged stress/ anxiety is not good. Having stress and anxiety on a good day can be difficult, but during a time where we all are experiencing uncertainty, it is important to let ourselves “relax.” This is critical because children and adolescents react, in part, from what they see and experience from the adults around them. When parents/ guardians appear to cope with COVID-19 news calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children. This task is easier said than done, but noteworthy nonetheless.
- There are a variety of ways you can communicate to your child about the COVID-19. I have listed links on my other website’s resource page, but the following may be of help:
- When talking to your child, keep in mind he or she is looking to you for a sense of stability. Take your child’s lead; don’t assume that they have specific questions or concerns. You could ask your child questions like: What questions do you have for me? What are you thinking? How are you feeling? When responding, be honest and remember to share at your child’s level.
- The wear and tear of chronic stress/anxiety can be toxic. The neuro-biology of stress/ anxiety shows that when a person is in a prolonged time of stress/ anxiety, it can be harmful in many facets of living, especially learning. Stressed adults cannot teach stressed children; it is a neuro-biological impossibility. As a parent, make sure that you have ways to take a break. Self-care is key. It is perfectly okay to take care of you - watch a light movie, call a friend, play a board game, make time for exercise, etc. This also is true for your child. Be sure not to forget down time!
- When you or your child/ children are feeling stressed about this unanticipated change in lifestyle, there may be a silver lining: try reframing. Reframing is looking at a situation in a different, but real, way. Being together, at home, gives families an irreplaceable opportunity to have more time together, which can be seen as a positive occurrence.
- With relaxing, socialization is important. Keep in mind social connections. Humans are social beings; we need one another and can support each other. This is one time that social media can be of tremendous use; there has never been a better time in history where we can connect through distance. Allow time for you and your child/ children to connect. Technology can help facilitate this during a time where we are asked to practice social distancing. Using social media may also help you if you are working with your children present (aka: underfoot); you can set up a virtual babysitter (reaching out to friends, aunts/ uncles, grandparents, etc.) to arrange virtual playdates/ meetings. Further than possibly freeing time for you to work or have a moment, this will allow for additional social connections for your child.
Beyond my 3R’s if there was something else that I should emphasize to you, it is that this is uncharted territory for us all. We are in this together and can support each other. With that in mind, please do not hesitate to reach out to me if you need any additional resources. Your child’s/ children’s educators and I are here for assistance.
Wishing you and your family well during this unique time,
Dr. Peter Sempepos