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Tips for parents on special education schoolwork, socializing during COVID-19

Updated: May 19, 2020

This interview originally appeared on 3/23/2020 by Corey Viars.

With all the Coronavirus news coming out every day, it can be hard for many adults to handle. But for kids, the news can be even scarier. So how should you talk to your kids about COVID-19?

Britny Gabert, a school psychologist with Chippewa Falls Area Unified School District suggests this:

When talking with kids about the pandemic, it’s important as a caregiver that you remain as calm and collected as possible. Children pick up on our energy, and the more anxious and frantic we feel, it will be impossible for them to stay calm.

Be as factual as possible when talking about coronavirus. For younger children, emphasize good hygiene, like washing hands, not touching faces, and that adults are doing everything they can to keep us all safe. Explain why it is important to practice social distancing to avoid the viral spread. For older children, separate fact from fiction, particularly things that they have read about on the internet or heard from peers.

What about when you are talking to another adult and a child my be overhearing?

Now, it’s very normal that adults are going to have different conversations about the pandemic than we would have with children. If a child overhears your adult conversation, take time to listen to your children’s fears and insecurities about what is going on. Try to avoid blaming any groups, countries, political parties, etc., and return to the facts about what is known. Emphasize that you (and most adults) are doing their absolute best to keep them safe, and reaffirm that you are always there to listen, and will continue to be honest with them.

It's important during this time of social distancing that everyone still remains connected - how do parents keep their kids social?

Human brains thrive on predictable patterns, so the most important thing we can do for our children and ourselves is to establish a new normal and create a home routine, with a daily schedule. Build in time during the day for your child to participate socially. For younger children, you could draw pictures and make cards to mail, leave on friends’ or neighbors’ doorsteps, or drop off at a nursing home. For older children, allow time to chat online (Facebook messenger now has a kids friendly option that caregivers can monitor), text, or call on the phone. It’s easy to get caught up in what is going wrong. Instead, make an effort to consciously shift toward being helpful. The more positive aspects you discuss around your children, the more they are able to see the best in the situation.

Parents are now finding themselves in a role they probably never thought - homeschooling. But what about the parents who has a child in special education? Special Education teacher at Chippewa Falls High School, Nick Grunseth has some advice:

This is especially difficult with school out. Right now, it is a little harder for kids to learn due to the different environment. On top of that, learners, regardless of their level in school, can struggle for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, it is related to their ability to read or ability to understand the directions. Sometimes, their struggles are related to stressors. That’s an important thing to remember at this time. Like many adults, teenagers and young children are also scared. They need to be in a good mindset to tackle the reading or the homework assignment. That is when you will see the most growth. Spend some time supporting your child. For instance, you could take turns reading a passage and talking about it; or, you could work on solving math problems together. If your child struggles with reading and is working on a worded math problem, don’t be afraid to read it out loud for better comprehension. All of the supports can add up.

Are there any tools out there for them to help during this time?

Parents can also take advantage of online resources. A great one is Khan Academy, which provides instruction and aids from Kindergarten through high school and into post-secondary. Another one of the best tools in the toolbox for parents is their teacher. There is not one teacher in the district or any other district who wouldn’t love to be back in the classroom. If you have a question or you see your child struggling, and you maybe aren’t able to help them solve it, send an email to your child’s teacher to set up a phone conversation or a virtual conversation. You will be pleased with the results. Finally, be patient and be fluid, and establish a routine. Give your child at least 15 to 20 minutes of undivided attention every day. COVID-19 is a big deal, and many are adjusting to a new normal that is hopefully temporary. Before they are ready to learn and move forward in their academics, they need to feel safe and loved. Make sure to remind them of their accomplishments, and of course, think positively!

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