Tools for the Parent Toolbox

The month of September used to be a time when all parents got to breathe a little easier knowing that the kids were all returning to school and the last thing you had to do before Labor Day was the scheduling of the immunizations or annual physicals with your pediatrician (and buy a nice gift for the new teacher). However the start of the 2020-2021 school year finds many parents taking a deep breath (and trying not to hold it) as school instruction is taking place on a screen via a telehealth platform and moms and dads are returning to the role of instructor, behavior manager, and play partner in addition to their already very full “Parent” plate. 


Given the over-arching waiting game for a scientifically and evidence-based vaccination for coronavirus, the uncertainty of what comes next and what will this school year “look like” is present on the minds of teachers, parents and students alike. We are all working to find the balance between keeping ourselves and our families safe and the desire for our old routines, activities and schedules to return. In the current climate in which many parents are asked to wear so many hats with limited “tools” or resources in the “toolbox”, the goal here is to provide you with some resources in one spot that saves you having to use so much of your precious time doing internet searches or being stuck in front of the screen.    



Timing –  

As you are balancing your work schedule and meetings with all of the online individual, group, and activity meetings for your kids, the whole family is often in need of timers to keep track of the next meeting, next login time, or transition to stop for a quick bite to eat. However, many of our kiddos become anxious when the hated word “timer” or “timing” is used as they begin to feel anticipatory anxiety or stress of what is “coming up”. Specifically, the feelings of stress, anxiety, and/or worry can grow when your child has thoughts like: “what happens if I can’t finish in time”, “what if it doesn’t look like what I thought it would” or “what if I am the last one”. There are a few options to avoid or reduce the anticipatory stress when timing is an issue.  


  • When a timer needs to be used to indicate the beginning and end or the length of an activity, there are some online visual timers that can be used that are more soothing as compared to big numbers on a screen that make the student feel as if they are staring at a detonation countdown. The “sensory timers” available in the link below offer a variety of timers including: Liquid Motion Timers, Bubble Liquid Timers, Relaxing Ring Timers, Fuel Gauge Timers and Timer Scenes (the timer is the completion of a visual on the screen such as a sunset). https://www.online-stopwatch.com/sensory-timers/  


  • Talk with your child’s teacher about what the specific targets are that must be completed for an assignment or activity and which pieces can include the student’s creative ideas. When you and your child have this information, you can better know how to plan to complete the activity. For example, it might be best if the mandatory items are tackled first and then the creative, more “fun” parts of the task can be saved for the end and these activities will function as a reinforcer for the “hard stuff”. Remember you are the expert on your son or daughter, so you have a better idea of what is reinforcing for your child – be sure to work from your information.  


  • You can also work with your child’s instructional team to identify a time (likely in the afternoon), when s/he will have an open window to “fine tune” the assignment to make it “look like” the target your child sees in his/her mind’s eye. Often times when your child knows s/he is going to have another time that day to work on/complete/review the work before submitting it, the anxiety or stress decreases significantly given the “placeholder” that is holding this time for your child. 


Adjusting to Your Child’s Visual/Sensory Limits 

Many of our children’s bodies and sensory systems can become overwhelmed or “fatigued” by having to take in so much information visually and auditorily, in conjunction with performance/participation expectations when s/he does not know what is coming next (e.g., other students’ actions on the screen, someone raising a voice while onscreen). As a parent you know their presence is required, so how do you balance the school’s expectations and sensory needs of your child?  


  • Talk with the instructional team about limiting the amount of time your child needs to have the video screen on”. For example, when attendance and the initial welcome is taking place, your child can be onscreen, but then while instruction is taking place, your child’s video screen could be turned off which allows your child’s body to focus on the verbal instruction.  


  • When your adult schedule allows you to time your breaks with your child’s small group breakouts, talk with the instructional team about allowing you and your child to sit and physically be present away from the screen during a portion of this time. This block of time can be a short time (e.g., 15 minutes of a 30- or 45-minute block), because the target for this time is to be physically present with your child, allowing for a break from the screen, and 1:1 contact with another person which is a valuable commodity in the current climate.  


-Dr. Nani Koonce

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