Tips for parents whose kids are going to be learning virtually

This story is part of “Parenting in a Pandemic,” WTOP’s continuing coverage of how parents are dealing with childcare, schooling and more through the coronavirus pandemic.

Parenting during a pandemic for many means overseeing virtual learning, and a Northern Virginia child psychiatrist has tips to help the process proceed smoothly.

“First and foremost, it’s important to shop for back-to-school supplies,” Dr. Asha Patton-Smith, child and adolescent psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente in Burke said. “For many kids, especially younger kids, that’s a very important aspect of returning to school.”

Letting kids participate in either a trip to an office supply store or ordering supplies online for home delivery helps nurture excitement for what’s to come, and helps them adjust and transition into knowing that it’s time to restart school.

Create dedicated space

It doesn’t need to be an entire room or behind doors that shut. Just reserve an area specifically devoted to doing school work.

“Have kids buy in by having them decorate or help create this space for learning,” Patton-Smith said.

And even just a back pack that belongs to them, which has their pens, paper and school supplies that they unpack at the beginning of the school day and pack at the end of the day, would help in creating a space for learning.

Reset body clocks

Don’t wait too long to reestablish the school year routine for wake-up and bed times.

“The time to adjust bed time is not the day before school; it takes a few weeks for children to change their sleep cycles,” Patton-Smith said.

Two weeks before school starts, begin to set earlier bed times gradually and incrementally until you reach the time closest to what they are going to do during school.

Create a schedule

Patton-Smith said, “All kids thrive on structure, and it’s very important to maintain a schedule;” and it is important that your child have a significant role creating the schedule.

“So, have a clear sense of what the weekday will look like for each family member,” she said.

Reserve break times

Build specific times into your child’s schedule for lunch and snack breaks. And encourage them to take brief breaks away from computer screens every 20 to 30 minutes. Suggest they perhaps get up and do jumping jacks.

“And, it really does help with decreasing dictations and improving overall focus and concentration,” Patton-Smith said.

Check in with school

Just as you might do in person, continue to stay in touch with teachers, support staff, counselors or administrators.

Discuss what’s up

“Begin and end the day with your children with a check-in just to see how things are going,” Patton-Smith said.

Parents asking, “What classes do you have today? Any tests? What can I do to help you prepare for your day?” helps encourage students to “own” their own learning.

At day’s end, parents might ask children how far along they got on a project, or what they learned that day. Also, ask, “how can we improve things for tomorrow?”

“Helping their child with self-management; they’re increasing executive functioning skills, and these are essential skills for life; and we know parents that you are awesome life coaches and so we celebrate you in doing that,” Patton-Smith said.

Signs your child might be overwhelmed or having challenges with mental health issues

The Calm App has child-specific programming and is provided free of charge to Kaiser Permanente members — although there is some free programming with the app normally.

Another mindfulness app with child-specific programming is Head Space.

“And, stay tuned. Kaiser Permanente is working with both of those companies to continue to build child-specific content,” Patton-Smith said.

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.