By Pam Dewey • April 23, 2020
Many Minnesota parents are adjusting to working from home while having their children enrolled in distance learning. It’s tough to juggle attending Zoom meetings and keeping your kids focused. For parents who have children with both special and typical needs, the balancing act is particularly difficult.
Here are some tips from Fraser mental health professionals, so parents can manage their time, while helping children with both special and typical needs do their schoolwork.
‘Be kind to yourself’
Parents have always juggled many responsibilities, but are now being asked to handle even more. This situation is a huge shift for most families, so making the transition will be hard.
“It’s really easy to be tough on yourself for not being successful,” says Fraser Day Treatment Lead Jenny Lorence. “But it is okay to be kind to yourself in this situation. The balance is hard for everybody.”
Create a schedule or a to-do list
Children with special needs and children with typical needs need structure. However, the way you implement that structure will be different. Both types of children benefit from knowing what is happening next and what they need to get done. With a typical needs child, you might create a schedule like this: eat breakfast, get ready and check distance learning.
For a special needs child, you probably need a more detailed schedule. The schedule could look more like this: eat breakfast, clean up dishes, go upstairs, put a shirt on, etc. Children with special needs also might need smaller, shorter schedules, so their to-do list won’t seem overwhelming.
Schedule time with each child
Balancing time between a child with special needs and a child with typical needs is always hard. Try to block out time to work one-on-one with each child. When you’re working with your typical needs child, have your special needs child work on something he or she really enjoys and can be done independently.
Consider each child’s learning style
Children have different learning styles, so identify your child’s learning style. Some typical needs children may prefer to read directions on their own. Fraser Preschool Day Treatment Lead Nicole Doerrmann says other children are auditory processors and learn better when directions are read to them. Some need picture instructions to help process information. Again, parents should adjust based on what works best for each child.
Give children a lot of breaks
Both special and typical needs children need breaks while studying. Build some into their schedules, but consider including extra breaks. If you notice your child seems tired, give him or her a break. Encourage them to move their body by dancing, going outside or playing catch. Using hand-eye coordination helps organize their brains and keeps children focused.
Children also focus better on preferred tasks. If your child loves reading, he or she shouldn’t need as many breaks during a reading assignment. However, if your child hates math, he or she will need more breaks when working on math.
Create a supportive study environment
Children with special needs may have sensory sensitivities. They may need soft lighting, noise-canceling headphones or a weighted lap buddy to stay focused. Most children benefit from removing distractions like turning off the TV or removing toys from the room.
Establish boundaries for your children
Parents who are working from home should let their children know there are times when they can’t be disturbed. You could set a timer, so your child knows you’ll be busy for 20 minutes. You could also adopt an office door policy. For example, if your office door is closed, your children know they can’t knock on or open the door. However, if your door is open, your children can come in and talk.
Celebrate the successes
It takes at least 21 days to form a habit. So parents should be patient and tweak their ideas over time to figure out what works best for their children and family. You should also identify what’s going well.
“Look for successes throughout the day, even it’s something small, like having a nice lunch,” says Lorence.