We recently invited Behavior Analyst, Chris Messina, to join our Facebook Live event to discuss how parents can motivate children as they head into a fall semester of virtual learning, while maintaining realistic and practical expectations for themselves. We broke the Facebook Live into five main takeaway points that Chris recommends:
According to Messina, the biggest step that parents can take to set themselves up for success during this time is to reprioritize their expectations for themselves as parents, as well as for their children. Expectations are going to have to, and they should, be shifted and modified.
“The reality is, if we expect ourselves and our experiences to look like they did pre-pandemic, we are setting ourselves up for failure before we even get started,” says Messina.
One practical exercise that Messina recommends is to sit down with sticky notes, and start creating lists of practical expectations for yourself and your children.
“Literally, get out some sticky notes and make a collection of expectations that you have of yourself, then make a collection of expectations you have of your child,” says Messina. “And then zoom out and take a very good hard look at the reality of what that means. We are not going to be able to manage the same way we once did when we are trying to work full time, trying to manage our kid’s behavior at home, and monitor their education. So even if it means reducing, scaling back, whatever--we may be uncomfortable with that, but we have to modify those expectations, or we will set ourselves up for constant disappointment.”
Your Child May Perform Differently from Home- Show Empathy
According to Messina, a child’s environment can have a huge impact on their performance at school versus at home, so it’s important for parents to recognize that it’s not their responsibility, nor is it possible, to recreate the same experience for children learning virtually from home. Rather, it’s a unique opportunity to show empathy.
“I hear a lot from parents that, ‘My kids should be able to do these things. They're able to do this at school, they should be able to do it at home,’“ says Messina. “But the reality of behavior is this: even if [children] have a skill in their repertoire—say they can do something at school [but are struggling at home]—you have to remember that the conditions at school are entirely different than the conditions at home. Our behavior is largely dictated by our environment. And the truth is, social consequences at school weigh very heavily on our child's behavior. So now strip that all away, and that's a tall order to try and place on ourselves as parents, that we should somehow be able to replicate that-- we simply can't.”
Messina reminds parents that setting realistic expectations for children in these scenarios and practicing empathy is key to maintaining anxiety and being successful in virtual learning.
“You're going to see that a kid who can do something in school may really struggle with it at home, and that's going require some problem solving with your child. But go back to that list of expectations-- if you expect your kid to behave in an identical fashion, at school and at home, I'm not so sure that's a realistic expectation for your kids. At the core [of this] is the need to empathize and relate to our kids, so that we can then collaborate with them to come up with solutions that we can both live with,” says Messina.
Focus on Relationship Building
One silver lining to virtual learning is the opportunity to have concentrated time with your children. Take this time to practice empathy and relationship building with your child.
“We have an opportunity here, while we're all managing anxiety, to see one real silver lining, which I think is relationship-building with our kids,” says Messina. “I mean, when have we in the past, and will we maybe ever again, have this concentrated time with our kids? It may be that focusing on connection and empathy with your child and recognizing that we're all struggling in this together, which is kind of a unique situation for kids and adults to be struggling in such a similar way, is the most important thing you can do.”
Relationship building may look different for every family. For some, it might include focusing on cooking home-cooked meals and healthy eating together, for others it might mean creating a book club, or scheduling family runs together.
“There are a million ways that this can take form. But I think having goals that really have a foundation of relationship building is pretty prudent to think about,” says Messina.
You Don’t Have to Do it All
It’s not uncommon for parents to default to the feeling of having to do it all. Suddenly, parents have been catapulted into a scenario where they are trying to juggle wearing more hats than ever before.
“I think for parents, the tendency is to feel like ‘I've got to be a teacher and I've got to be a counselor, [on top of everything else].’ No, you do not,” says Messina.
Rather, Messina strongly urges parents to take advantage of resources that are available to children, especially through the school.
“Advocate for your kids to get the support that they need, but do not hold yourself accountable to play all these roles. It will be crazy-making and you literally can't do it,” says Messina. “If your child is in a position where you’re worried about their mental wellness, remember that you cannot fill all roles within their life—parent, teacher, chef, counselor. Employ the help of professionals, such as the school counselor or a pediatrician.”
Stick to a Consistent Schedule when Possible & Elicit Your Child’s Opinion
Consistency and a reliable schedule can help to reduce anxiety in children, while providing structure to their day.
“Try to be as consistent as possible. I've seen it reduce anxiety,” says Messina. “Kids don't know, depending on their age in particular, how to self-modulate. We need to do that for them. And if life feels as normal as possible, we're doing them a huge service by providing them that structure.”
When structuring your child’s day and building a schedule that can be relied upon, Messina suggests including your child in the conversation.
“Where you have some flexibility, I strongly encourage doing some collaborative problem solving with your kids. Invite them into the conversation, because you're more likely to get compliance and buy in if you look at that day and say, ‘What else are we going to do?’”, says Messina. “I don't think setting up an eight-hour school day that mirrors what they had in school is going to be realistic, right? So maybe you've got some flexibility in there. Ask them! We oftentimes as parents feel so responsible for generating solutions. Ask the person for whom you're trying to solve the problem! Just ask.”
If you’re interested in speaking with Chris Messina further about how to navigate your child’s virtual schedule, or need the help of Pacific Cascade Legal, do not hesitate to contact our firm to get connected.