Consistency helps everyone and children can adapt, especially when school structures are the same at home.Caroline Shackett, PhD, NCSP
“Pandemic schooling is a particular challenge for parents of children who need extra support,” says Christina Moore, MA, Hanover Psychiatry. “The day-to-day of hybrid schedules, reduced in-person access to counselors and educators, and distractions that get in the way of remote learning, make it hard for children with organizational skill or attention deficits and students who need help during a regular school day.”
Fortunately, the same Individualized Learning Plans (IEPs) that address academic challenges and 504 plans that extend accommodations for physical or behavioral barriers in school, are helping parents and teachers support students at home. “IEP and 504 plans are legally binding documents,” says Caroline Shackett, PhD, NCSP. “Whether a student is learning in school or at home, their progress is monitored. If a child falls behind their plan, changes are made to help them catch up.”
Step one in supporting IEPs and 504 plans at home is identifying and using available resources. “Every student plan is backed by a support team of teachers and counselors,” says Moore. “Parents are part of the team and should know who to call. Outside therapists who are helping parents create and follow home structures can also connect with the IEP or 504 team to keep a student’s entire support system on the same page.”
Step two is aligning home and school learning structures as much as possible. “Consistency helps everyone and children can adapt, especially when school structures are the same at home,” says Shackett. “Getting up at the same time every day, having a good breakfast, and then logging in to lessons and completing assignments on schedule keeps students on track and reduces anxiety.” Moore also recommends following school recess or break schedules when possible.
Positive reinforcement also helps. “Just like getting paid helps adults through tough work weeks, incentives can help children get past distractions like YouTube or the dog and stay on track with school work,” says Moore. “An extra 30 minutes of screen time or a special family activity can help a child stay on task. Some parents use sticker charts and point systems with a menu of rewards to recognize good work and effort.”
Despite the educational challenges as a result of the pandemic, parents are finding a few bright spots. “Extra time with your child is a gift,” says Moore. “And, it’s really helpful to experience your child as a learner, to see their approach and understand their strengths and areas where they need assistance.”
Parents shouldn’t discount the added stress of support for children who need extra help. “It’s important to remember that children are resilient and bounce back,” says Shackett. “Being flexible and practicing self-forgiveness helps parents help their children.”
Hanover Psychiatry is a psychiatry and psychology practice within the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Department of Psychiatry. Offering high levels of expertise across a broad range of treatment disciplines, Hanover Psychiatry clinicians serve children, teens and adults in private, convenient, Hanover, NH, offices.