So Much Screen Time

adminattention, executive functioning, fine motor, focus, gross motor, movement, preschool, remote learning, remote therapy, routine, school age, sensory processing, social emotional Leave a Comment

How are you all doing? I am sure many of us thought that by this point we would start seeing things go back to some kind of normal after nearly six weeks, right? Each day we’re learning that our social distancing efforts are working, but it’s hard not to wish that things were back to normal, especially when it comes to remote learning and therapy.

This has been an eye-opening experience for me as both a parent and a therapist and I’ve learned a lot in the last six weeks that will forever alter my expectations on parents (myself included).  I want to applaud each and every one of you reading this….you’re doing an amazing job. You have been handed a giant bag of lemons and are making lemonade out of them. It’s not always easy, but you are giving this your all and your kids are going to come out of this not only okay, but great.

One of the things I am hearing from the parents of the kids I work with is that the amount of screen time is almost unbearable. This is especially true for the younger children and those with sensory issues. So many of the kids that I work with were used to screen time being limited to weekends and special events so this is a whole new world for them and they are having a hard time with the adjustment. The thing that makes this so tricky is that some schools are requiring children to be on a screen for the entire school day with the exception of lunch while others have you check in a couple of times a week for meetings and then they expect you to get your work done at your own pace.

Today, I’m going to offer up some tips to help you and your children get through the rest of this remote learning adventure. Keep in mind that every child is different and what works for some won’t work for others so try them and see what helps your day more smoothly. Let me be clear about one thing….nobody should be expected to do any or all of these. You are already being asked to do so much more than normal. If you pick one thing to focus on to help you and your child, that is enough. 

1. Make a schedule with your child each day so they know exactly what is expected from them. One of the first things I did when this whole thing started was pick up a dry erase board that we hung up behind my daughter Quinn’s work station. Each morning, she signs onto her Google Classroom and writes down her flow of the day. This includes what assignments she has to get finished, any teacher meetups and any extra-curricular lessons that are scheduled for the day. By writing this down, we are finding that she has some control of her day and knows exactly what is expected of her. We also don’t have to be on top of her to make sure she is doing what she needs to.

2. Keep a daily routine. This is certainly easier said than done on some days, but consistency and routine will help things feel as normal as possible in this absolutely abnormal time. Breakfast and lunch are at the same time in our house. We also try and build in times for movement for her throughout the school day. What’s worked for us is that Quinn knows that every day at noon she has an hour to eat, read, play a video game, etc.. This is her hour to do what she wants (for the most part).

3. Make sure that your child is in a comfortable place with as few distractions as possible. I know that this might be hard in small living spaces and if you have multiple children, but limiting the visual and auditory distractions will help your child get the most out of their lessons. If your child has to be in their room at their desk for their remote learning, make sure that toys aren’t strewn about making it more desirable to go and play with them while they should be in class. If possible, make sure all toys and distractions are out of sight before their school day begins. If your child is out in an open space where parents and siblings are also working, make sure they have a good set of headphones to block out as much noise so they can focus on what their teachers/therapists are saying.

4. Make sure your child is wearing comfortable clothes. I know there are some schools that are requiring kids to get into their school uniforms (which I think is a bit ridiculous) but if there is any way to make your kids feel more comfortable in those uniforms, that could help your child sit for longer periods of time. I know I am having a lot of trouble getting my daughter to get out of her pajamas each day but I have found that when she is dressed in real clothes, she has more energy (she won’t agree with me but I see a definite difference)!

5. Schedule movement breaks. I can’t stress how important it is to get a child up and moving throughout the day. I have already blogged about the importance of this but it’s worth repeating that movement has been proven to do the following:
*Improves cognitive skills as they complete these activities. Be sure to up the challenge for them as they become more successful with them.
*Improves focus and attention which helps with the learning process. We must allow time for movement opportunities in order for our children to learn.
*Helps “turn on” your brain (this is proven!).
*Helps a child better focus and attend and also better organize their work.

There are so many ways to add movement into your child’s daily schedule. Play a game of Simon Says, run up and down stairs if you have them, create an obstacle course early in the morning that they can escape to when they feel like they need to move. Challenge your child to create an obstacle course using stuff you have around the house. Here are some things you can have them do:
*Find something to jump over (see how many times they can do it in 30 seconds)
*Find something to jump on
*Find something to crawl over or through
*Find something to climb over

Also, use materials you already have in your house. Masking tape makes a great balance beam, colored paper makes great jumping spots and tables make great tunnels!

6. Set up a sensory diet. Like most things, children’s sensory needs are drastically different from one another. While some of your children are still getting their occupational therapy services, some are not so you may find that your child is presenting with regression in this area. You may find that your child is seeking more input than usual. This makes total sense given the amount of time your child is spending sitting in front of a screen (therefore fewer opportunities to play outside). Even if your child isn’t getting occupational therapy right now, reach out to their therapist and ask them to help you set up a sensory diet that works into your schedule. A sensory diet helps kids get in a “just right” state so they can pay attention and learn. Activities in a sensory diet can help kids who are overreactive feel calmer and unrreactive kids feel more alert. By providing your child with appropriate sensory input, you will find their ability to focus and attend to tasks will improve. It will also help with their ability to handle more challenging activities that are being thrown at them and help with improving their frustration tolerance. 

7. Create a sensory box. This is especially important for older children who feel like their life is completely out of control right now. Like I have already mentioned, the sensory needs of each child are different so deciding what to put in a sensory bin will depend on what their sensory needs are. Here are a handful of common sensory box tools that help improve sensory processing skills in your child. If possible, have your child’s occupational therapist go over with you and your child how to and when to use all of the tools. Please be sure to eliminate anything you worry about your child using. For example, if you have a kid who likes to put things in his/her mouth, I would avoid things like putty, kinetic sand or Mad Mattr. Here is a great kit you can get on Amazon that includes some of the following:
*Sensory/squeezy balls-I am a huge fun of the Schylling squeezy balls
*Putty (my favorite is Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty)
*Fidget toys
*Kinetic sand
*Mad Mattr
*Stretchy string
*Monkey noodles

8. Set aside a few minutes each day to talk about feelings/emotions. You are probably noticing that your child’s emotions are all over the place these days. I know from personal experience that my daughter who is usually able to maintain her calm (for the most part) when she is challenged or confused is having a much harder time controlling her emotions. The most important thing we can do for our children is validate these big feelings they are feeling because it is totally normal right now. It is okay that they are feeling scared, angry, frustrated, sad or a ton of other feelings. Their lives have changed in ways that they may never forget and their parents, who are supposed to be able to tell them everything will be okay, can’t tell them when this will end and their lives will return to normal. Make sure your children know how to identify their feelings. There are a lot of great children’s books out there that talk about feelings including some of my favorites The Color Monster, The Way I Feel, Today I Feel (An Alphabet of Feelings), The Boy With Big, Big Feelings and My Mixed Emotions. I have learned through my social skills group at The Meeting House that children learn so much through these kinds of books and since the characters are struggling with similar things that children are, they are able to better talk about and problem solve through these tricky times.

9. Be your child’s advocate. Parents have this unique opportunity to really see what is and isn’t working for their children with this kind of learning. You are seeing things that are helping them be successful with remote learning but you are also seeing what isn’t working. Please don’t be afraid to reach out to teachers or school administration if you feel like you aren’t being listened to. As parents, you have the ability to help your child be as successful as possible during this crazy time. If you find that your child isn’t getting anything from hours and hours of online learning, tell their teachers. If you find that they are working better on their own schedule, make sure the teachers know that as well. Honestly, there is NO reason a child should be in front of a computer for hours on end being taught.

10. Know when you need to quit. This is incredibly important for both parents and kids. You are going to find that there will be days where your child has just had it and making them push through with all the screen time and remote learning will end up proving to be more stressful all around. It’s also very important to keep in mind that once a child check’s out, they are no longer going to learn. If you are finding that your child has had enough for the day, take control and tell them they are done and that you will let their teacher know. We need to make sure our kids know that we are just as concerned about their emotional wellbeing as their academics. Actually, this might be a time that we need to be more concerned with their emotional wellbeing over academics. Our kids are going to be okay if they don’t finish all of their assignments every single day. We need to take the pressure off of them. Being on top of our kids all day, every day isn’t good for anyone and will only cause tension at home to increase at a time where you need to be be maintaining the calm in our households.

11. Take time for you-the most important thing I have to say is that you must find ways to take care of yourself during these crazy times. We are expending an awful lot of energy on our kids, as we are meant to be doing, but we must find ways to take care of ourselves. Nail salons are closed, we can’t get our hair done and we can’t go carefree shopping these days. Find ways to take care of you for a small amount of time each day. For me, listening to my favorite podcasts or music while taking a daily walk does more than I can explain for my soul than I ever knew was possible. I am seeing things in my neighborhood and appreciating the little things more than I could have ever imagined. I know that this isn’t always easy, especially if you are working and caring for your children full-time, but if we don’t take care of ourselves, it becomes much more difficult to properly care for all the other people in our lives.

While this new way of life comes with many challenges, I do feel like we will all come out of this better parents, teachers, therapists, etc.. We will have a whole new level of appreciation for things that we took for granted just a few months ago. While we all long for things to return to normal, we must continue to learn and grow in the moment. I end each of my tele-therapy sessions telling parents how great their children are doing and thank them for their support in making each session go smoothly. I need them to know that we are a team and that I appreciate them.

I would love to hear from any and all of you with some things that you have learned through remote learning and therapy. I know that other parents and professionals would love to hear what’s working for your family during this crazy time. I am always a click away and love hearing from all of you. One of the greatest things that has come out of this whole situation for me is that I have been collaborating with parents and professionals on a whole new level. I’ve always understood how important it is to work together in order for the greatest amount of improvement and success to happen, but have so much more appreciation for it these days.

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