It seems that too many decisions around education are happening without much input from families and youth, yet it is on the home front that distance learning policies rely so heavily on in order to work. Managing disruption in routines, coping with challenging behaviors and worrying about academic regression are just some of the issues haunting parents across the country. Families raising children and youth with disabilities have additional challenges, and having a strong support system can make all the difference in the primary caretaker’s mental health.
Yes, there are technical issues related to the Individual Education Plan (IEP) and necessary advocacy measures to ensure that unique educational needs specific to a child’s disability category can take priority at this time. However, a recent study by the Center for Disease Control shows an alarming 40% of American adults surveyed disclosed having struggles with mental health or substance use disorders since the shelter-in-place orders. The impact of these challenges also show up with how parents cope with the high demands on their time and energy since having the kids home all day and minimal support outside of the home.
Let’s be real, pandemic parenting has added many a gray hair on moms and dads all over the country. And for those in more vulnerable positions, particularly single parents, essential workers or those families that have suffered grief and loss at this time, introducing new pressures during the next academic year may be much more than most people can handle. Yet, as parents we also know that checking out is not really an option, so what can we do?
Here are some tips that I came up with working with parent leaders and having regular dialogue of some the things that are effective:
- Create routines for both adults and children. While the initial transition to shelter-in-place was a shock to the system for many families, and kids may have treated the Spring semester like snow days, it is important as the summer comes to a close to create an atmosphere where all responsibilities can be addressed with balance. Routine-based interventions are key ways in which families can use to manage challenging behaviors by creating an element of predictability. And guess what? Routines don’t just work for kids, they are also effective for adults. So, for example, if you are struggling with going to bed before 2am, developing a bedtime ritual that you can enjoy around the targeted time-frame will do wonders for switching out of a negative pattern.
- Keep a log book of observed issues to address with trusted therapists and educators. This strategy offers families a scientific method of tracking things happening in the household in which they can use to address during telehealth or distance learning sessions with trusted educators and therapists. While, it takes a lot of trust to divulge issues coming up on the home front, having a log can de-personalize what can otherwise be difficult to bring up in conversation.
- Host online parties. Because it can literally be maddening to not have human contact outside of the home, scheduling Zoom happy hours with adult peers or play dates for the kids can help bring people closer. And because everyone is so busy, scheduling events takes some of the edge off cold calling people in the midst of their own home crises and gives something to look forward to in whatever frequency one needs to gather with friends. This also helps not feeling so lonely, and goes a long way for both adults and children.
- Join online communities. While this seems like a no-brainer to many social media savvy parents, it’s important to highlight for those of us who may be social media adverse. I know it can be hard to step out of a comfort zone if Facebook and Instagram are not typically your jam, and there can be lots of conflicting information on these platforms, the human connection value makes up for some of that. In saying this, I don’t recommend taking sound medical, educational or legal advice from these platforms but it helps to have networks where one can share thoughts and feelings with likeminded people from around the country and the world.
These tips are just some ways to help balance emotions and increase productivity as the next school year is just around the corner. I am here to support any specific IEP issues you may need help talking through and helping put in place necessary accommodations for pre-existing or emerging issues with the children, yet what is most important is that one is emotionally balanced, has access to others to support through whatever challenges are happening and have a support system to troubleshoot big and small problems.