NAVIGATION

COVID-19: Tips and Resources for Better Days

Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused; COVID-19 Topics



                                                                 

Dr. Whitney Kleinert offers a series of tips to help families manage the school-to-home transition during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Part 1: Reframe Remix!

Reframing is identifying a negative thought or event and giving it a “positive spin.” This thought-remix can be very helpful, especially during difficult times. 

Practice, Practice, Practice!

  • Identify the events or thoughts that you are interpreting as bad or negative. Write them down, but focus on just one while you are practicing. What is bad/negative about it? Make a list next to the event/thought.

  • Next comes the tough part: remixing the bad/negative event/thought into a positive one. This part will take some practice because sometimes it is hard to see the positive in a not-so-great situation. Practice taking one or two items from your list of what is bad/negative about the event/thought and think about something good that can result from that item. Again, this is the tough part – try your best and practice, practice, practice.

 

Actionable Tips for the Reframe Remix

Daily news: focus on the positive. 
Find fun new stories of good events that are happening around you and share them with your child. Talk about how recent changes that may be perceived as negative have also led to good things in the world. For example, if people are not driving as much because they are staying at home, talk about how the air quality will likely improve due to fewer cars being on the road.

Now’s the time! 
Think about things you or your child have not had time to do in the past but now you have time to do – for example, building that mega puzzle that has been sitting on the shelf. Now… do it together! 

Set goals. 
Under normal circumstances, we do not get a lot of time to set certain goals for ourselves. Use the extra time you may have now to set (and achieve) goals! Set realistic daily and weekly goals for yourself and help your child set realistic goals for himself (or herself). For example, if your child has mentioned that he loves to read or be read to, one option would be to set a goal of reading 10 new books (or online child-friendly materials) by the end of the week. If possible, have your child read to you each day or have him do it independently. If not, you can read to him. Once the goal is reached, celebrate together!

 

Track your progress. 

You can do it on charts (e.g., a paper with days of the week written on it – draw stars for each book he reads that day). Or have your child track his own progress as you cheer them along. Remember: keep the goals realistic!

Part 2: Talk About It

Avoid using worrisome language.
Instead, tell the truth in a child-friendly way. For example, if your child asks about seeing his friend, Marquis, who is sick, you might say, “We won’t see Marquis this week, but we will see him soon.”If your child saw on the news that stores are running out of supplies and asks about this, you could say, “It looks like that store is out of supplies; they have not restocked yet. There are plenty of stores nearby that may still have supplies. Every store is different.”

Check in with your child at least daily.

Give your child time to express her (or his) worries and concerns. Some children may not want to talk about their worries and may prefer to draw their worries in a picture or write their worries down.

When your child shares her worries/concerns with you, you can follow these steps: (1) repeat what she said and/or ask her to talk to you about her drawing, (2) thank her for telling you, and (3) then provide calm/reassuring information. Although some of the things they say might sound silly, children typically process information differently from adults. In their mind, it is a genuine concern.

For example, your child might say, “Everyone is sick and not going to work, so the sun is going to stop working, too!”. One way to respond to your child would be, “You are afraid the sun is going to stop working. (Repeat what she said.) I am so glad you told me this. (Thank her for telling you.) The sun is in outer space and it is going to keep shining like normal, but it might still rain/snow some days like usual. The sun will keep on working (Provide calm, reassuring information.)… in fact, let’s go outside and play in the sun for a few minutes and we can talk more about how the sun works. What do you think?”
Check out The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guide for talking with children about Coronavirus concerns: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/talking-with-children.html
 

Part 3: Make a Schedule

Having routines disrupted can be very stressful for everyone in the family, especially children. Making a schedule can help provide the consistency that people need during difficult times…and during not-so-difficult times as well!
I would recommend having a larger scale calendar (e.g., week / month) and also a daily schedule. Your child should have a schedule that is appropriate for them. If it’s too much to build a schedule for an entire day, start by building a schedule for a specific routine.

 

Tips for creating a schedule

Meet them where they’re at. 
Consider your child’s strengths and challenges when creating a schedule for them. If your child is a strong reader, a written schedule may be a good choice. If your child does not read yet or still needs support with reading, a schedule with pictures (and words below the pictures) is likely a better choice. You can also “break-it-down” if needed: break down the schedule into very specific components.

Example of a morning routine schedule using pictures: First we use the bathroom (picture of toilet, brush teeth, wash face), then get dressed (underwear, shirt, pants, socks, shoes), then we have breakfast (cereal, yogurt), then school time (picture of school space in the home). 

Note: Taping actual pictures of the steps in the schedule is even better! If you are unable to do that, you can find pictures using a quick online search.               

Example of a daily schedule using written words (morning routine): 
1. Bathroom (toilet/teeth/wash face)
2. Get dressed
3. Eat breakfast
4. School time
Keep it Simple

Develop a clear (i.e., succinct, easily understood) schedule. The fewer words, the better.

Example: “Math, Reading, Science” instead of “Multiplication and Addition, Read Your Book to Me, Science Projects and Activities”

Changes happen! 

Update the schedule as soon as possible if you anticipate a change in routine. Inform your child of any changes in routine right away and remind them about these changes.

Example: One morning, you wake up and realize that you have to go to the store during the typically scheduled school time. Update your child’s schedule to include “store” at the correct point in the day. Tell your child, “This afternoon, I have to go to the store. Today, your schedule is going to be (point to schedule) first X, then Y, then store, then school time.” Throughout the day, provide your child with reminders. For example, “We just finished X, now we are doing Y. After Y, we go to the store. After the store, it is school time.”

Use what you’ve got. 

Do you have a schedule from school that your child used? Use that as a template to create yours. This will help with consistency. Do you have sticky notes? Or paper and tape? You can use these items to write/draw each component of the daily schedule so you can swap them around if the schedule changes.

Get physical. 

Incorporate physical activities into the schedule. Kids need “wiggle-breaks.”

Break it up. 

Incorporate breaks into the schedule. Use breaks to do fun activities with your child or have your child play independently. You can also incorporate self-care activities such as meditation breaks, music-only time, and stretching.

 

Tips for using the schedule

  • Keep it accessible and easy-to-see (at your child’s eye level).
  • Review the schedule each morning and provide visual/verbal prompts throughout the day (e.g., “It’s time for X” or “First we X then we Y”).
  • Try to keep the schedule as consistent as possible, but remember “changes happen!” When a change occurs in the schedule, it should be announced or previewed (e.g., “You finished all of your science work for this week. Instead of science today, we will be doing reading time.”). 

The ultimate goal is that your child will follow the schedule independently. When your child is completing components of their schedule on their own, celebrate with them! Provide them with high-fives and tell them exactly what they did you’re excited about (e.g., “You did X and Y all by yourself! Nice work!”).

Part 4: Change up Your Space

Use this “stay at home” time as an opportunity to make some simple changes around the house to increase the likelihood of your child engaging in academic activities. This is not an HGTV-level overhaul by any means, but rather some simple changes to make it easier for your child to focus on academic tasks. We’ll call this their new “school space.” 

Tips for creating a great school space at home

Have clear boundaries. 

Identify a specific table/area as the school space. Remove distracting materials from the space. You and your child can even work together and use colored tape to outline the school space to make it fun!

Furniture. 

Make sure the furniture in the school space is comfortable and meets your child’s needs. For example, sometimes kitchen tables can be so tall that the child has to stretch up and over it to reach things. You may need to modify your current setup to ensure your child can easily work with their school materials.

Another option is to allow your child to stand up while they work – many kids are able to focus more easily if they can stand up and move around while they work!

Seating check. 

Does your child like to watch TV? Or perhaps they love their box of Legos or train set? PlayStation fan? Position the child’s seat in the school space so they are not facing their beloved toys/distractors. Out of sight (is more likely to be) out of mind.

After creating the school space, keep the environment as consistent as possible (i.e., try not to “switch it up”). 

 

By Whitney L. Kleinert, Ph.D., LP, LABA, BCBA-D
As the Director of School Consultation at May Institute, Dr. Kleinert oversees the implementation of applied behavior analysis (ABA) direct and consultation services across all school-based contracts, including Boston Public Schools. Dr. Kleinert is a licensed Psychologist (LP) in Massachusetts, a certified health service provider, and a doctoral-level Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA-D).

 
May Institute is an award-winning nonprofit organization with 65 years of experience in serving children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, brain injury and neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. For more information, visit www.mayinstitute.org or call 800-778-7601.