This story is part of “Parenting in a Pandemic,” WTOP’s continuing coverage of how parents are dealing with childcare, schooling and more through the coronavirus pandemic.
If kids are having trouble focusing during virtual learning, parents may be left wondering whether it’s related to the pandemic or if it could be something else, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. A Virginia counselor offers advice for how to tell.
“A parent needs to ask themselves, ‘What was the functioning of your child before the pandemic?” said Dr. Asha Patton-Smith, child and adolescent psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente, who practices in Burke and Falls Church.
If the child had even mild challenges with focus, attention and distraction before the pandemic, the virtual learning environment may be exacerbating it.
“And, it may be time to look at attention deficit as part of the problem,” Patton-Smith said.
But, if concentration issues appear to be new, Patton-Smith said parents may need to examine how their child’s day is structured and give them regular breaks.
“Giving your child more breaks away from the computer and the virtual learning space, even if it’s only for a few minutes at a time, can help rejuvenate the child and improve that focus and concentration,” Patton-Smith said.
She recommends beginning the day by making plans for transition times between classes and what will happen during the breaks.
“Are we doing jumping jacks, are we going to do a chore and unpack the dishwasher? Have those things already set up,” she said. “So, when it’s time for a break, the child’s not looking around wondering what they’re supposed to be doing.”
Also, do your best to remove distractions and provide a child with their own individual learning space.
Now is a good time for a check-up.
Most school districts in the D.C. region are approaching the end of the school year’s first quarter, and that can help give parents insight into how their child is doing.
Signs they may be struggling include work that’s being missed or needs to be turned in, incomplete assignments or lower-than-expected grades.
Parents who suspect something’s up should first talk with their child.
“Talk with your child and get a sense of what’s happening. If your child doesn’t have a lot of information or doesn’t know, next thing, parents, talk to the teacher,” Patton-Smith said.
If reaching out to the child’s teacher and school counselor isn’t enough or confirms your child is struggling, then Patton-Smith said it’s time to consult your child’s pediatrician or family doctor to find out what’s going on.