The fall semester is starting out differently than what many parents and students hoped for. Most schools in the Washington metro region are planning distance learning, at least to start.
Just the thought of the upcoming virtual school year can spark anxiety for parents, guardians, and students. Dr. Asha Patton-Smith, a Kaiser Permanente child and adolescent psychiatrist, says creating school structure at home will help curb stress before the online school bell rings.
“Parents are awesome life coaches and really the first life coaches our kids ever have, right? So, to be able to teach self-management, executive functioning, this is a part of that process. So, we can’t rescue our kids or make it all better, we have to deal with the reality of what we’re all dealing with,” Patton-Smith told ABC7 News reporter Victoria Sanchez during a Zoom interview.
She says the adults don’t have to have all the answers or solutions. It’s better if they don’t.
“It is something, especially as the school year starts, it’s going to be an ongoing challenge,” she explained.
With just a few weeks left in summer, Patton-Smith says now is the time to prepare for distance learning. Create a school space for each child and let them decorate their new learning environment. It does not need to be a room with a door. A corner of a room with a dedicated desk or table will do the trick, she says.
Northern Virginia mother of two, Stephanie Yingling tells ABC7 News, embracing the new normal will help with the in-person to virtual class transition.
“When it comes to online schooling, what we found is useful is really making sure you have the right setup,” said Yingling. “They customize it for however they get excited about school and they like to learn.”
As the summer clock ticks down and the fall semester is set to begin, Patton-Smith suggests adjusting routines now so children can get used to the earlier bedtime.
“The first day of school cannot be the first day we start this new schedule," she said.
Socialization is still important for kids, even with six feet of distance. Patton-Smith suggests asking what your children need and listen to what they have to say before you over-schedule activities.
“I have some parents where they are very frustrated because they were scheduling Zoom parties and doing all this stuff and driving by and waving at friends or waiting outside from their physical distances and the kid is like, ‘I’m tired. I don’t really need all that. Like, I can just text them,’” she said.
Even with the new learning environment, it’s important to keep some traditions the same.
“I have a lot of parents that take first-day pictures or buy a new outfit for their children. That thing you have done, please continue as we move into the new school year,” said Patton-Smith.
“One thing we did this year, we did ‘back-to-school clothes shopping’ and instead of getting the jeans and the normal stuff that you’d wear to school, you get more comfy clothes,” said Yingling.
During the pandemic, parents might not have all the answers. It’s a great time to open the lines of communication with kids. They might not open up right away, says Patton-Smith, but can eventually come around with information about how they are feeling and dealing with school changes.
“Parents are like, ‘This is going to traumatize my child. My child is never going to be the same.’ If we deal with it openly and honestly, that most likely will not happen,” said Patton-Smith.