Thoughts for Families in a Hard Time

children holding hands

To the families of a child with exceptionalities, caregivers, and newly designated homeschoolers. We’re all in this together.

You face a time of extreme stress. Between working full-time and supporting your child’s education and therapies, you may feel lost or burned out. I don’t want to add to the noise of the advice you currently receive (I know it is a lot). I want to streamline what I see as the most important tips and considerations to make it through this unprecedented time.

Now is not the time to pull away from others, but rather to reach out. This might be your first time homeschooling your child. Reach out to online support groups through your child’s classroom, school, or community to connect with other parents. If needed, ask teachers to set up an email chain with families from your child’s school and district. It is natural to feel overwhelmed. Find and use others for support, mentorship, collaboration, and fellowship.

Routine, Routine, Routine
We live our lives following routines. We may not write them out or acknowledge that we follow them, but all of us have specific routines that guide our day-to-day, even during periods of social isolation. Your child also had routines and now, more than ever, needs a routine again. Routines provide predictability and can decrease anxiety surrounding the unknown.

If you haven’t already, write out or draw a schedule for your child. If you need help making a schedule, reach out to your child’s teacher or the special education experts at the Watson Institute for guidance. Even if your child has never used or seemed to need a schedule before, try one now.

We all need structure in times of uncertainty. Instead of focusing on just surviving, a set routine will help your child thrive.

It isn’t personal.
Often our child’s problem behaviors seem like personal attacks. Your child may use big, disruptive behaviors that scare you and make you feel as if they do these things to hurt you. It isn’t personal. In his book, “The Explosive Child”, Dr. Ross Greene discusses how a child will use the skills if s/he has them. In other words, children act out when we ask them to perform skills they do not currently have in their repertoire.

If your child engages in problem behaviors at home, take a look at what you are asking of them. Somewhere within the request or desired response, your child struggles to meet the demand and uses inappropriate or interfering behavior to communicate a skill deficit. If needed, reach out to a professional through your child’s school, outside therapies, or remote consultation (BCBA). Outside professionals can help you identify what skills your child need to build and how to build them.

I’ve heard over and over from parents that they fear their children will regress. Skill regression often happens during school holidays when students do not have opportunities to practice their burgeoning skill. Instead of trying to cram skill-building during virtual school time, get creative across the day.

Every daily task incorporates a number of skills. Look at hand-washing. Your child has to identify temperature, coordinate fine motor and gross motor skills, identify soap, communicate needs, etc. Playing with cars is an opportune time to support language (“What color?” “Blue”), socio-emotional skills such as waiting (“I’m playing with the red car first”), and motor skills. Feel free to let your creativity loose as you discover new ways to target your child’s goals.

If the idea of incorporating goal time into your daily routine seems overwhelming, don’t stress. Focus your efforts on only one or two skills. Incorporate those into your routines and as your child becomes more fluent (and you more confident), add in another one. Practice encourages retention.

At the same time, remember that you don’t need to make every moment teachable. That may seem counterintuitive to the educational spirit, but as a parent and educator, I believe that breaks from direct instruction support healthy relationships. I need a break. Students need a break. You need a break. Not every moment at home should be or needs to be instructional. For example, use the hour before bedtime as child-led play. Let togetherness, play, and relaxation take precedent.

You are everything.
If there is nothing else you hear, please hear me now. You are a wonderful parent. You are giving your child everything he or she needs. You are exceptional. You are strong. You are doing everything you should be doing. Your child is lucky to have you.

Go to the mirror and repeat as often as needed.

Dr. Rachel Schwartz, BCBA-D is an Educational Consultant at the Watson Institute. She received her Master’s Degree in Teaching and Applied Behavior Analysis from the University of Georgia and her Ph.D. in Special Education from the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Schwartz has worked internationally creating and supervising programs for individuals with developmental disabilities and continues her work to enhance behavior analytics programming.