The coronavirus vaccine is starting to roll out, but it’s likely going to be a while before predictable education services resume. Parents of a child with special needs should be prepared for the possibility of schools shutting down and kids being sent home again due to COVID-19 exposure. The good news is that inconsistent school attendance doesn’t mean your life at home has to be miserable. The right plan can make these days spent away from school great for everyone in the home.
When kids go off to school, they often have a set schedule. They know the drill. The day is predictable. Teachers have pre-planned all of the activities for the day and gathered all of the materials needed to get everything done. This way, they are prepared to equip and guide the children in their care through every pre-planned activity step-by-step.
Planning and routine are the tools that keep the school environment successful. Parents can apply these tools at home.
An organized routine in your home helps children feel safe and secure. Many of us have already experienced the stress and confusion the unpredictability of COVID-19 has wrought on our lives, and the effects are clearly evident in the behavior of children. Kids who have speech delay can show especially large behavior changes because they use behavior to communicate their needs and ideas.
Following a daily home routine helps parents identify the patterns in their late-talking child’s communication behaviors. It helps the caregiver understand what triggers feelings and behaviors, and allows them to predict the child’s needs more easily. It also helps kids know what is expected of them throughout the day so everyday jobs like self-care and clean up are completed without a struggle. Planning ahead and consistently following the plan will help families avoid stressful behaviors linked to a breakdown in communication, including screaming and physical aggression.
Creating Your Daily Schedule
Parents of a child with special needs who rush kids through unplanned activities often unknowingly trigger meltdowns. A little organization can make life easier.
- First, list every activity from wake up to bedtime.
- Include your play, learning, self-care, chores, meals, and snacks.
- Allow enough time for each job so that it feels comfortable, relaxed, and you can talk about each step.
- Include some unstructured free play time (preferably outside) every day to allow your child the opportunity to explore and practice the skills they have learned.
The goal is for everybody to feel success all day in a safe and comfortable environment where they know what is expected of them.
Parents often fall into the trap of thinking their child intuitively understands their daily routine, but most children rely on others to guide them through the day with specifics. Break down the activities further than “school work” or “craft time” to provide clarity. Each activity should detail what the child will actually do — like “school work” could be “read a book with mom” or “finish one school packet worksheet,” and “craft time” could be “color a picture of something outside” or “make animals with clay.”
For kids with communication challenges, it can be really helpful to display your schedule on a whiteboard or series of sticky notes to provide a visual representation of each activity. It requires more planning to set up your day with detail; however, you may find your schedule is a lifesaver, especially if you have more than one child always wanting to know “what to do.”
Stay Patient, Stay Calm, Work Together
The most helpful strategy for maintaining a positive home environment while navigating this new COVID-19 landscape is to practice patience and understanding. Even in the middle of a meltdown, say your child’s problem out loud (“You really don’t like broccoli!”) and empathize with their drama (“You think it tastes like dirt!”).
This provides the words your child needs to reflect on their “message” and assures them that you “get” their problem.
Now that you have their attention, slow down your speech and establish a sense of connection and calm before you ask questions, offer choices, or direct your child’s actions. This provides time for your child to regulate their thoughts, and listen to your solutions with an open mind so you can problem-solve together.
Children pick up on their parents’ energy. They mirror what they perceive. It’s important to leave your stress and anxiety about your child’s lack of development behind if you want to keep them moving forward. Where your attention goes, your child’s energy flows. When you’re taking conscious action with a positive and optimistic mindset about your child’s future, it often makes your children feel those emotions as well. Keep an open dialogue with language facilitation and express your own emotions using your words—just like you’d want to hear from your child.
It’s easy to help your kids learn naturally at home. Time together can be a valuable resource to find the strategies that work best for you, your family, and your child. There will obviously be challenges coming as we continue to navigate the pandemic this year. Focus on your connection with your child to celebrate their achievements, identify problems fast, and make improvements as your child grows.
About the Author
Marci Melzer, M.Ed./SLP is an Intuitive Speech-Language Pathologist Consultant who has been helping people develop the ability to use spoken language functionally for three decades. Now, she works as an online global influencer and resource, helping parents teach their children to talk themselves through her Waves of Communication platform. Marci is the author of If It Isn’t Fun, It Isn’t Fun: Teach Your Child to Talk Faster than Speech Therapy. Visit her website or connect with her on Facebook @wavesofcommuncation.