Back to E-School with Brittany LaFleur
Montgomery County Public Schools are starting in just one week! Brittany LaFleur of Your Best Self Therapy and I sat down for a conversation about how kids and families can be preparing for virtual learning. We covered everything from physical space to socialization, and reducing friction between parents and children!
Watch the video below or scroll down for a breakdown of the interview with timestamp intervals for every topic! Just like I said last time, I am AMAZED at how much ground we covered! Seriously!
Brittany is therapists is Chevy Chase. She and her associates work with kiddos aged 3 and up. She started our in the school counseling world of therapy and now owns her own practice, Your Best Self Therapy
And well, you probably know me and Montgomery County Counseling Center by now! Check us out if you want to learn more!
This is not one size fits all conversation. Advice will fit different for every family. We are all trying to figure it out at the same time time. Our advice is based on our knowledge of mental health and development. This is still a new situation. That means nobody has enough experience in virtual learning to sat what truly works or doesn’t yet.
We recognize that we come from a place of privilege. While we do our best to speak from multiple perspectives, we can’t deny the privilege that comes with our perspectives.
4:50- Podding for Virtual Learning
Traditional podding is when several families have their kids in one place and hire a private educator so that parents can be completely hands off. When that is not possible, you can still do an informal pod. Brittany advises that at least once a week kids have the opportunity to be with peers.
Kids respond well to positive peer pressure. This doesn’t have to be a best friend or someone in the same class. Just another school-aged child doing independent work nearby another school-aged child. Once a week provides something different. Plus that allows a parent one day of a break by working with other families.
If you need help finding people with similar needs, reach out to your guidance counselor who can help you create a pod.
9:50 Make your virtual learning plans before school starts
It will be much easier to start with a plan and tweak it along the way. Starting a system a week or two after school will feel like a punishment for something that didn’t go well.
10:37- It Takes a Village
Even if you don’t hire someone, rely on other people. Family members, tutors, college students, neighbors etc. Parents need to stay in the role of parenting. When parents turn into teachers, time managers, executive functioning coaches, etc, it takes away from the relationship. Parents need to stay in the role of cheerleading!
So many college students are looking for opportunities. Try the Nextdoor App or Facebook Groups. You don’t need a stellar care taker, especially wheen parents are still in the home for emergencies. Just someone to oversee and guide the process.
13:09- Use Technology to your Benefit
You can just a google doc to stay connected with your student while they work. You can be in a different room while monitoring and helping. This can help if parents can’t give undivided attention while working
You can also set up Alexa to give reminders. Kids will be more likely to listen to that because they were engaged in setting it and it isn’t a parent nagging!
14:30 Collaborate while preparing your virtual learning systems
Kids and parents can talk together to make a plan! Talk about what worked well (or not) this past spring. When both parties feel on board it will be more likely to stick. Check in regularly about each of your needs or worries.
15:20 Preparing Physical Space for Virtual Learning
Use a trifold poster board to create an organized work space. Post their schedule on it and other inspiration. Check out @Counseling_ASF for an awesome example of at-home work spaces.
Make sure there is some type -any type- of designated learning space with a little distractions as possible. If there is not enough common space in the house, you could try switching rooms up with siblings (ie: each siblings’ room is a classroom for someone else). Definitely don’t be in your bed.
Ideal scenario is not to use your bedroom as learning space. This will negatively impact sleep. It also will make your room feel stressful. Plus this can add to family tension: after a long stressful day of working in your room, you will be more likely to seek common areas for relaxing but if you are stressed and don’t want interaction, this can very easily lead to frustrations. Keep your room as a safe haven for yourself free from the stress of learning!
Get your brain used to shifting spaces between learning and living. Our brain responses to chaining environments to keep us synchronized with work time, rest time, and sleep time.
Make sure you have all the necessary school supplies in your learning space so you don’t need to leave or interrupt parents to gather materials during the day. Have fidgety toys for sensory stimulation. This tactile stimulation will actually help pay attention by letting energy out of your body so your brain can tune in.
Parents don’t need to be in the same room as older kids. Parents may need to be supervising younger kids. It’s a good idea to ask your child’s therapist or pediatrician about what works best for your child.
Parents can use same ideas for themselves too. You can get creative with ways for kids to ask for parents’ help like post it notes or a “mail slot” or raising your hand. This allows for parents to gracefully step away from work rather than doing so under stress.
26:00 Be kind with your kids. Be kind with your parents. Practice acceptance and balance!
Virtual learning requires a level of organization skill that we don’t usually expect until college. We wouldn’t usually expect a child’s brain to be adept at keeping track of their own schedule and syllabus. Keep in mind your kids are doing the best they can to work with a system that may be well above their developmentally appropriate expectations.
Parents are also doing the best they can! Parents also are not wired to be doing all of these roles. It’s important to hold yourself and your family members with compassion. We are, after all, still in a pandemic. Let some of your standards relax into the space acceptance.
Don’t expect things to go smoothly right away. Expect for the first several weeks to be a trial and error process. This means lots of effort on the front end and then tweaking on the back end.
Let things go when you can. Your child will inevitably be off task at various moments throughout the day. It is unhelpful to your relationship to pick every opportunity to redirect. Let teachers get involved as is necessary if it is a functional problem.
Keep in mind this idea:
- If something happens once, it’s by chance
- If something happens twice, it’s by coincidence
- If something happens three times, it’s a pattern.
This probably holds true for your kids in each distinct class.
Find a balance between chaotic/ all over the place and rigid/ inflexible. Be open to changes when things aren’t working. Be open to collaborating for that flexibility. Don’t assume you know what the problem is. Ask your child about their perspective.
34:30 Tips for improving focus during virtual learning
Get dressed every day as if it’s a school day. Change into casual after classes are over.
Keep your phone away as if you’re in school and its in your locker or backpack. Don’t use it until breaks just like you would in school. It’s just too temping even for adults! For students who struggle with detaching from technology, consider only bringing the phone out for lunch break. It will be hard to get back on track. Instead, do activities have a natural end point like word games or coloring pages.
Use breaks for walking, getting your body moving, or mindfulness. Your body needs to release that energy just like if you were walking in the halls.
Close out multiple tabs on the computer or use the full screen function to prevent distractions.
38:40 Preparing for Meal and Snack Time
Try to replicate what you would have done if it weren’t virtual learning. Pack lunches ahead of time for younger students and have it ready to go. This way parents don’t have to interrupt work to oversee the meal time. This also helps to prevent skipped meals.
Make snacks accessible for kids so they can do that independently too. Be careful of mindfulness munching during boredom.
Parents should try be careful not regress to doing more for older students than they are capable of doing for themselves. Older students who would socialize during lunch time or leave campus for lunch can try to do that during lunch break too. Be careful to take covid-safe precautions!
44:40 What if you can’t keep up pace?
Remember, struggles during this is ok and normal and expected. Use Wednesday off (if you have) for catch up. ASK FOR HELP! Whether from your teacher, parents, or therapists. Engage in classes. The more you participate, the less bored you will feel and the better learning you can get. We even talked in our recent blog post about setting a participation goal for yourself!
Make sure you are advocating for yourself especially if you have an IEP or 504 Plan. These are things that may slip through the cracks right now. Let your teachers and parents know about what you need and what you are supposed to be getting in your plan!
Short term therapy can help get you back on track whether or not you have long standing concerns. You may wind up addressing the underlying issues too. But even if not, therapy can help with the adjustment. Use your school as a resource for workshops, tutors, etc. Local community centers are offering resources.
Accept imperfections. And that solutions will raise new problems all the time. Your family can decide what problems are more important for you manage. Safety is always a priority and then work from there about what works best for your family. Choose accordingly where you want to direct your effort and intention.
54:00 Clubs and Socialization
Try virtual opportunities. Do parking lot hang outs. Try distance work-outs for physical activity with others.
Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly… meaning even if its not perfect, it’s better than nothing!
Ask therapists about what groups are available. We tend to advertise amongst ourselves.
Find Brittany LaFleur at Your Best Self Therapy…
on instagram, facebook, and her website. Brittany and her associated offer services to help with all sorts of adjustment related mental health concerns. They are also offering two groups: one for high-school Freshman and another for teachers navigating this time!
Montgomery County Counseling Center also has options for you!
We are also running a group for college students who are home during covid.
Plus we have our quarterly parent workshop for parents of struggling teens and young adults enrolling now for October. If you are a parent of a teen who you already know will struggle, consider reserving a spot now and getting the early-bird registration discount!
Montgomery County Counseling Center offers a variety of therapy services in Rockville, MD. And with Telehealth we can now serve all areas of Maryland and Washington DC. Our counseling services include dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), parent coaching, family therapy, teen therapy, and child therapy.