We are living in unprecedented times and one of the biggest shifts in your life may be the fact that your house is now not just a home, but a school. Although preparation cannot make this change in educational setting disappear, there are definitely some things that you can do to pave the way for success. Distance Learning Tips Part One tackled the importance of setting up a learning area and a schedule. Now, let’s chat about setting expectations and ways to identify and manage stress.

Setting Up Expectations

Have you ever run an errand somewhere new with your child or tried to do a fun activity at home, and quickly your child’s behavior spiraled out of control? One way to get ahead of your student having challenging behavior when doing something new is by setting expectations beforehand.

Some Common School Expectations to Think About:

  • What does work time look like and sound like?
  • What does break time look like and sound like?
  • Would the use of a visible timer for work time and break time help keep your student on track?
  • What are the appropriate ways to ask for help?
  • Are there end of the day rewards? If so, how are those rewards earned?

Tips for Setting Expectations:

  • Do it ahead of time and together with your student.
  • Make them crystal clear.
  • Record them accessibly. For younger children or students with special needs this might mean pairing expectations with a picture and making two sets, one for breaks and one for work time.
  • Limit expectations to only the most important ones.
  • Stay consistent. The rules for work time and break time should always be the same.
  • Following expectations should be paired with positive consequences*.
  • Be clear about what negative consequences* will arise if expectations are not followed.

*Tip: Positive consequences could include access to special break choices. See Distance Learning Tips Part One for more ideas about holding students accountable. Negative consequences can often be logical or natural consequences and framed in a way that places responsibility on the student instead of blame or anger. For example, end of the day playtime now needs to be used for work time since they chose to play during today’s work time.

Teaching How to Identify and Manage Strong Feelings

Setting up a learning area, schedule and expectations are some key ways to ensure successful distance learning. Teaching your student to identify and manage strong feelings will also be extremely important during these strange and uncertain times, and will help make distance learning much more enjoyable.

Identifying Feelings

In order for students to manage their feelings, they first need to understand and be aware of their feelings. To help them develop the skill of recognizing their feelings, it is important to chat about and record details about strong feelings. Sit down with your student and name those strong feelings. A Zones of Regulation® chart (see resources listed below for English and Spanish charts) can be a helpful visual tool as you go through this activity.

Some key feelings to be aware of and understand are:

  • Stressed
  • Excited
  • Overwhelmed
  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Worried
  • Tired

For each feeling you list, talk about:

  • What kind of thoughts do they bring up?
  • How do they make your body feel?
  • If they speed up or slow down
  • How do they make you feel about yourself?
  • What do people who are feeling that way look like?
  • The temperature that your body is when that feeling comes.
  • What does your heart beat feel like during that feeling?

Document this chat and these feelings with words, images or both and make them something that you both can come back to and look at. Depending on your child’s age, verbal ability and attention span, you may need to do this activity over the course of a few different conversations.

Managing Strong Feelings

Once you start identifying and mapping out the details of some important feelings, it is equally as important to have a chat about ways to manage those feelings. Brainstorm and record activities that your student can engage in to feel calm and ready to learn again. These activities are different from the activities designated for scheduled or earned breaks. Every kid is different, but here are some examples of activities that might be calming:

  • Try different kinds of deep breathing. Do an internet search for “deep breathing exercise for kids” for step-by-step instructions.
  • Use a fidget. Around the house you may have a squishy ball or a textured material to fidget with, or do an internet search for special fidgets you can purchase.
  • Snuggle a favorite blanket
  • Stretch
  • Ask for help
  • Tense all of your muscles and relax them one by one
  • Give your pet a hug
  • Count backwards from 100
  • Touch the ground and then jump as high as you can

Creating clear expectations and teaching your student to identify and manage strong feelings will help set you up for a successful distance learning experience if done purposefully, ahead of time, and in tandem with your student. While on this new journey, please don’t forget to be gentle with yourself and your student. Everyone is going through a lot of changes right now, and whatever you are able to do for you and your student is great.

More Resources to Explore:

Talking/ Teaching About Feelings:

Managing Strong Feelings:

This article is brought to you by Michelle Hjelm, a seasoned early childhood educator who has successfully navigated and supported students during distance learning.