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5 Social-Emotional Learning Tips For Families During The COVID-19 Outbreak

Brett Seidl
Associated Press
Jonathon Seidl talks with his daughter in his home office in Dallas. He said he's not worried about coronavirus despite his anxiety disorder.

As kids shift to virtual learning while spending so much time with family indoors, new challenges arise, from blow ups with siblings to difficulties managing fear and anxiety.

As tensions build at home, Dr. April Estrada, director of Special Populations Services and The Crisis Support Team at Region 10 ESC, said “social and emotional learning” is key to developing a happier environment for everyone.

What is social and emotional learning? 

According to Estrada, it’s how people interact with others and respond to those interactions “so it’s really that idea that you understand your own behaviors, feelings and emotions and that you’re able to explain them and label them.”

Here are her five tips on how to create a calm, productive environment amid the chaos: 

1. Monitor Your Stress Levels And Reconnect 

Estrada said parents and kids need to monitor their stress consistently and check in with each other during this challenging time. She said even if parents are feeling overwhelmed, it’s important not to pass on the anxiety to their children. 

“Kids watch and mimic their parents’ behavior and feelings, even if we don’t think they are,” she said. 

Estrada said parents and children can ward off the stress by taking walks, getting outside and playing — doing yoga together, journaling and taking time for breathing exercises. She also recommends that parents use this time to reconnect with their kids. 

“At a time when we’re the most connected disconnected society we’ve ever had, I’m really hoping parents will take this opportunity to take walks with their kids...understand the world that they’re living in if they haven’t done that in a while — just connect with them again.”

2. Stick To A Schedule 

While outside conditions are changing every minute to every hour, Estrada said it’s crucial that families follow a set schedule. 

She said the usual guidelines still apply:

  • Sleep: Get plenty of sleep and make sure kids are getting up on time and not staying up late.
  • Meals: Kids should be eating healthy meals, not just snacking throughout the day.
  • Exercise: Set a time to go outside. If that’s not possible, schedule some sort of family exercise at a certain time each day. 

Estrada said kids can write down a daily to-do list, even if it includes tasks as simple as waking up and brushing their teeth. She said the structure is something kids need whether they realize it or not. 
3. Teach New Life Skills, Not Just Academics

While many parents feel the pressure to provide their kids with the academics they had in a traditional classroom, Estrada said it’s ok for parents to put down the lesson plan from time-to-time. She said students are likely to get more out of the time at home if parents take new approaches to learning, like focusing on hands-on life skills and spending quality time together. 

“I think the best way you can ensure yourself and your kid’s overall wellbeing is just be present with your kids and make some memories with your kids during these times,” she said. “I guarantee they will get more out of that and it will make them be better off when they do go back to school, far more than if you do every single lesson.” 

Estrada said parents should not be afraid to put down the textbooks and worksheets and focus on teaching their kids how to cook, develop study skills and organizational strategies. 

“We’re not usually with our kids at school and so this might be a perfect time for you to model for them, when I have a list of things to do here’s how mom organizes it. Here’s how I make my to-do list.”


4. Avoid Conflict Before It Begins 

As siblings and parents are stuck together all day, arguments will naturally arise. Estrada said the best way to deal with conflict is being proactive and creating an environment that limits opportunities for conflicts to start in the first place. 

“When kids are fighting or arguing, it’s because something has not gone well or they’re bored or there’s not structure,” she said. 

She said the best thing families can do to avoid conflict is to make sure they have a routine and activities so that kids aren’t bored, which is when they’ll tend to fight and get into mischief. 

Estrada said conflicts can also be avoided by teaching kids how to recognize their emotions, whether it’s signs like their heart beating faster or face getting red. She said she teaches kids “if you can name it, you can tame it.” 

Once kids recognize their emotions, they can be taught to deal with them in healthier ways like taking walks and stepping away to enjoy their favorite activities like drawing or playing on an iPad. 

Estrada said families shouldn’t underestimate the power of physical distance, so that parents and children can go into separate spaces in the house and cool down. 

5. Find New Resources For Support And Guidance 

Districts and learning centers across North Texas are making resources available for parents online. Region 10 is interacting with parents through Facebook Live so they can talk about behavioral strategies at home. The latest in the series offers parents tips on setting routines and managing behavior. 

Estrada said the learning service will offer live chats with parents on a regular basis so that they can ask questions and get help. 

She said school districts are also setting up counseling support for parents who can set up times to talk virtually. Find mental health resources from Dallas ISD here and Richardson ISD’s counseling hotline here

Look through more resources and support from Region 10 here