A magical emergency department visit

When 3-year-old Vinny and his mom Nikki visited CHOC Children’s for the first time, they didn’t expect a calming experience thanks to a magic show, or that staff would go above and beyond to make them feel comfortable.  

 Vinny had a fever, and his pediatrician suspected pneumonia. After a few days of antibiotics, the fever returned, prompting his trip to the Julia and George Argyros Emergency Department at CHOC Children’s Hospital. 

“His pediatrician had told us that if Vinny didn’t seem to get better, we should rush him to CHOC,” Nikki says. 

Nikki called the emergency department before bringing Vinny in, to check on COVID-19 visitor requirements. His fever was nearly 104 degrees when they left the house for their first-ever visit to CHOC. 

 Nikki and Vinny remember feeling nervous, stressed and scared when they arrived, but appreciated how CHOC staff reassured the two from the very beginning.  

“Everyone had a very palpable sense of confidence that they will take care of the children, while also being super soothing and calming in their attitude and demeanor,” Nikki says. 

In the emergency department, Vinny was given a COVID-19 test. He’d had one before but had a much smoother experience this time. 

“Vinny has had a test done elsewhere prior to being at CHOC and that experience was traumatic for him,” Nikki says. “The test done at CHOC was faster and went smoothly thanks to the child life specialists who helped distract him.” 

Vinny’s vitals and stats were checkedand he was prepared for a chest X-ray. The X-rays showed that he not only had pneumonia, but also pleural effusion, a buildup of excess fluid in the lungs. 

Dr. Seth Brindisa board-certified pediatric emergency medicine specialist is an expert in taking care of sick kids. But before he discussed the X-rays results with Nikkihe put Vinny at ease with something else he excels in — magic tricks. He greeted Vinny by pulling a coin from behind the 3-year-old’s ear. That trick was followed by a series of magic tricks that brightened Vinny’s evening, and eventually, his entire experience at CHOC. 

Vinny pictured outside CHOC
Vinny smiles behind his mask outside CHOC, after being discharged.

Aside from magic tricks, Dr. Brindis also had a treatment plan up his sleeve. He sent Vinny home with a prescription for stronger antibiotics and ainhaler. He also explained to Nikki what should and should not happen with Vinny while he healed at home. 

choc emergency department
Dr. Seth Brindis often performs magic tricks for his patients.

“From early on, CHOC always had a future plan, and communicated that to us,” Nikki says. “I was always able to ask whatever questions, and they had answers.” 

Nikki and Vinny went home, but four days later his fever returned, and he was unable to breathe, so they returned to CHOC’s emergency department.  

This time, doctors determined that Vinny needed to be admitted to CHOC Children’s Hospital for further evaluation and treatment. As part of this process, he was tested a third time for COVID, an experience that again went smoothly, thanks to the child life specialists of the Cherese Mari Laulhere Child Life Department. 

Vinny stayed at CHOC for a week for stronger antibiotics, monitoring and supplemental oxygen. Throughout his stay, he was under the care of a multidisciplinary team of pediatric experts. This included Dr. Antonio Arrieta, medical director of infectious diseases, who was determined to help Vinny feel better. This level of care helped Vinny’s mom feel better, too. 

Dr. Antonio Arrieta
Dr. Antonio Arrieta, medical director of infectious disease at CHOC Children’s

Dr. Arrieta was truly one of the most intelligent human beings I’ve ever had a conversation with, and we felt extremely comfortable in his care and that of his whole team,” Nikki says. 

Being in a hospital for the first time was not easy for Vinny. He’s a naturally active child, but due to his compromised lungs and playrooms being temporarily closed due to the pandemic, he was unable to play in areas outside of his room. Luckily, Child Life had just the thing for him. A specialist showed up to his room with a box full of plastic bowling pins and a ball. Vinny was thrilled, and so was his mom 

“Every single nurse, respiratory therapist, child life specialist and doctor we met was just amazing,” Nikki says. “The only thing you truly want in a situation like this as a parent is for your child to be healing and comfortable, and they all worked to make that happen daily.” 

Vinny’s treatment plan was successfulAfter his fever subsided and his symptoms improved greatly, he was able to go back home. 

“Bringing my child to the hospital for the first time was scary at first, especially during a pandemic,” Nikki says. “I will always remember the kindness and world-class expertise that helped my son feel better and get back to being a kid. Vinny will never forget how a doctor turned into a magician right before his eyes. 

Learn more about emergency services at CHOC Children's

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Activity ideas for kids during COVID-19

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many children are spending more time at home than usual. Here’s a roundup of what parents and caregivers can do to keep kids occupied during this time.

Online learning

    • The Orange County Department of Education has created a roundup of free resources to help students supplement other materials that are being provided by their teachers.
      • OCDE also has a complete list of school districts providing grab-and-go meals at campuses across Orange County. See the full list here.
    • Many educational companies are offering free subscriptions in light of school closures. Here’s a guide.
    • Scholastic offers day-by-day projects to keep kids reading, thinking and growing.
    • PBS SoCal | KCET, in partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District and in collaboration with California PBS stations, are offering broadcast programming and accompanying digital resources that adhere to California’s state curriculum. Learn more here.
    • Budding scientists can access Nova Labs at PBS, for video, animation and games on scientific topics like predicting solar storms and constructing renewable energy systems.
    • NASA’s Teachable Moments, offers a range of activities and lessons for grades K-12.
    • NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex has educational and fun Facebook videos where kids can learn from astronauts and other educators. For activities, instructions are available as free downloads.
    • Make any room a classroom with BrainPop, where curious learners can take units in science, social studies, math, engineering and tech, and more
    • Tynker is offering free premium coding courses during school closures.
    • Khan Academy offers free daily schedules for kids and teens ages 4-18 to keep stability and routine during this time. The online learning non-profit also offers a free downloadable app called Khan Academy Kids,that contains thousands of activities and books for children ages 2-7.
    • FunBrain.com offers hundreds of free games, books comics and videos for Pre-K through eighth grade.
    • National Geographic Kids offers free online quizzes on topics ranging from animals to planets to sports and food.
    • Cool Math 4 Kids offers games and lessons to make math fun for kids.
    • Math Game Time offers a variety of games, videos and worksheets for Pre-K through seventh grade.
    • Inspired by Dr. Seuss, Seussville has activities, crafts, printables and recipes to engage your child in playful learning.
    • Online  games that include K-12 curriculum.
    • Skillshare is offering two-month free trials for online classes that include animation, creative writing, web design and more.
    • Amazon is offering free computer science courses online for various grade levels.

YouTube channels

  • Camp YouTube — a digital learning experience to help parents recreate the fun of summer camp at home.  Summer camp themes include arts, adventure, sports, STEM and more
  • Crash Course Kids — bi-weekly shows on grade school science, including Earth, habitats, space and more.
  • Science Channel – learn about outer space, new technology and more.
  • SciShow Kids – the hosts explain fun, complex science concepts; do experiments and interview experts.
  • National Geographic Kids – videos feature animals, science, pets and more.
  • Free School – exposure to famous art, classical music, children’s literature and natural science in an age-appropriate and kid-accessible way.
  • GEOgraphy Focus – explore geography, maps, flags, culture, languages and travel.
  • TheBrainScoop – explore the work and research of natural history museums.
  • Kids Learning Tube – educate kids through music and animation.
  • Geek Gurl Diaries – videos on programming, computer science, logic, electronics and more.
  • Mike Likes Science – science-inspired music videos.
  • Science Max – large-scale science experiments.
  • SoulPancake – in addition to the well-known Kid President shows, this channels offers content that explores and celebrates the ways humans seek connection.
  • Course Hero – study guides and videos for various subject matters.

Story time

  • Here’s a list of podcasts — featuring stories, meditation, music and more — for ages 2 through 6.
  • Celebrities are taking to social media to read children’s books to little ones staying home during this time. The Los Angeles Times curated this roundup of these posts.
  • Audible, which has the world’s largest collection of audio books, is offering free stories — in six different languages —  for kids as long as schools are closed. Start listening here.
  • Here’s a list of authors doing read-alouds of their famous books, as well as books by their favorite authors.
  • Storyline Online, the SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s award-winning children’s literacy website, streams videos of celebrities reading aloud children’s books alongside creatively produced illustrations.

Music class

  • Carnegie Hall’s Music Explorer program offers a way to learn new musical genres and cultural traditions. Courses conclude in an interactive concert experience.
  • Chrome Music Lab lets kids learn music through a hands-on website.

Learn a new language

  • Learn a new language with Duolingo.
  • English52 allows users to strengthen English skills through video lessons and activities.
  • Fabulingua is an interactive app that teaches Spanish.

Virtual field trips

  • Google Arts & Culture has partnered with thousands of museums around the world to offer virtual tours from the comfort of your home. Here’s the complete list.
  • The San Diego Zoo offers 10 different webcams so animal lovers can keep up with a variety of their favorite creatures.
  • The Monterey Bay Aquarium also offers 10 different webcams for families to experience underwater life from anywhere.

Cook with your kids

  • CHOC nutrition experts have curated some of their favorite recipes and offer tips for how to get kids involved in the kitchen. “Children as young as 2 years old can help out in the kitchen. You can have your child wash fruits and vegetables or stir ingredients,” Shonda Brown, CHOC clinical dietitian, says. “Children are more open to trying new foods if they have opportunities to explore and learn about the food before they eat it.”

Opt outside

Kids can still benefit from nature while practicing proper social distancing. Even babies and toddlers can join a family nature walk. if you’re in a public space, keep them in a carrier or a stroller. If you’re in your backyard, they can explore more freely.

Children who spend more time outdoors have improved motor development and lower obesity rates. Playing outside promotes more curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking — especially essential with schools closed and extra-curricular activities canceled.

  • On a nature walk, collect twigs, leaves or rocks. Then, build a nature sculpture by sticking these items in play dough. Help your child notice the patterns created by different items.
  • Go on a family bike ride, while keeping a safe distance from others.
  • Nature scavenger hunts can be fun for the whole family. How many different kinds of plants, flowers, animals or birds can you see?
  • Playing soccer or catch is fine, but don’t share equipment with people outside your household.

Highlights@Home

The beloved classic kids’ magazine, Highlights, is posting frequent roundups of stories, puzzles, craft ideas and more to help children cope with being cooped up and help parents make the most of this time with their kids. Each installment has a different theme:

  • Celebrate reading — Reading can transport us somewhere else for a while, even when we’re stuck at home.
  • Pajama day — Showing your children affection with a hug, snuggling on the couch to watch a movie, or reading together in a cozy blanket tent are all ways you can be fully present with your child.
  • A never-ending pile of fun — Sequestering at home may actually provide you with the time to teach kids tasks like matching socks, folding clothes, and putting away clean laundry. Kids usually like to help, and when we make the chores fun, they’re often eager to pitch in.
  • We are (all) family — Whatever your family configuration, this week’s issue has ideas for strengthening your family bond.
  • Staying connected — Children are likely feeling the loss of connection with friends and extended family. This guide is full of ways you can help your kids feel more connected to people they love but can’t safely see right now.
  • Just keep dancing — What raises our spirits more or gives us a burst of energy like music and dance? These activities will help  your kids move their bodies, use their creativity, and improve their mood.
  • Shoot for the stars — Young or old, we’re all fascinated by space. What’s known is often mind-boggling, and what’s unknown leaves so much to the imagination.
  • Thank you teachers — Thanking teachers is not only a nice thing to do, but showing appreciation is a simple but important practice of gratitude.
  • Hooray for helpers — National Nurses Week presents an opportunity to expand your kids’ understanding of what it means to be heroic.
  • Let’s talk family — Someday, this quarantine will be a memory, and we hope your children will remember some of the family fun you’ve been enabling, and also the ways you are helping them focus on the things that really matter.
  • Cleaning up — A bundle of resources for making cleanup fun.
  • Celebrate the sun — Puzzles, stories, and activities related to growing gardens, having picnics, and taking nature hikes will remind your kids of some of the fun to be had in the sun. Sunny days together provide an opportunity to talk to your kids about optimism.
  • Alone together — Games, played alone or together, are great for practicing reading, math, and strategic thinking. They also help build memory, focus and interpersonal skills.
  • Soar into summer — Activity ideas to help imaginations take flight.
  • We’re going on a scavenger hunt — Encourage children to sharpen their powers of discovery and plan their own hunt.
  • Be nice, be kind, be you — Reinforce the messages of being sensitive to others’ feelings and that kindness is never wasted.
  • Blaze a trail — Ideas on connecting with nature, sparking creativity and thinking of others.
  • Be the best BFF — Cultivating friendships helps foster kids’ social-emotional development. The qualities we seek in friends—kindness, positivity and shared interests—are found in friends who  may look like us, or in those who may look different.
  • Celebrate your superpower — This bundle will help your children see themselves as having the ideas and abilities —superpowers, if you will — to do good in the world.
  • Pack a picnic — Menu and game ideas that will let kids show off their creativity.
  • Camp out or camp in — Ideas for making a backyard or living room campground memorable.
  • Welcome to summer — Activity and bonding ideas to promote relaxation, enjoyment and memory making.

Programming to help explain COVID-19 to kids

  • This CNN/Sesame Street town hall offers reminders on how children can help protect themselves against COVID-19.
  • PBS KIDS aired a special episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood that addressed challenges and disappointments children and their families may be facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more here.

Other activities

This article was last updated on September 14, 2020.

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The link between COVID-19 and suicide: What parents should know

By Dr. Meredith Dennis, post-doctoral fellow at CHOC Children’s; and Alva Alvarez and Christopher Reeves, mental health social workers

It is an understatement to say that living through the COVID-19 has been tough. For kids and teens already struggling with mental health issues like depression, their symptoms may have worsened with the added stress of COVID-19. No parent wants to imagine that their child would think about ending their life or hurting themselves in any way, but the reality is that kids and teens are not immune to severe symptoms of depression like suicidal thoughts. Unfortunately, we have seen a negative impact of everything that comes with the COVID-19 pandemic on child and teen mental health, including increased suicidal thoughts. This can raise many questions and concerns for parents. Why is this happening? What can I do about it? How can I make sure my child is safe?

A good place to start as a parent is to be aware of the risk factors for suicide. Among others, here are things that could increase risk for thoughts of suicide:

  • Feeling like a burden. If your child believes they are a burden to people in their life, this increases risk for suicide. Keep in mind that it doesn’t matter whether or not this is actually true. It’s about what your child may mistakenly believe.
  • Being disconnected or isolated from others. No matter how much support you try and give, your child may feel lonely or think no one cares about them. This may be especially true if your child feels they do not have any friends.
  • Repeated engagement in self-harm behaviors or suicide The more your child harms themselves or makes attempts at dying, the “better” they get at it. They are also better able to tolerate pain — studies show they experience less pain with more self-harm —, and become less scared of dying.
  • If your child believes that things will stay this way and not get better, there is greater risk. Again, this is not about what is actually happening, but what your child believes to be true.

The COVID contribution

Our lives are nearly unrecognizable these days amid the COVID-19 pandemic. So many elements have changed as we work together to follow various safety guidelines. From the way we go to school and work to the way we interact with our social groups, this new way of life has vastly transformed our routines. Furthermore, these changes occurred suddenly and without warning. It is no wonder that we are seeing increases in symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as in suicidal and self-harming behaviors. Here are some specific ways COVID-19 may be affecting mental health:

  • Sudden disconnect from peers and support groups outside of the home may increase feelings of isolation while also deterring one’s motivation to seek support, knowing they are unable to interact face to face.
  • Most opportunities we used to enjoy for fun and relaxation have been closed, canceled or restricted. There are limited replacement options. Daily life is now filled with more stress and less fun, making it harder to ignore feelings of loneliness, sadness, worry and hopelessness.
  • Separation from stressful situations within the home may not be possible due to safety precautions. While confined to your home, your child may begin to focus more on their current stressors with little or no distraction from them.
  • A major challenge many families face in these times is financial insecurity or loss of income. Though young, kids and teens are often acutely aware of their parents’ stress. Knowing that parents are worried about finances can increase a youth’s perception of being a burden, and thus increase risk for suicide.
  • Increased exposure to social media and news coverage could lead to increased thoughts and risk of suicide for your teen. Since youth’s activities are severely restricted now, many are spending more time on their screens. This means increased exposure to “doom and gloom” news coverage as well as increased exposure to negative online peer interactions. These things increase hopelessness that the pandemic will ever be resolved and decrease the sense of social connectedness. Increasing suicidal thoughts and behaviors means kids and teens are more frequently exposed to this content online. We know this is a dangerous risk factor for youth suicide.
  • Decreased physical activity along with an increase in screen time may diminish one’s ability to focus throughout the day and negatively affect sleep. Poor sleep and diminished concentration may lead to impaired judgment. This is a recipe for misinterpreting the environment — for example, believing no one cares about them, or feeling like they are a burden.

Accidental adult errors

More often than not, caregivers are doing a great job of reaching out for support and guidance when it comes to a child’s mental health. There are times, however, when adults inadvertently engage in verbal and non-verbal behaviors that can increase or exacerbate risk factors for suicide in children. While these behaviors can be perceived as harmless by adults, to a young person who is already struggling with suicidal thoughts, they can make the difference between ideation and intent. Examples of these behaviors can include:

  • Avoiding conversations about the current state of events, including COVID-19, may accidentally increase distress in youth. This may include avoiding discussing your own thoughts and feelings regarding the impact of COVID-19. Attempting to protect children from the current state of life creates the impression that COVID-19 is too scary to talk about, potentially increasing anxiety or hopelessness about the situation.
  • However, oversharing information — such as financial burdens, parental stress, workload and constant news updates — can also increase suicidal ideation in adolescents by creating what feels like a flood of negative messages that they feel they can’t escape from.
  • Adults sometimes try to help youth feel better by telling them they are overreacting, that things aren’t that bad, or by saying things could be worse. This accidentally increases the intensity of those emotions, leading to escalations of experiences like depression, anxiety and self-harming behaviors.
  • Expecting children and teens to continue functioning at the same pre-COVID-19 levels can place unrealistic pressure on them. Many adults continue to struggle with symptoms of grief related to COVID-19 losses that may be financial, emotional or social.As a result, adults have had to make adjustments to their own expectations for “normal” functioning. Youth also need to know that they are allowed to make adjustments and that not everything needs to be perfect.

Action steps to support children and teens suffering during COVID-19

There are things you can do as a parent, guardian or caregiver to help children and teens who are suffering during this time. Kids are resilient, meaning they have the ability to “bounce back” when difficult things happen. There are also several protective factors to be aware of that are helpful in lowering the chance your child will experience more serious risk. Here are a few ways you can help:

  • Stay connected. With social distancing guidelines in place, it may be difficult to find safe and appropriate ways to keep your child socially engaged that meet your needs. Set up virtual hang-outs with friends, or meet at an outdoor space like a park where social distancing can be maintained if everyone agrees to wear a face covering.
  • Stick to a routine. Maintaining predictability in the day can help your child build structure and have a sense of security. Daily routines also help increase engagement in activities, which can increase feelings of accomplishment and self-confidence, directly reducing things like hopelessness and feeling like a burden.
  • Have a conversation. Setting aside time to talk to your child about how they are feeling is important. Give them a safe space to share their thoughts and feelings. Show them you are there to help by validating them and being supportive. Let them know it’s OK to feel the way they feel and that you will get through it together.
  • Find time for self-care. Keep your child engaged in things they like that are fun and/or relaxing. It works best if you do this with them! Do fun things or a favorite activity, do things you are good at, learn a new skill, and keep them involved in extracurricular activities like sports or clubs if possible.
  • Take care of basic physical needs. A healthy body helps us be as prepared for the daily stresses as possible. Get enough sleep, move your body and eat balanced foods.
  • Limit screen time. Even though our lives revolve almost exclusively around screens, make time to disconnect and seek social connection, fun, relaxation and joy using “old school” ways.
  • Self soothe. We could all use some extra comforting these days. Teach your children to use their physical senses to comfort themselves by listening to relaxing music, finding a soft comfort object such as a blanket or T-shirt, or using a favorite scented candle or lotion.
  • Seek mental health support when needed. If your child seems to be having a pretty hard time and does not already have mental health services like therapy or counseling in place, this would be a great time to start. Medication may also be an option. Talk to your doctor, insurance, or school about where to get connected.
  • Get immediate help if needed. If your child continues to express thoughts about harming themselves or dying, go to the nearest emergency room or call 911.
  • Help your child identify reasons to live. What is important to your child? What are their values and goals? Helping them get connected to these things can be a very powerful way to recognize that they have things in their lives that are important and matter – and that this situation is not going to last forever.
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Celebrate Labor Day safely: Prevent the spread of COVID-19

After months under stay-at-home orders, and summer coming to a close, families are eager to get out of the house, enjoy the warm weather, and connect with friends and loved ones.

While this feeling of restlessness can make it tempting to loosen our adherence to COVID-19 precautions, now is the time to continue doing the things that have helped to slow community transmission. Proper hand-washing, social distancing and wearing face coverings are the best ways to reduce spread of the virus until there is a vaccine for COVID-19.

Labor Day weekend is typically known for end of summer barbecues and pool parties. Although things look different during the COVID-19 pandemic, here are some tips to celebrate the Labor Day weekend safely with your family:

  • Celebrate virtually — Use technology such as FaceTime, Zoom or Skype to enjoy conversation over a meal together, especially if you are celebrating with family members over the age of 65, or those who are immunocompromised and have underlying conditions that put them at greater risk of complications from COVID-19.
  • Dine alfresco – Having a picnic in the backyard is an easy way to enjoy the outdoors and maintain social distancing. You can set up blankets or tables for those who live in the same household 6 feet from others. Be sure to use disposable tableware. Have one person, who is wearing gloves, dish up food onto plates. Or, consider purchasing boxed meals to reduce contact.
  • Wash or sanitize hands frequently — If you are dining in the backyard, you can set up a hand-washing station with a garden hose and soap dispenser. Also, have hand sanitizer made with at least 60% alcohol readily available.
  • Wear face coverings or masks — When not eating or drinking, keep your nose and mouth covered. Have a most creative or most festive mask contest.
  • Take temperatures — Make sure that no one at your gathering has a fever or other symptoms of illness. If you are sick, please stay home and take care of yourself.
  • Limit the size and length of time of your gathering — The more people you have spending time together in close proximity, even in the outdoors, increases the risk of exposure.

If you need medical care during this time, rest assured that it is safe to visit your CHOC pediatrician or a CHOC emergency department. We know it can feel scary and stressful to have a sick child, especially during a pandemic, so here are tips for deciding where to go for care during COVID-19.

It’s important that each of us continues to do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19. This environment has not been easy, and although at times it may feel like there is no end in sight, the truth is that every day we inch closer to the development of a vaccine. We remain hopeful that our lives will return to something far more normal one day soon.

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Back to virtual school: 10 tips to help kids transition after summer break

By Dr. Sabrina Stutz, a pediatric psychologist at CHOC Children’s

As summer break comes to an end, kids and parents alike are faced with an uncertain transition back to school. While many children are starting the school year in a distance learning model, no one knows for sure what kinds of changes might take place in the future. We know that children and families alike can feel frustrated or scared about the transition and the uncertainty of this time. Here are 10 tips to help kids transition back to virtual school and prepare for the uncertainty of the future.

  1. Create a routine. In times of uncertainty, kids have a sense of safety and predictability in structure and routines.
    • Start by making clear bedtimes and wake times that will allow your child to get enough sleep – 9 to 12 hours, depending on their age.
    • Build a morning routine that is similar to the one they were used to with in-person Have your child wake up, eat breakfast, brush their teeth, put on clothes, and do any morning chores needed, such as feeding a pet. This will make sure your child is awake and alert in the mornings and ready for the school day. It also gives you valuable quality time with your child in the morning in which everyone is likely to be in a better mood. By following a morning routine, you are not only setting your child up for school success, but you are also modelling how to build and follow structure in a day.
    • Using your child’s school learning schedule as a guide, schedule out your child’s learning time, brain breaks, lunch, recess and homework time.
    • Schedule home and family time, dinner, active time, relaxation time and a bedtime routine. Be flexible with finding a routine that works for your family in these new circumstances.
    • If following routines is difficult for your child, consider adding in incentives to help them get used to them. For younger kids, a sticker chart and praise for following each step of the routine can be helpful. For older kids, points to earn screen time or allowance for following a new routine can also help motivate them.
    • If your child is distracted by other screens or devices, consider restricting device access until after the school day and homework are complete. In addition, for kids who will already have several hours of screen time during the day for school, support them in finding activities without a screen for their free time, such as playing outside, reading a book or cooking.
    • Build in fun activities into the routine as well, such as family walks or new weekend traditions. These traditions could be getting take-out from your favorite restaurant, playing outdoor games, cooking a new recipe together, or building something like a birdhouse.

2. Designate a learning space: When home and school occur in the same place, it can be easy for kids to get distracted by their favorite toys and activities, wanting to take a nap in their bed, seeing the TV screen, or wanting a snack from the kitchen. By finding and preparing a dedicated learning space for your child, it will help them stay focused on their school work and allow them to experience the separation between learning with play and relaxation time that they had when they were going to school in-person.

    • Locate a quiet space in your home with minimal distractions, good lighting, and sturdy seating. For kids who have a shorter attention span, scope out multiple potential appropriate spaces so that your child has different workstations to associate with different subjects. For example,  a seated location for writing, a comfortable space for reading or a higher countertop for standing while working.
    • Partner with your child to find comfortable positions that support their bodies. Put boxes under a tall chair to provide a footrest for a child whose feet do not hit the ground. If your child has a Zoom call, you can stack books under the laptop to bring the screen to eye level, avoiding neck strain. Just like at work, consider what will make a child’s body the most comfortable, without any strain.
    • If space is a concern in your home, be creative with different workspace solutions. For example, consider a foldable lap desk for couch sitting, or allow your child to kneel on the floor using an ottoman as a desk. Consider using low shelves or folding tables as workstations.
    • It is recommended to avoid bedrooms or lounge areas as learning spaces. Especially avoid having your child work on their bed, as this can disrupt a child’s association with their bed as a place for sleep and rest.

 3. Pre-plan organizational support: At school, teachers can monitor notebooks, desks, backpacks, planners and other things kids use to stay organized. In distance learning, parents can support children by ensuring they stay well-organized throughout the week.

    • If your teacher has recommended an organizational structure, help your child get whatever materials they need such as folders, school supplies or pencil cases. Low-cost alternatives to some popular organizational supplies could include plastic food storage  containers or reusing and decorating cardboard boxes.
    • If your teacher has not recommended an organizational structure, build one together with your child. Help them have a separate space to put their work for each subject, divided into completed work versus work that still needs to be done. For typed work, you can also help model for a child how to have different folders on their laptop for each subject.
    • Become familiar with your child’s virtual learning platform and support them in understanding how to integrate that platform with the physical organizational structure they have at home.
    • At the end of each school day, review with your child what they completed and what they still have left to do. Help them set up their workspace for the following day so that they can start the next day with success.

4. Test-drive the technology and review online safety: With more education occurring online, kids are using the internet more often to find resources for assignments, or to pass the time if distracted during the school day. Now is a great time to ensure you are familiar with the technology they are using and review internet safety.

    • Test out your child’s technology and see if they can maintain a good connection on their platforms in a variety of likely scenarios — another child in the home also has a Zoom call, or a parent needs to give a work presentation while the kids are engaged in distance learning.
    • Review your house rules on internet use and consequences for breaking those rules. Revisit your parental controls for screen time use and content.
    • Have a conversation with your child about common pitfalls of internet use including clicking on spam links, downloading content, cyberbullying and predators, and social media sharing.
    • Keep computers and laptops in common areas of the house so adults can monitor internet use.

5. Partner with your child’s teachers: While this transition to distance learning is an adjustment for families, it is also a major change for teachers! By collaborating and partnering with your child’s teacher, you can find creative ways to engage your child in learning and communicate successes and areas for problem solving.

    • Become familiar with the teacher’s expectations for your child’s progress and learning. Since children learn at different paces, it can be helpful to consult your teacher regarding options for additional enrichment or modifications that can support children with learning disabilities.
    • If you are concerned your child is spending all their free time on homework, having difficulty tolerating extended screen time, or struggling to understand the concepts provided, contact your teacher to see what suggestions they have.
    • If your child has a 504 plan or Individualized Education Program (IEP), stay connected to their special education teacher or case manager to help problem-solve how to make material more accessible for your child’s ability level in a distance learning format.

6. Make flexible back-up plans: Be prepared for something to go wrong in your distance learning plans, and stay flexible with changing the plan if it is not working for your family.

  • Create a plan with your family about what to do if technology fails, such as a power outage or device running out of battery . Will the child try to log back in on a different device? Or call in, instead? Who will communicate with the teacher to find the information the child needs to catch up?
  • Talk about plans for a child missing a live class.  Decide how the child will find out the necessary information for the class they missed, by contacting a friend for notes, emailing the teacher, asking for extra credit, or another way. Consider consequences for older children who miss live classes and help them problem-solve how to ensure attendance in the future.
  • Consider alternative childcare arrangements if a parent is unexpectedly called in to work on-site or needs to tend to another family member.

7. Find ways to enrich learning: Kids learn best through using a variety of learning approaches. Look for opportunities to enrich their learning at home and in your community.

  • Some kids benefit from hands-on learning. Get creative and partner with your teacher to find ways to use common household objects to help support your kid’s learning. This could look like breaking up crackers to teach fractions, using ice cube trays for sorting or teaching measurement through baking.
  • Find documentaries or educational programming that elaborate on what your child is learning about in school, or what they are interested in learning about.
  • Consider what kinds of physically distanced field trips you can incorporate into a child’s curriculum to help make their education come alive. Some ideas are: bringing art supplies to a local park and painting the clouds, collecting leaves or going to a local farm to pick fruit. You can also take virtual field trips to places like aquariums, zoos and planetariums.

8. Be creative about maintaining social connection: One of the aspects of in-person school that parents can supplement in distance learning is social connection and skills development.

  • Encourage regular virtual contact with other youth that the child knows from school or the neighborhood. Some children, even middle schoolers, are not yet experts in starting social relationships and may need their parents’ help with organizing virtual playdates or online communications.
  • Consider building social encounters that would normally happen in person into your child’s virtual schedule. Some teens might enjoy doing homework after school while on a video call with a friend.
  • Look for online groups or clubs put on by the school or community centers to capitalize on your child’s passions.
  • Although physical activities are still important, limit in-person time with other children and connect virtually if possible. Before engaging in any physically distant activities, ensure your child is up-to-date on well-child visits and immunizations. Parents should follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding potential in-person playdates.
  1. Teach kids to cope with uncertainty: Many families do not know how long distance learning will be in place. Parents can support their children in developing resiliency to be able to tolerate unknowns about the future by focusing on the here and now.
    • Praise your child for all the bravery they are showing by trying a new way of schooling, for communicating their concerns to you, for problem-solving in a less-than-ideal situation, and for trying hard to adjust to distance learning. The more parents let kids know they are proud of them, the more the child will persevere and keep trying different solutions to find balance in theirs and their family’s lives.
    • Periodically, check in on your child’s mental health by asking how they feel and monitoring their sleep, appetite, motivation, and school performance. If you have concerns about your child’s mental wellbeing, contact your pediatrician or some of the resources listed below.
    • Here are additional tips from CHOC pediatric psychologists on:

 10. Ask for help: No one was given a manual on how to help their children cope with a global pandemic, all while coping with it themselves, managing their own work or finances, and supporting their kids’ education at home! It takes a village, and it is OK to ask for help or tap other resources to support you and your family through this time.

    • Reach out to your child’s teacher or school counselor if they are not adjusting well to distance learning or are struggling to keep up. To your comfort level, share with them any additional factors that might be contributing to your child’s needs – these could be family separations or disruptions in custody agreements, financial problems, an ill family member, lack of school supplies, a sibling who is distracting in the home. They may be able to help find creative solutions.
    • Be realistic about what kind of support you can or cannot provide during work hours. If you are concerned about engaging your child in distance-learning, consult your child’s teacher about schedules and other support. In pre-COVID times, grandparents or nannies were often a source of support to children while spending periods of time at home. The nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has made mixing households risky, and families may want to re-consider their typical avenues of support.
    • If you become concerned about your child’s mental health, contact your primary care physician. You can also call your insurance company for a list of in-network mental health professionals or search online. You can also contact any of the resources below.

Resources

  • CHOC’s mental health toolkit has resources for parents, kids and teens, and schools.
  • Helplines
    • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) Disaster Distress Helpline
      • Toll-Free: 1-800-985-5990 (English and Español)
      • SMS: Text TalkWithUs to 66746
      • SMS (español): “Hablanos” al 66746
      • TTY: 1-800-846-8517
      • Website — English | Website — Español
    • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
    • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741-741
    • Orange County Crisis Assessment Team: 866-830-6011
  • Helpful apps
    • Woebot: a cognitive behavior therapy-based artificial intelligence self-care app designed by psychologists at Stanford University.
    • Headspace: A mindfulness app for everyday life
    • Calm: A sleep, meditation and relaxation app
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