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Distance learning is so different from traditional schooling for obvious reasons (peer interactions, educational tools, recess) and comes with its own set of challenges for parents and nannies alike, including behavioral problems regarding school work. Luckily we have some tips for starting the school year off on the right foot to help increase motivation in your children!

 

 

BEFORE THE SCHOOL YEAR STARTS

Do your best to replicate a traditional school environment at home by giving your child breaks often and scheduling time for them to safely socialize with friends or peers. How long could they sit and attend distance learning in the Spring before they lost focus or got off task? Use this as your baseline. Start the year off by giving them breaks just under that amount of time and as time goes on, slowly increase the amount of time they are working.

Your school will likely provide you with a daily schedule. Before the school year begins, help your children adapt by working on your daily morning routine. You can use visual cue cards for creating your own morning / daily schedule so kids know what to expect.

Take time to deepen your relationship with your child. If you or your nanny are handling homeschooling, chances are your children will begin to associate you with tests or school work. For now, try to spend most of your interactions with your children doing positive playful activities. Get to know their interests (they can change weekly or even day-to-day!) and spend quality time together doing those things. That way when you do ask them to do something, they’ll be more likely to cooperate.

Additionally, check out our list of suggestions for setting up your learning space for success!

WHAT IS POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT?

Positive reinforcement is what is given after a behavior that will make that behavior more likely to happen again. For kids, this could be anything from a high-five to a special planned activity. Whatever it may be, it must be meaningful to your child. Take the time to get to know what your child likes and what they are motivated by. If you don’t know, ask! Children will happily volunteer this information.
It’s important to note that rewards should only follow desired behavior and not to turn a negative behavior around (i.e.: bribing) which will create a power struggle between you and your little ones.
We can sometimes put a lot of demands on our children at one time (“Log into school, don’t forget to submit your math work, start your science project, come eat lunch”). Remember to ease up on your demands and start with one easy, low effort task at a time before bringing in more challenging ones.
Clearly explain the action that is being reinforced so your child understands what is expected. For example, if they’ve cleaned up after an art activity or returned an item to its appropriate place you could say, “Wow! Thank you so much for putting your crayons away! That was awesome!
When you set this precedent for your kids, they will begin to understand the concept that when they follow directions, their world gets better. When you give frequent praise for the little things, they begin to associate those good feelings with the praise they receive, and thus are more willing to put more effort in later!
TOKEN ECONOMY FOR GOOD BEHAVIOR
You can create a token system to encourage positive behavior and eventually they can exchange those tokens for rewards! Decide on the target behaviors and let your child know what behaviors you want to see beginning with easy attainable goals. You want your child to succeed and receive tokens frequently! Be specific and descriptive (for example, a target behavior may be that your child sits and engages with their teacher/class for 5 minutes without getting up and walking away from the computer). You can even make this into a fun activity where you role play with examples and non-examples, giving your child the opportunity to correct you!
Next think of your token system. Tokens can be just about anything, from a marble or pom-pom jar, to play money, to puzzle pieces. If your child’s goal is a single item or activity, determine how many tokens they need to receive the reward (3-10-20 tokens). You can also create a token menu, with a variety of rewards with varying costs (ie: 5 tokens for an impromptu dance party or 20 tokens as part of a 20-piece puzzle). If you’re working with more than one child or siblings, you’ll want to be sure the incentive is motivating for everyone.
Immediate positive reinforcement could look like:
  • Praise or compliments
  • High-fives
  • Bubbles
  • A silly dance
  • A token for a token reward
Token reinforcement ideas:
  • Delayed bedtime routine by a certain number of minutes
  • Dance party
  • Print out a new coloring page
  • Gets to choose the next day’s dinner or breakfast
  • Nail painting
  • Afternoon at the park
  • Slip ‘n slide
  • Set up / build a train track or Lego project
  • Child gets to be “DJ” during free time
  • Sprinklers
  • Playing a favorite video or board game together
  • Baking cupcakes or cookies together
  • Making slime or play dough together
  • Let the tokens be pieces to a new Lego set or puzzle and when they’ve earned them all they can have/you can build it together

 

WHAT ARE PROBLEM BEHAVIORS?

Problem behaviors are undesirable behaviors such as eye rolling, throwing objects, hitting, etc. It’s important to remember that a child’s amygdala, the area of the brain that controls one’s ability to reason, is not yet fully developed. When children go into fight-or-flight mode, it inhibits their ability to think rationally.

Typically we see a child’s negative behavior for two reasons: they’re either trying to escape (ie: they don’t want to do what is being asked of them) or they’re wanting something tangible (ie: they are trying to access your attention or an item). When a child exhibits negative behavior it could mean that the demands are too high or reinforcement is too low. They may need more brain breaks from school, more positive reinforcement, or more tokens.

When problem behaviors occur, think about what happened before (was your child pulling on their ear as a sign of frustration, or maybe fidgeting more than usual?), identify the problem behavior (the child flung their body on the floor or threw an item across the room) and what happened immediately after (did you maybe reinforce the behavior by giving them 5 more minutes to play?).

When these behaviors happen, take some time for each of you to cool off. Withdraw your attention, but don’t scold, lecture or nag. Remove any toys or items that they can entertain themselves with so they can focus on the task at hand. Occupy yourself with something your child thinks would be fun (ie: blowing bubbles or doing a puzzle). When they come to you and express interest in doing that thing or ask you for something, redirect them to their work and let them know once they finish the task you can enjoy the activity together.

If you suspect your child needs help, you can prompt them to ask for it and follow through by assisting them with what they need. Alert your child’s teacher if they are struggling and see if they can modify the work to better suit your child’s needs.

REFLECT

After all is said and done, start with a clean slate. Remember your child is trying to learn, their brains are growing and they might not have the ability or words to communicate their needs and are likely just overwhelmed. Keep an eye out for precursor behaviors before kids shut down or have a tantrum. Reinforce them when you see signs of frustration.

Continue to reflect on what works and what doesn’t and readjust accordingly. After all, it’s a learning process!