Special Assurance in Unusual Times

Getting 2-year-old Ellie to wear a mask was easier than expected. After watching her parents and brother wear them, she was excited to don this year’s most on-trend fashion accessory.

If you are like me, you have exhausted all of Pinterest looking for sensory-friendly, educational activities while at home social distancing. Whether or not your kids are back in school this fall, parenting during the pandemic is hard. This is new territory; every decision seems impossible and there is even more added for us to teach our little ones who just don’t always understand.

While I have no new crafts or activities to offer, I did talk to Karye Brockert, director of education at Easterseals Academy at Riverdale who has some tips on keeping kids with special needs safe and happy during the last few months of the year:

• Children can pick up on parental stress and anxiety, so it is important to model to your child that you can remain calm while being informed and taking safety precautions.

 Discuss the new “rules” such as social distancing, and why those rules are important. Talk to them about when and where these rules apply. For example, while we may socially distance in public, we probably won’t do that at home with our families.

• Use social stories — brief descriptions using visuals — to help your child know the steps for washing hands, wearing a mask and social distancing.

• Try to stay positive. Talk to your kids about the changes at school. Explain the purpose behind them and show that you support those changes to keep kids safe. This will help your child do the same.

• Model appropriate and expected behavior such as wearing masks, washing hands and socially distancing.

 If in-person school isn’t right for your family, communicate with your child’s therapists to discuss teletherapy options. They can give you ideas and suggestions on how to work with your child. Have realistic expectations given the circumstances. These are not normal times.

• It can often be scary for a child to wear a mask. Some ideas to help them would be to let your child pick out their mask. Allow them to choose the fabric and color or even decorate it. This might give them a sense of control over the situation. Practice wearing the mask by starting at home for short periods of time while doing fun activities. Try using pretend play by having them put a mask on their favorite stuffed animal.

Most importantly, be a mask role model!

Brockert’s overarching advice to get us all through is this: “Communication is key. It’s important for you to talk to your child about the virus using simple language that is appropriate for their developmental level. Be honest and factual while being aware of their ability to process and understand the situation.”

Heather Honaker is circus ringleader for three kids 4 and under — two typical, one not, but they all think they are special. You can follow along as the messiness unfolds around her family by reading the Typically Not Typical blog.

Originally published in the September 2020 issue of Little Rock Family.

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