Supporting students’ social needs during Distance Learning and beyond

August 11, 2020

Starting the year in Distance Learning has been a challenge our entire community is rising to meet together. It has been a joy to see how our students have connected with teachers and friends again. Their smiles are contagious and their energy is high!

Many parents wrote to us about this social connection in the first week of school, sharing their enthusiasm (and relief!) at how happy their children are to see their friends again.

Naturally, parents worry about how they can keep kids connected during isolation, and build their social and emotional skills while dealing with the fears of too much screen time and months of not interacting with peers in person.  While distance learning is not equal to in-person socialization, it does bring social opportunities, especially for kids who have felt lonely or disconnected over the school break.

But many parents are asking us, “What more can we do to support our kids socially and emotionally at home?”. Here are a few recommended tips to support your children at home:

Tip #1: Try (Virtual) Teamwork or Play

Supervised online playdates, game nights, and social events using technology platforms can get kids collaborating together and playing online.

Tip #2: Daily Check-Ins

Checking in with daily conversations,  journaling, or writing to name feelings and talk about what kids like about the specific people they miss is one way to connect offline.

Tip #3: Validate Your Child’s Feelings

Acknowledging children’s’ feelings with statements such as, ‘I know this must be hard for you,’ helps children feel seen, heard and understood.

Tip #4: Add an Activity

Helping your child research or explore a new hobby, passion, or idea to learn online outside of schoolwork can generate excitement for new interests.

Tip #5: Get Kids to Talk!

Guiding children to talk about how they are feeling and helping to name and identify emotions gives a sense of control and teaches children they are capable of managing their emotions.

Tip #6: Foster Independence

Help your child gain confidence in their growing independence, encouraging them to come up with strategies for combating social isolation together. Praise your child’s newly developed abilities in distance learning and connecting with peers.

While social isolation is a challenge for everyone, children are remarkably adaptable and resilient. Together, parents and school community members need to be vigilant in observing the expected behavioral changes and difficulties children might be having during this time.

Finding intentional ways to support children to build their core social and emotional skills at home is possible at home with parents, siblings, pets, or new ways of connecting with peers online.  Making time for these experiences is a fantastic way of supporting students’ social and emotional development, in partnership with what we are doing at EARJ in terms of community, connection, and confidence this year.

Interested in reading more?

Common Sense Media: Online Playdates and More

Coronavirus Isolation: How to Help Children Feel a Little Less Lonely

Expert Advice: Keeping kids social at home during lockdown

Kirstin White
Barra Lower School Principal

Learn how to say ‘No’

June 3, 2020

It is hard as a parent to say NO to your children in normal situations, but with all that is going on in the world, it is even harder.  There are many books on the market that help teach parents to say no.  David Walsh wrote a book called No: Why Kids – of All Ages – Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say and I had a parent group read it in the past.  It was interesting to hear parent stories about how hard it was to say no to your child.

We have all been at the store when your child asks you to buy something like a candy bar.  It is hard to say no, but there are times when we must.  Saying no doesn’t mean that you are a bad parent and students need to learn that they can’t have everything.  I wrote before about giving my daughter control over her money and it really helped with not having her ask me for everything.  She now has to decide if she wants to spend money on the candy she sees or save it for the iPhone she wants.  This will be a great skill to have when she is older.

We are hearing from parents that they are struggling to get students to work and stay off video games and youtube.  Some adults are struggling to stay off of Facebook or other social media sites.  It is OK for you to make a rule that there can be no technology used for pleasure until school work is done.  We use this rule in our home and it seems to work well.  It was hard to get started, but it was worth it!

One other problem we are hearing about from parents is students struggling with issues relating to technology used at night or on the weekends.  Many students are online using apps and social media sites that are age-restricted above their age.  Some even have their accounts open to the public and can be viewed by anyone.  Why do we as parents allow them to use these sites?  Here are some examples:

Facebook – Age 13

Instagram – Age 13

Whatsapp – Age 13

WeChat – Age 18 [age were considered a minor] (13 and older with parental approval)

Youtube – Age 18 (13 and older  with parental approval)

TikTok – Age 18  (16 and older  with parental approval)

Most of these restrictions are set by US law through the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and are designed to keep children safe.  Some children are not ready to deal with the content or the interactions associated with having these accounts.  Many times when I have met with parents and students about their online behavior, parents tell me they either didn’t know there was an age restriction or they just couldn’t say no.  Every parent should spend some time on the Commons Sense Media website to see what you can do to support your child.

Take a few minutes and go into one of your online accounts now and look at your photos.  Could someone find you?  Could they find your child?  Did you ask your child if you could post their photos?  Are there things in the background or is there writing on your clothing that might indicate where you are or where they might find you?  Are you OK with others knowing this information?  If not, check your privacy settings.  You would be amazed at how many people have their accounts with no restrictions on them.  Please watch this video about Sharenting. Have you asked your child if you can post their image?  I just did this with my daughter and her graduation photos.  We sat down together and discussed which ones could be shared.

I am telling you now that you as parents can say NO.  Your child needs you to say NO.  If you have already opened the door for these online apps, you might want to sit down together and look at the privacy settings.  You could also talk about how your child is using social media and what they should do if they get into a situation that makes them feel uncomfortable.  I speak from experience that this is not easy, but remember, you are not alone in this struggle.  Good luck!

Nate Swenson
Gávea Lower School Principal

What have these 6 weeks at home changed in you already?

April 28, 2020


If you go to any social media channel right now, there are countless live sessions about “how society will look when quarantine ends”: economists, psychologists, sociologists, “digital influencers”… you name it. Everyone wants to have a best guess on how long it will take to have the economy back on track, how education will be changed, how will relationships between countries differ.

There are so many questions, and so many people guessing, that it can easily lead many of us to anxiety and frustration. And the honest truth is that nobody actually knows, for sure, what lies ahead of us. If you think 4 months back to your New Year’s Eve hopes for 2020, did you imagine you would be wiping supermarket items, or wearing medical masks to go out, or that you would be celebrating birthdays online? Probably not. Yet here we are, doing all those things and so many others that would have been considered unbelievable just a few months ago. The year 2020 has been the “plan to be surprised” year, for sure.

So, instead of getting anxious about the uncertain, what we can do now is to evaluate how these past 6 weeks have changed our lives, deep inside. Our relationships with our families, our coworkers, and as members of the broader society. I have been trying to do this exercise, and I am happy to say that a smile often comes to my face. Of course, I am, like everyone else, overwhelmed with the multiple tasks I have. And yes, 95% of the time it is exhausting, and I can only hope for this to be over soon. But at the same time, some great moments that were put aside before, do happen.

During the holiday, playing board games and cards for hours with my family was one of the best moments I had this year. When you have 4 kids and step kids in a range between 10 to 28 years old, it is not usual to have everyone together at home on a holiday, unless it is a celebration. There is always one out at a friend’s house, at a party, at the beach… The question “why don’t you stay home playing board games and cards with mom and dad on a sunny holiday” is absolutely outrageous in normal days. But yes, we did that. And we had a blast! Time flew by with all of us laughing so hard, having so much fun. The interesting thing is that it also brought me great memories of playing those exact same games when I was a kid with my sisters, cousins, and friends. And how grateful I am to have lived that, back then and now. So how about we make these kinds of memories our lasting memories in 20 years from now?

We might also like to consider which are the rituals we have established during the past 6 weeks that we would like to continue after quarantine ends with our families, our teams, our society. That is something that is totally up to us.

Cris Conforto
Director of Advancement