Tips for parents with distance-learning kids

Posted on February 16, 2021 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Getting kids involved in making small gestures of caring and nurturing, and away from screens and electronics, is a great way to focus on positivity.

By Leslie Nicholson | Sonoma Valley Sun

Turning the calendar to February this year means we are one month closer to the official one-year mark of when our lives were all flipped upside down by the pandemic. It will also mark a year of distance learning for our kids. The rough patches we have all hit seem to blur together and we carry on, because, what else can we do?

As people talk about the “long haul” of the pandemic, we need to find ways to keep our families moving forward. The biggest challenge that continues to face the majority of parents is having their kids in distance learning or independent study while at home.

Hand-To-Hand Certified Parenting Instructor Heidi Russell, and Kimmy Peterson, MTF, Sonoma Valley Family Therapy, are facing the same challenges that other parents are facing. The two participated in a recent Zoom Event hosted by R.I.S.K.-Sonoma (Resources, Information, Support and Knowledge).

Both experts offered practical and emotionally healthy ways for parents to look at what is going on with their kids. But they paired their suggestions with a clear message to parents that it is not something that should take place without parent-to-parent support.

“Parents are also going through a lot right now and need to give themselves space to connect with other parents,” explained Russell. “Bad moments will happen. They need to take the pressure off themselves and their kids by planning ‘mental health days’ to do fun things and put aside their daily routine. We all need to refill our cups during a time when it is easy for our cups to be emptied very easily.”

Russell’s focus is on toddler-to-fifth grade children. “We are in a time when we are more connected with family than we have ever been. The young children in our lives are dealing with big feelings due to the unusual circumstances that we are in,” she explained. “Listening and connecting are the most important thing we as parents can do right now. Look at this time as a perfect opportunity to spend time building relationships with your kids. That safe place you build now will prove to be helpful long after the pandemic is over.” 

While younger children act out because they aren’t able to express their feelings, older children tend to isolate, pull away, and turn to social media and friends.

“For older students missing important milestones in high school, especially seniors, there is a lot of grief and loss,” Peterson says. “When there is supposed to be so much excitement in their lives about the future, our older students may be experiencing heavy emotions that also require parents to work with them to step back and honor their feelings.”

Peterson emphasizes the need for all kids to have a built-in time for physical activity to help them to decompress and release positive serotonin. “That could be as simple as running around the backyard or doing a family Fit-Bit challenge where you record your steps for the day.”

Practicing empathy is key, Russell and Peterson believe. “Look for the opportunities to show empathy. It doesn’t mean allowing for bad behavior. It just means that you are validating your kids’ feelings when they are feeling anxious or having a tough time,” said Russell. “It normalizes what they are going through and there is nothing wrong with letting them know that you are also having a tough time. Parents are going through a lot right now as well and with job losses, reduced hours, and financial worries, they are balancing a lot.”

Turning down the volume is one of the best ways to reduce feelings that you and your kids are feeling overwhelmed. “Kids can’t analyze like adults,” explained Peterson. “So, turn off the news, turn up the music, and have a dance party if you can. Remove the messages of negativity that are swirling around us and spend time rebuilding connections. That might be a Zoom Call to relatives or friends. Or spending more time taking walks.”

Getting kids involved in making small gestures of caring and nurturing, and away from screens and electronics, is a great way to focus on positivity.

Examples of such activities are starting a journal that gets passed between circles of friends. Kids can color pictures and write letters to their friends and then the journal can be dropped off on a friend’s porch; others then can look forward to the journal circling back around to them. Baking and delivering cookies is also a fun, immersive project.

Also important: providing plenty of fresh food and water for kids during the day. Matching that with positive reinforcement is a good way to set a positive tone. “Just saying things like, ‘Wow! You sat through that whole class!’ added Peterson, “Small rewards and acts of kindness can go a long way in showing how you support your kids.”

Kimmy Peterson is located in Sonoma and can be reached at or 707-931-9292. Heidi Russell is a Certified Parent Instructor with Hand-to-Hand Parenting, a world-wide non-profit. More information about Heidi and her parenting classes are on her website at




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