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the left half showing a mother helping her daughter at a table, the second half showing a father and son reading together

Ask Dr. Shaffer Q&A

Q&A with Dr. Shaffer

photo Seth Shaffer

Each week Dr. Shaffer answers the questions that readers like you submit. Read on for some practical parenting strategies to assist you and your family to get through these challenging times

Have questions for Dr. Shaffer? Ask them here.


My child does not do well with online classes. How can I help my child?
Many children struggle with online learning, so your child is not alone.

Setting reasonable expectations for your child’s learning and remaining open-minded due to the current circumstances is important. Your expectations will depend on the age of your children, learning styles, internet capability, work schedules, special needs, language proficiency, and the information and relationship that you have with your child’s school. It is very possible that children across the nation will have a tough time staying on track to meet academic requirements this coming school year. Set manageable goals for YOUR child, and try to keep him or her motivated to learn. Success is more likely if educators and families work together in the best interest of children and schools ensure that every child is learning and preparing for successful careers and lives. I would suggest you also consider the following.

  1. If you are unsure about the status of your child’s school re-opening plan then I recommend you contact them as soon as possible. Email your child’s Principal and school counselor to find out more information about the school’s plan for Fall 2020. I’d also call the school administrator/secretary, and leave messages until someone calls you back. In the meantime, you can also go to the school district’s website. The school re-opening plan should be online.Here is MAEC’s website, which has helpful information for parents related to COVID-19 and Equity.
  2. Once you connect with someone at the school, explain to them that your child has been struggling with online learning. Ask them what strategies and instructional support they have available. If you hit a “dead end” then consider obtaining special accommodations for your child through the school counselor or district special education/psychology department that handles accommodations.Here is a link that provides information about three federal laws (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) that outline your child’s education-related rights in the context of meeting the criteria for a disability. Contact your child’s school counselor for more information about seeking an Individualized Education Plan or 504 Plan for your child.
  3. Depending on the age of your child, consider these general tips for helping your child with online learning:
    1. Make sure they get a good night sleep, maintain a healthy diet, and get daily exercise (1 hour, break a sweat).
    2. Have your child follow a regular school routine by waking up early enough to wash their face, eat breakfast, brush their teeth, and get dressed before school starts.
    3. Try to have your child attend their online class in a quiet place where there is little to no distractions.
  4. If your child has a tough time focusing during the online class, consider having them do the following:
    1. Take sips of water during class.
    2. Take notes.
    3. Stand up once in a while and stretch while staying in front of the screen—have your child ask for permission from the teacher before doing this.
    4. Have something to keep their hands busy like Silly Putty ( or similar AS LONG AS IT DOESN’T DISTRACT THEM MORE (or “get them in trouble” with their teacher).
    5. In-between classes, have your child get a breath of fresh air outside (with a mask on, socially distancing, and have them wash their hands for 20 seconds when they re-enter your home), and move his or her body to “get the blood flowing” (e.g., take a walk).
  5. If your child gets overwhelmed by in-class assignments then encourage them to write questions down or raise their hand and ask their teacher. Your child can also highlight questions or problems they don’t understand, and they can ask you questions when you’re done with work. If your child’s teacher has office hours or individual tutorials then encourage your child to take advantage of these opportunities.
  6. Encourage peer-to-peer learning. It helps both students achieve academically and can reduce social isolation.
  7. Set manageable expectations for your child, be patient with them, and let them know that they are not the only one having a tough time with online learning.
  8. Triage what is important to your family’s overall well-being. Here is my family’s list in order of importance:
    1. Emotional stability and coping/problem-solving skills
    2. Maintaining physical health
    3. Staying socially connected in safe ways
    4. Academics

Finally, know that you are doing the best you can for your child. Children are resilient and will follow your example in trying to meet the demands and challenges of this pandemic.

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How do I keep my kids active during the COVID-19 pandemic?
A good overall approach is to create a daily routine for staying active with your entire family. These routines provide a great opportunity to engage in activities together and for parents/caretakers to model the importance of physical activity. Creating the routine can be the hardest part, because you may encounter resistance from your child (or children). If you follow through with this routine, and set this as an expectation for the entire family, your children will more likely “fall in line,” making it easier to maintain the activities. For example, have a daily “family workout” routine that includes everyone in the family, maybe before dinner or at another convenient time. You can make it fun by everyone putting an idea in a jar or cup, and a member of the family closing their eyes and picking out a fun active, activity for the day. You can take turns each day. This allows for everyone’s choices to be considered.

Here are some ideas for staying active:

  • Daily walk (walking meetings might be a great opportunity to talk with your kids)
  • Bike ride
  • Jogging or running
  • Catch and kick
  • Jumping rope
  • Gardening (at home or working in public gardens, safely)
  • Nature walk (try to excite your child by setting a goal, “scavenger hunt style,” such as, “We have to find five gray rocks.” Ask your child questions about what they see and look up the type of tree or flower on your phone WITH them). These questions vary with the age of your child.
  • Hopscotch (maybe your child can use chalk in front of your home or building in a safe place and create their own Hopscotch—people passing by can enjoy it, too, which can make your child feel good)
  • 7min workout (there are available Apps you can buy OR, better yet, look it up on Youtube and find a free one, e.g. Physical Activities for Kids: Get Active at Home! 10 Fun Daily Exercises for Kids To Do At Home, 20 Min Activities for Kids to Get Stronger- YouTube-Little Sports)
  • Build your own workout
  • Obstacle course in a local park (if it’s open and not crowded)
  • Dance parties (Another great way to embarrass yourself in front of your kids!)
  • Video games that involve dancing.

*If you or your child are being active outside, and there is the potential to be around others outside of your family, be sure to follow social distancing guidelines, mask wearing, hand washing, and staying away from large crowds. Consult your local public health department website and/or the CDC website for guidance.

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What do I tell my teenager when his peers don’t seem to care about social distancing?

Now more than ever safety is a concern as soon as you leave your apartment or home. As parents, we must be nurturing and demonstrate compassion toward our children, while being vigilant in keeping our children safe. This is also a time to encourage community responsibility. Helping your teen connect with caring about others and showing compassion are invaluable life lessons, even if this means looking “uncool” in front of their peers. This is an important time for you as parents/caretakers to model empathy and self-advocacy for your children. Remember that even if your child shrugs off what you say or doesn’t seem to care, deep down they hear you and watch your behavior. Learn more about how to approach this conversation with your teen.

Social Distancing: Remind your teen that social distancing demonstrates care and compassion toward others. It also keeps them safe. Yes, we’ve heard from medical professionals that young people are often asymptomatic and transmit the illness with less frequency, but this is apparently not always the case, especially for teens. Sharing the facts with them provides an important context for social distancing. This is an opportunity to help increase their empathy and responsibility toward others. It helps to use a personal example that they can relate to in order to clarify this safety measure. For example, if they have an elderly grandparent or relative, ask them how they would feel if something bad happened to them. Would they want someone to take a chance with those they care about? This relatable example can help your child practice empathy and make wise choices.

Wearing Masks: Your teen might feel embarrassed to be “the only one” wearing a mask around their friends, but it is important to remind your teen what public health officials are telling us about the coronavirus. Small measures make a big difference in their lives and the lives of others. Wearing masks and social distancing are two of the most important contributions we can make to stopping the spread of the virus. Be sure to check with your local public health department, and the CDC website ( to obtain the facts about COVID-19. Since your child is a teenager, they can research reliable information and statistics with you.

Developmental Considerations: Developmentally, teenagers can be “rebellious” as they attempt to form their own identity. This is especially true in their reactions to rules that you put into place. If their friends are not behaving safely, this may pose a conflict for them because they also want to fit in with their peer group. It can be challenging for them to “stand out” amongst friends and go against the grain. Plus, socializing is usually a major part of their lives. Many people (young children, teens, and adults) are stressed out by the social limitations due to the coronavirus. As parents, we can be empathetic, but also set limits for their own safety. Remember that until they become young adults, teens do not always consider the consequences of their actions.

Family Values: It is important to continue instilling values in your children starting from a very young age. If these values are explicit, when you get “push back” or attitude from them as teens, there is already a seed in that has been nurtured throughout their young lives. The values of making wise (safe) choices, showing compassion toward others, and communicating feelings will be part of their routine. And, it’s never too late to instill new values! In addition, admit mistakes (omissions) you may have made as a parent or caregiver. Admitting mistakes also offer important life lessons and deepen the connection with your teen.

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How do you break down information about COVID-19 for those with special needs?

For special needs children, parents and caretakers know best as to how to explain new situations and concepts. Explaining COVID-19 is difficult for any child to understand, but there are ways to break down the information, depending on the child’s abilities and age. What we do know is COVID-19 has meant a drastic change from children’s daily routine, and talking with them will help them feel supported by you. The pandemic also has put a tremendous strain on parents when many of the supports are not available. So, again, make sure you take care of yourself. Generally, I suggest using visual aids and simple language to get your message across, modeling how to take safety precautions, and, most importantly understanding the particular needs of your child can be a place to start. Consider the following:

  1. Visual aids. Use pre-screened videos, photos, and power point presentations with pictures. There are visual aids in comic book style, using animation, and super heroes to demonstrate how to wear masks and to explain the pandemic. Consider using action figures or dolls that the child is interested in to demonstrate COVID-19 and its health implications.
  2. Explain why things are different. Keep explanations simple. Try to use examples that are familiar. If they know what it means to be “healthy,” “sick” or have a “cold” then use those familiar examples when telling them about COVID-19.
  3. Model and roleplay. Narrate what you are doing when you put on a mask and say why. Practice having your child wash their hands for 20 seconds. And if they like music, consider pairing a 20 second snippet from their favorite song with hand washing. This way, they will associate the song with hand washing, and wash their hands for the recommended 20 seconds.
  4. Consider researching resources for special needs children.
    Autism Certification Center. Now offering a FREE online course through August 1st, 2020.
    Autism Speaks. Consider browsing their website for helpful information and resources.
    SPAN Parent Advocacy Network. SPAN offers various resources on navigating your child’s special education needs.

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How do I help my child prepare for virtual learning or a “hybrid” (in person-virtual blended) learning approach when they go back to school in the fall?

There is much uncertainty about what the new school year will look like this fall. There are no easy solutions. State departments of education and local educational agencies are working diligently to develop plans that are safe for your children. The goal will be to drive as much risk down as possible. Given these circumstances, all of us need to be prepared to manage this new “normal” of schooling.

As parents and caretakers, the best that you can do is to be open and flexible, and model this behavior for your children as we approach new sets of challenges. Many districts are holding focus groups with parents and conducting surveys about how best to open schools. Now is the time to get involved and make sure your voices are heard. Learn more about the considerations for re-entering school, try to maintain a consistent routine for your children, get comfortable with school technology, and regularly communicate with your child’s school.

  1. Focus on yourself FIRST. I am reading and hearing that many school districts are still undecided about whether they will conduct school in person or offer some kind of blended learning approach (online and in person). BOTH approaches will affect parents’ ability to work due to childcare needs. So, start planning NOW with your job! If you can work partially from home (or have a flexible work schedule), try to make arrangements with your employer. If your job is less flexible, try to make childcare arrangement plans now to prepare for the fall.
  2. Continue to have your child engage in a daily routine. During these uncertain times, it is particularly helpful (emotionally and behaviorally) for children (and adults) to maintain some control and predictability in our lives. Wake your children up at a certain time every day, get daily exercise, have meals together as a family, take daily walks outside, and do something “fun” together. Consider being more lenient with screen time, while still setting limits on the amount of time your child spends on a screen. And, like having a certain time for your children to wake up, also have a consistent bedtime. Facilitate your child having FaceTime video calls with friends and family to stay as socially connected as possible. Continue to socially distance and wear masks when in public (CDC recommended). Modeling this behavior for your children is very important as they go out into the world more, especially when you may not be with them. Print out their school schedule and instructions when available, and have your child put them on his or her wall. As soon as you know the plan, share and discuss the plan with your children.
  3. Familiarize yourself with “school technology.” As best you can, understand the expectations WITH your child, so it is a shared experience. If you need help, contact the school or local community-based organizations. Read articles about Microsoft Teams and similar platforms that might be used. And test them out if possible. Many of these platforms offer free trials. If possible, enroll your child in an online summer camp, so your child is familiar with the platform and experience. Older siblings can also help with their younger brothers or sisters.
  4. Stay in contact with your child’s school via phone and/or email. Ask them if there are any updates. Ask if they can let you know what the virtual platforms might look like, so you are prepared, and can begin practicing using the platform with your child before school starts.
  5. Anticipate that whatever the upcoming school year looks like, it will be bumpy and come with a new set of challenges. Understand and practice “growth mindset.” Learning comes in stages, and even if we haven’t learned how yet, with practice, we can become better at the task. Set reasonable expectations and let your child know that getting used to the new format of learning can take time, whether virtual, at school, or a combination of both.
  6. Be patient with them and with yourself. If your child tends to put pressure on him or herself, model patience and flexibility. If your child is more anxious, engage in conversations so you can motivate them with something they can be excited about, such as being with friends or having a favorite teacher. Your engagement with their learning and monitoring their level of involvement once school starts is important. With your engagement, you may be able to anticipate and be better prepared to handle any problems that may occur. Be open to seeking help, if you need it.
  7. Most importantly, be proactive. Try to plan ahead and prepare your child as best you can. At the same time, help ground your child in the present and engage in daily quality time with them. Summer will be over before we know it. Continue to love and support them during these challenging times. Relationships matter, so try to influence your child in positive ways. Build resilience by modeling it at home.

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Do you have any suggestions for helping families who are experiencing homelessness?


Given everything that vulnerable families are experiencing, it is difficult to imagine how not having a home feels for those of us fortunate to shelter in our own homes. I offer the following suggestions with this perspective:

  • ALL children need to feel safe. This feeling of safety can be accomplished though nurturance, reassurance, giving children opportunities to express themselves emotionally with words (and through play, art, etc.), and through physical protection.
  • Facilitate expression through play. This can be done using materials that a shelter can provide or recyclables that are accessible, clean, and safe. If your population can access chalk that can be used on the sidewalk, this is one idea. Recycled plastic bottles can be used as bowling pins along with a rolled-up piece of paper for a ‘ball’ or using similar materials.
  • Show an understanding and a respect for the importance of children keeping their own possessions. If there are toys that the child has accumulated or other personal possessions, help the child keep track of these possessions and model the importance these objects have for the child. This can include the caregiver helping the child keep track of the item(s), and the caregiver can be nurturing/respectful toward the actual items. For example, the caregiver can hug the doll or “pet” the toy, put them next to the child at bedtime, etc. And play with the child while incorporating the object. Even smooth rocks can be used as toys, but should be done safely!
  • All kids need socialization, but since we are in the midst of a global pandemic, doing this safely is very challenging. So, the caregiver should be coached by a qualified health care practitioner on safe social distancing practices for their family. And these should be adhered to as much as possible with adult supervision.


Since I am not an expert in working with this population, I recommend contacting:

  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for more guidance on your very important questions: (800) 662-4357
  • The American Psychological Association web page with additional mental health resources.

As schools reopen, please refer to the following organizations:

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Do you have tips for parents whose children’s friends’ parents or other adult caretakers may have different political views?

Answer: I think we can agree that as individuals, we frequently have different experiences, ideas, beliefs, religions, and political affiliations. I think we can also agree that we all want the best for our children. We all want to spend time with loved ones, enjoy good times, and do the best we can to care for our children. We have a lot more in common with each other than it seems at times. Currently, politics are in the forefront, and it can be challenging to figure out a way to interact with folks whose views are in conflict with your own beliefs.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

Dr. Carla Easter was a guest presenter on a previous Family Room Webinar, and she studies genetics at NIH. Dr. Easter explained that while there is variation in terms of how genes get expressed (e.g., eye color, height, etc.), 99.99% of our genetics are the same. Dr. Easter reminds us of what we have in common.

When you are interacting with parents who have different political beliefs, try to find commonality and remind yourself about the purpose of the interaction. If your child’s friend has parents who have different political beliefs, the goal is for you to stay connected enough to the other parents so that you feel like you can trust them (while your child is at their apartment or home), and exchange information about the kids. You don’t have to agree politically, and it may be a good idea to have some topics be off limit.

If the relationship you have with other adults is professional, e.g, counselor-parent relationship, keep the conversation(s) focused on your child (your student). It isn’t necessary to discuss political issues, and a particular political point of view should not influence what is best for your child. If you perceive that the decisions affecting your child are not objective or in his/her best interest, then you have to be your child’s advocate.

If the relationship is personal, e.g., your child is friends with their child, then you may have to decide if the parents’ political beliefs conflict with your values in such a way that you don’t want your child to be exposed to these views. There are different ways to handle these kinds of situations. You can speak with the parents and mutually decide that certain discussions are not permitted in order to protect the relationship of the children. You may decide, depending of the age of the children, to have a discussion in a safe environment. All children need to build resilience and learn to develop and speak up for their own values and beliefs. Again, the most important consideration is the child. If you are a counselor, coach, adult caretaker, or parent, it is your job to be the child’s advocate, help to keep them safe, and enable them to thrive as they grow up.

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My older son is taking on the habits of his younger brother, such as using baby talk and hitting. What can I do?

Answer: I am not quite sure the age of your “older son.” Regardless, you should safely and appropriately stop him from hitting others. Consider setting a limit to enforce “no hitting” (yourself and others) by giving a consequence (for example, loss of privilege for that day). At the very least, try to separate your older son from the person he is hitting in real time. Your rapid reaction will set a model that this behavior is not okay.

We should keep in mind that many children are regressing during these stressful and uncertain times—some of the behaviors you listed COULD be regressive behaviors. This is particularly common for those who are remaining at home most of the time and not being with their friends or in public. Their only “peer” is their younger sibling.

You may want to consider having regular conversations (‘Check-ins’) with your older son (and younger son depending on his age). Give him opportunities to express his feelings/thoughts, using his words. Consider “Check-in” topics: COVID, social distancing, not being able to physically spend time with friends, and any uncertainties related to the future (e.g., attending school in person in the Fall). Give examples of behaviors you have observed in him (e.g., “baby talk”) that seem unusual or “out of character,” and in a non-judgmental way, ask him, “What’s up?”

It is also possible that your older son is attempting to compete for attention that his younger brother is getting! Your older son might see ways his younger brother is getting attention (e.g., “baby talk”), and he is engaging in these behaviors to get attention from you or his younger brother (via a reaction). Try to spend quality time with your older son (1-on-1, if possible) daily, and play or do things he likes for 15-30 minutes a day.

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How do you parent your child who comes home and their ‘friend(s)’ have told them something that is untrue or inconsistent with your family values?

Answer: These interactions present great opportunities to encourage perspective taking, think about their own values/beliefs, and develop their ability to tolerate (handle) differing or opposing views (conflict resolution skills). First, a good message to start with is that it’s okay for people to have different ideas. However, if their friend’s ideas or comments are offensive in some way, you can teach your child to stand up for their beliefs. How and when they do this depends upon the age of your child.

The younger they are the more behavioral their reaction should be. For example, young children who experience an offensive comment directed at them (or a peer) by a same-aged peer should go tell a teacher (or trusted adult). And the adult should help the child who comes to them in ways they deem fit. Older children can stand up for themselves with words. The key phrase to keep in mind here is “taking the high road.” Responding with comments such as, “That’s not okay with me,” and “Don’t call me that” come to mind. THEN you can tell your child that if the peer doesn’t stop, your child can walk away from the situation and hang out with a friend whom they trust and like. And, they should always feel that they can go to a trusting adult. If your child reports being targeted on a regular basis then calling the school or other parent is necessary.

When speaking with your child, older children can tolerate more lengthy discussions. The younger the child the less time they can sustain attention. All age children may need more than one conversation to discuss the entire incident and their feelings. Younger children (really all children) will need their feelings and thoughts validated. Also, consider that what your child is reporting might not be 100% accurate. Questions are important to get the necessary information, while validating your child’s feelings.

Generally, I like approaching conversations like these in the following ways:

  1.  If your child comes to you and appears distressed or bothered, and wants to talk, make time for him or her in that moment. Strike while the iron is hot!
  2. Ask your child what happened and listen.
  3. Reflect what your child said, so that your child feels heard.
  4. Ask your child how he or she is feeling about what happened. Older children should be able to say what they are thinking. Validate their feelings and thoughts.
  5. Ask your child how he or she handled the situation.
  6. Highlight something your child did well, and indicate what they could have done differently in the form of questions like, “What do you think would have happened if you did x or y?” See if you can “walk” your child to conflict resolution skills versus telling them what to do. Better to coach and guide them.
  7. Correct what your child tells you that another peer told them that is opposed to your family values. It is important to intentionally link the “correction” to your family values. For example, “Well, what he said was not okay with our family. We believe that everyone should be treated equally.”
  8. Remind them about what THEY (and/or you) said about how to handle a situation like this differently in the future, if you are providing them with alternative reactions. Increase your child’s self-esteem by authentically praising your child for coming to you and talking about what happened. And let them know that they can always come to you. This is one of the most important messages when children are faced with adversity.

*Consider calling your child’s school or another parent for clarification if what your child reported sounds unacceptable or “not okay” with you.

Conversations like these should happen on an ongoing basis, not only when there is conflict. Encourage your child to keep talking to you about situations like these or any situation that they find themselves in and don’t quite know what to do.

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How do you monitor the mental health of children who are non-verbal and can’t write?

With children who are non-verbal, it is important to look for changes in behavior, including sleep schedules, appetite, and mood. These changes can signify that your child might be experiencing one or more mental health challenges. Learn more about what to keep an eye on. You know your child best, so trust your instincts if your child is behaving in a way that is different and cause for concern.

  • Changes in children’s behavior can include aggression/irritability, an inability to enjoy activities they once enjoyed, avoiding things that they used to not mind, and isolating or preferring to be alone more than you would expect.
  • Sleep disruption includes difficulty falling asleep and awakenings (waking up during the night). If the child experiences an awakening during the night, h/she might have difficulty falling back asleep. For young children, who were sleeping in their own bed consistently, another change might be a pattern of the child wanting to co-sleep with the parent.
  • Changes in appetite can include weight gain and/or loss.
  • Changes in mood include periodic sadness (crying when there is no clear trigger) and/or anxious affect (again, no clear trigger), and as mentioned above, irritability and becoming easily frustrated.

If you are unsure and/or suspect that your child might be experiencing one or more mental-health related challenges, please consult a mental health professional in your area.

The American Psychological Association’s web page lists ways to find mental health resources during COVID-19.

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How do I get my teenage son to talk to me?


With teenage boys, timing is everything. Check on their mood so that when they are ready to talk, you, as a parent(s), are accessible when they are prepared to have a conversation.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Timing is everything. Right when your teen wakes up might not be the best time to spark a conversation. Take into account your child’s temperament and personality type. Sometimes when they come home from their activities at night, they are usually more relaxed and ready for a conversation. Car rides also work. If the timing doesn’t feel right, back off for now. Don’t misinterpret “not ready” as a desire to be disconnected.
  2. Set limits, even if he fights you. What you see is NOT necessarily what you’re getting. Regardless of what they may say, they look to you for assurance and guidance. Teens need privacy, but they also need emotional connection. Developmentally and physiologically there is a lot going on inside of your teenage child. Some of their moodiness can be attributable to changes related to puberty, which is largely out of their control. Remember, just because your child “blows you off” or gives you attitude DOES NOT mean he is not listening. It is very likely that some of what you say will “stick.” They may not give you the satisfaction that they are listening, but don’t get discouraged.TIP: If your child “mouths off” to you (or similar), try to keep your cool, set limits and let your son know that he is talking to you in a way that is not okay. Modeling and teaching respect are essential values. Try to give him some time to cool down if you can, and tell him you will continue the discussion later. Just be sure to follow up with him! Teenage boys seem to react better to short conversations.
  3. Be Accessible. All children (especially those who have experienced trauma) need to feel like their home environment (caregiver) is safe and stable. Letting your child know they can always come to you with questions, problems, frustrations, etc. can help your child feel supported, and that you are there for them if they need you. Don’t read too much into them not coming to you regularly. Continue to give them safe opportunities to earn your trust.
  4. Try small conversations instead of extended discussions or lectures. Forcing your child to talk will likely backfire. Or asking questions, such as, “How come you don’t talk to me?” may lead your child to distance himself from you. Teenage boys can be uncomfortable with probing questions. Instead, spend time with them. The most important thing is staying connected to your child, and usually the best way to do this is through shared activities that your child enjoys. Be sure to spend at least 15-30 minutes of quality time with your child a day. It’s okay if you and your child don’t get into “juicy” subject matter. Spending quality, uninterrupted time, with your child and joining in to their world can help your child feel listened to, emotionally supported, and it can give them a confidence and self-esteem boost. You can learn a lot about them by knowing what they like to do with their free time.TIP: For more challenging conversations with your child, consider one of Dr. Ross Greene’s strategies, “Hey. I noticed that you slammed the refrigerator door pretty hard earlier, what’s up?
  5. Stay in touch. Stay connected to your child through adults in his network, e.g., coaches, other parents, family members, teachers, mentors, school counselors, pastors (or similar). If your child is less likely to talk with you during their teenage years, you can still “keep tabs” on them by communicating with others in their network. Their peer group is especially important. Open your home to them. This welcoming environment will speak volumes to your son and help to keep him close.
  6. Set it up. I’m a big proponent of eating meals with your child (and as a family). For example, family dinners should be a time when no one has a cell phone (distraction) and you can connect with each other. With this said, don’t be afraid of silence. Eating in silence sometimes is not a bad thing and gives everyone a safe and comfortable time out.

Finally, do believe in yourself. Trust your instincts about what you know is good for your son. Let your son know that you are confident as a parent. Most importantly, love them no matter what.

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Question: With the stressors that families may be facing, how do you encourage families to give their children the attention they may need during this time? This may be especially challenging for those parents who are “essential workers.”

Good question. And thank you to all of the essential workers out there who are working hard every day to keep us safe and healthy!

Here are some tips:

  • Focus on quality, not quantity.
  • When you are with your child, be present and limit distractions.
  • Follow your child’s lead during play or while “hanging out.” Let your child choose what you do together. Try to encourage things that are creative and minimize rules for part of the time.
  • For children ages 2-7, try to fit in around 5 minutes of PRIDE (play) Skills a day. When done consistently, this type of play has been shown to strengthen the parent-child relationship, and increase a child’s self-esteem.
    • Here is a video of an adult using PRIDE (play) Skills with a young child.
  • For children ages 7 and older, try to spend 15-30 minutes a day of quality time with your child. You can split up the time, 15 minutes here, 15 minutes there.
    • Use PRIDE (play) Skills with your child, but consider modifying your language.
      • Instead of labeling behavior with praise, use more informal language: “Nice!” or “That’s awesome!”
      • Instead of verbatim reflections, use paraphrase reflections or reflect using just a couple of words. And then make a comment soon after.
  • Leave your child a note or picture they can read or look at in the morning. If your child has their own phone, text them during the work day to see how they are doing. Call or FaceTime with your child during a work break, if you can.
  • Try to have family dinners every night, if you work during the day. You may not be able to see your child during the day, but some consistency can go a long way. And this will help you stay connected with your child. Any consistent meal time together works!

Give your child opportunities to ask you questions about the coronavirus/COVID-19. And ask them how they are feeling or if anything is bothering them. This conversation can help to minimize their worry about you. It also gives you an opportunity to talk about your work so they also can take pride in how you are helping people stay safe and healthy.

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Question:What would you suggest for families with only children? An only child seeks so much of a parent’s attention, but working from home and school demands make quality time challenging. Child is clingy and does not want to independently complete school work – waiting until the parent is sitting with them to do it.

Some, if not many, children are regressing at times seemingly due to “safe at home” orders. It is hard enough to be at home all the time with siblings, let alone be at home without other children for company. Our children are away from friends, routines, sports, after school activities, and not attending school in person. For example, children who need some attention normally might want more attention or “need” you to do things for them that you know they can do on their own—this can be comforting to them, and can reduce their anxiety.

Generally, the younger the child, the more help or attention they may need from you. If you have flexible work hours, I would schedule your work day for the afternoon. For teens, they may be more awake in the afternoon, so a morning schedule would be helpful. Spend whichever time you have giving your child the attention they need. Always remember, do the best you can.

Consistency is important when it comes to helping your child increase their ability to be independent. Establish a routine, and create opportunities for your child to do things on their own, and incrementally build their self-confidence and independence. You can start with as little as a few minutes. You can say, “Try this math problem and I’ll be right back.” Then leave your child and come back in a few minutes. If you take this approach (or similar), you can gradually stretch out the length of time as your child becomes more independent. Another tip, when your child is helping you with something in your home (assuming it is safe), let them try it on their own while you supervise.

You can increase your child’s self-confidence and grit by normalizing their mistakes, encouraging them to try again, offering ideas or strategies, and letting them choose how to proceed. Praise them for sticking with something even though it’s hard. The praise has to be authentic, otherwise it defeats the purpose. Remind that that we all learn from our mistakes. Children will become more independent by their mistakes, lessons learned, and successes. Remember we all need encouragement along the way.

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Question: How do you set a routine for learning with older children and teens?


  • Attempt to create a routine WITH your child. If your child is not open to collaborating or refuses to engage with you then create the routine for them.
  • Include essential “school” subjects in the daily routine. Almost all schools are providing guidance on these subjects. Don’t forget about P.E. and household chores.
  • Be open to “fun” activities your child/teen might be interested in. You can also try to do these things together.
  • Have them get up at a reasonable time in the morning, eat breakfast, change their clothes, and brush their teeth.
  • Consider the quality of what they do, rather than the amount of time spent on school-related or house-related tasks. If it takes them 3 hours to complete the homeschool routine and their chores, great. If it takes them longer, that’s on them.
  • Remember to allow your child breaks in-between tasks throughout the day. Breaks should ideally be NON video game related such as going on a walk, FaceTiming a friend, reading a book, talking with other family members, listening to music, etc.
  • If your child plays video games and/or is on social media more than you are comfortable with, I suggest giving them access AFTER they’ve completed their homeschool tasks/household responsibilities. If they don’t follow through on their responsibilities, you can make access to gaming contingent on them completing what they need to do FIRST.
  • Keep in mind the importance to teens of connecting with their friends. As parents, we may need to be more flexible. Teens need structure and routine as well as this connecting time.

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Question: My husband and I both work. While we always attempt to follow a schedule for the day, calls come up, last minute work deadlines, etc. Our son has been watching way more TV than he ever has — 3-5 hrs a day! We are trying to give ourselves grace. But what will the impact be on our son?

Answer: We are all attempting to cope with, and problem-solve, issues related to the effects of living through a global pandemic. Balancing working from home AND monitoring our kids and/or homeschooling is a challenge for all families. If you find yourself allowing your child access to more screen time than they normally get so you can get your work done, or take an unplanned urgent work call, then that’s the way it is right now. It isn’t forever. And you can try as best you can to minimize these times WHEN you can.

You should still control and monitor the content of what your child is exposed to appropriate to their age. Monitor the Internet browser history on the ‘smart’ (phone) device, and make sure the shows/movies/video games are appropriate. If your child is averaging 4 hours a day of screen time, encourage them to watch at least 2 hours of educational shows, including documentaries (older kids) or PBS Kids (younger kids). The good news is if you have regular work hours, you and your child can plan some of their screen time in advance. If your child is a teen/tween, ask them to write an essay on the documentary they watched and present it to you. Ask your younger child open (who, what, when, where) questions about the PBS Kids show they watched.

You can read reviews to guide you about appropriate movies, games, books, and TV via

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Question: I am a grandma. My children and grandchildren are home with me. I have my own frustrations and anxieties….how can I continue to be the positive, optimistic voice they need…and that I’ve always been? 

Answer: Understand that all of us have frustrations and anxieties. We are living in unprecedented times. No one can expect to be positive all the time, especially when we are spending so much time together. However, children and grandchildren still look to grandparents as role models. Being as positive as possible is important, so still take some time for yourself when you feel these frustrations coming on. During these times, reach down deep inside yourself and say, “I need to do this for my grandkids.” Faith and life experience can help. Also, it’s okay for your grandkids to see/hear you struggling. Being positive, while acknowledging the hardships we are ALL facing, are important life lessons for your adult children and grandchildren.

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Question: Is there any way that grandparents can help long-distance?

Answer: To all of the grandparents out there who are not able to physically be with your children/grandchildren right now, hang in there! I can only imagine how hard it is to be away from them. If you have internet, FaceTime (or similar) with your children and grandchildren, take advantage of this way to connect. This is a good time to learn the technology! Your children need your support and guidance, too. Making yourself available for a daily phone call, and if possible, texting to check in with your children, can help them to be the best parent they can be during these challenging times. Providing emotional support for your children can indirectly help your grandchildren. Get creative with your grandchildren by reading them bedtime stories over FaceTime. Send them letters. There are apps (e.g., Caribu) that you can use together to do projects. Have dinner together sometimes with the phone on speaker or over FaceTime. Cook together. Exchange photos. The bottom line is stay connected as best you can. By having regular check-ins, you ease the worry you feel and also the concern that your children have about your well-being.

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Question: How do parents balance working at home with homeschooling?

Answer: This is extremely hard, and you can only expect to do the best you can. Patience and perseverance is a must!

#1—Practice self care. Try as best you can to get good sleep, exercise daily, and eat healthy. Do something that reduces your stress on a daily basis, even if you have to fit it in (e.g., a few minutes here, few minutes there). Get up 10 min earlier and do yoga/stretch/meditate, listen to music while doing dishes, go on a walk before a meeting, call a friend or relative after the kids are asleep, watch a show you like, look at photographs of family and friends, etc.

#2—Create boundaries and set a routine. If you have flexible work hours then try to schedule virtual meetings, conference calls, etc., in the afternoon/before dinner (or after the kids are asleep if you can work well at night), so you can focus in the morning on homeschooling. If you don’t have flexible work hours, then plan your child’s homeschool day around your work day. Create a routine by taking a shower in the morning (if that is your ‘normal’ routine), change for work, if you can, brush your teeth, eat breakfast, etc. Create a daily schedule for your child that you stick to with 60-70% accuracy, understanding that flexibility is important. Post it where your child can see it.

#3—Plan ahead as much as you can. The more you plan ahead for work AND homeschooling, the less stressed you will likely become. This will allow you to be able to troubleshoot more easily as things come up. And you can count on that things always come up!

#4—Expect that you will need to troubleshoot things on the fly and be flexible. If you have an unexpected work call, set your kid up with something that will keep them occupied, or tell the people in the meeting, “Sorry, you might hear my kid in the background!’” (and don’t forget to mute the call when you don’t need to talk, so you don’t disturb others). If there is another adult at home, work out a plan with them in advance and coordinate your schedules, if you can. Have a “contingency plan,” so if you have an unexpected work call that you can’t move, let the other adult know that you need them to take over. And then you cover for them another time when they need it.

#5—No one is a perfect parent. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. We are in the middle of a GLOBAL PANDEMIC! Model adaptive ways of coping with stress for your family:

  • If you become overly stressed too often, it can impact your child. Again, taking care of yourself and knowing what triggers stress for you can help to avoid negative reactions. Remember that even adults need a “time out.” Take one if you are able to and need one! The time taken will be better for you and your family.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate with your family members. If you get into an argument with your child or a family member, try to make up as soon as you can. A major part of coping under these circumstances is being able to acknowledge that you said something you shouldn’t have or did something you shouldn’t have to the person, and then reconcile. “Hug it out” with the person involved.
  • Forgive yourself, and apologize to others. Acceptance and grace are always important, but especially now.

If you think that seeking out a therapist (tele-therapy) could help, take advantage of resources that are available to you. Here is a link to the American Psychological Association. This web page has links to different local, state, and federal mental health resources.

Remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Resiliency parenting is our motto!

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Question: Why are family dinners important?

Answer: Eating meals (including dinner) together is important for a variety of reasons, and I’ll name a few:  

  1. Everyone gets to connect about their day. This is good quality time!  
  2. If anyone in the family is having a hard time emotionally, or had a difficult day, this will be more apparent during the meal. For example, if your 18-year-old is anxious about deciding what to do after high school, this can get noticed during meals (e.g., lack of eye contact, not eating their food, sad or flat affect, irritability). As a caregiver, you should support your child emotionally (normalize what they are feeling), and make a specific plan to address their issue in more depth later that evening or the next day. Just be sure you follow through!
  3. Discussions related to COVID can occur. Family members can pose questions like how they are feeling about some states beginning to reopen, e.g., retailers starting to open up for curbside pickup. And caregivers can correct any misinformation that children are receiving related to COVID.
  4. It’s an opportunity to be present with each other with no distractions. This means NO distractions, no phones at the table.

Check out the webinar from May 7 for more of the Q&A with Dr. Shaffer.

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