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anxiety Behaviour Management Inclusion parenting

The Difference Between Constructive and Destructive Anxiety Management

I came across some quality content from Dr. Tony Attwood on anxiety management related to children with autism. I love any information that is easy to understand and relay to people and has the potential to make a difference. This content fits the criteria.

Dr. Attwood discusses the two types of anxiety management. Constructive habits succeed in mitigating the potential impact of anxiety whilst destructive habits also does this but to the detriment of relationships with others. Dr. Attwood details three destructive strategies to avoid and promotes six constructive alternatives. If constructive strategies are not being used, a child may naturally fall into using destructive ones.

Three Destructive Anxiety Management Strategies

  1. Excessive Control: When children are feeling anxious, they may seek to exert control through defiance or threats to property, self or people. The impact this has on relationships is clear. Excessive control to manage anxiety may result in a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Is this a reason to move away from labels? (Full article here)
  2. Rituals: An anxious child may insist on sameness and become intolerant and inflexible to any change. They can become over-reliant on rituals and routines when they are too prolonged detracting from their ability to engage in other tasks.
  3. Emotional Explosions: When fight-or-flight reaches a certain point, a child rife with anxiety may release the emotional energy pent up through an outburst which hurts others and damages friendships and relationships. This also takes an emotional toll on themselves in the aftermath.

Six Constructive Anxiety Management Strategies

These six strategies are necessities for anxious children. They are not rewards. The child requires them to engage with day-to-day life successfully. Analyse each one and consider if you are making the best use of each strategy.

  1. Physical Activity: Often underestimated, being physically active has a significant impact on anxiety. This can be through team sports, individual sports, movement breaks or walks. The options are endless and finding the medium that the child enjoys exercising through will aid them in coping with their anxiety.
  2. Relaxation: An anxious child has never relaxed just because they were told to. They have to be taught how to relax. This could be through a meditation app like Mindful Gnats (Android link here and Apple here), teaching the art of journaling, yoga or engaging in a range of activities depending on the child’s personality (Article: 6 strategies to help an anxious child here). A highly anxious child might never have learned to relax so it must be a priority to teach them.
  3. Special Interests: Allowing a stressed or anxious child to engage with their special interest is a powerful tool to relieve building anxiety. Depending on the interest, this can be easily implemented into day-to-day life. Allowing an anxious child with autism to engage with their special interest is not time wasted. It is time-efficient as they will be able to re-engage with activity after a short break.
  4. Favourite Person: An anxious child can experience relief when they are afforded some quality time with their favourite person. If the person is an SNA, teacher or child, this strategy can be utilised without extensive planning. If the person cannot be present, we can use audio messages, phone calls and emails. The child’s favourite person can be a great sense of comfort and relief.
  5. Diet: The benefits of a good diet go beyond the scope of this article. Needless to say that a balanced diet will have a positive impact on a child’s anxiety compared to a diet of junk food, sugar and refined carbohydrates.
  6. Sleep: Much like a healthy diet, we all can appreciate the positive effect of eight to ten hours of sleep on an anxious child. Weighted blankets, avoiding screen time before bed and a consistent nighttime routine can contribute to good sleep hygiene.

When you consider the child, ask yourself which type of strategies are being used to manage their anxiety. Are they destructive or constructive? Can we improve on how we use constructive habits? Which constructive habits can I control if I am a teacher or a parent? Focus on these and lean away from destructive behaviour.

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Behaviour Management Homeschool parenting

Motivate Homeschool Children Without Rewards

In a previous article, I described how a parent might go about setting up a reward system at home. The parents might decide to reward their child for behaving a certain way with something external like sweets, additional screen time, preferred activity or anything that would motivate them to cooperate. This is an effective way to increase desired behaviour but there are people out there that don’t enjoy the transactional concept of a reward system. They don’t like the mentality that their child will only learn if they get something they like in return. They want their child to want to learn. Well, if its ideas for this you are looking for, let me introduce you to a different kind of motivator.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation can be explained as an inner motivation which is driven by the reward or enjoyment they get from doing the activity itself. Think about the child who practices a sport for hours or practices a musical instrument incessantly without any pressure from parents. This child is intrinsically motivated to engage with the activity. They do it because they enjoy doing it, the sense of achievement from doing it well and the feeling that they are improving at it.

As children pass through the school system, the dream can be that they make the shift from external motivators like praise, jellies and extra play time to this intrinsic motivation where they engage in learning because they love it.

How Can Parents Intrinsically Motivate Their Children?

Parents who don’t want to offer external rewards to their children to behave and learn, thankfully, have numerous options to help develop this self-motivation in their children. There is no magic formula but there are plenty of options:

Choice

As your child is being homeschooled, there is more opportunity to allow them to direct their learning. Allowing them to have partial (or total) say in how they learn over the next few weeks could provide that inner motivation they need to truly engage with tasks. Let them choose the books they read, let them choose the songs they learn, let them choose what countries they want to research. You can even let them choose when they want to learn completely. Giving the child ownership over their learning can be empowering and you may be surprised at how immersed in topics and activities they become.

Variety

If your child is not ready to choose their topics and schedule, variety is said to be the spice of life! Your child may be bored by the repetitive nature of the daily compulsory task which is dropping their motivation through the floor. Creativity is all that is needed to introduce variety. Instead of just demanding they read a book to you daily which results in a row, why don’t you record them reading and pretend your making a youtube video for other children? As opposed to learning about a country from a book, why don’t you encourage them to create a project or design a quiz about the country to give an adult later on? Your imagination is the limit on this one and, graciously, we also have the internet for a wealth of ideas.

Resources

Some children can loathe the idea of writing sentences in a copy, but when you give them a whiteboard and a marker, it can seem like Christmas. Providing attractive resources to engage in a task can bring a wonderful sense of joy to an activity. Children, suddenly, can take enormous pride in presenting their work when using different ranges of pencils, markers, chalks, pens, crayons and twistables or through using coloured card. If the goal is to learn about a country, does it matter if they write sentences in pencil or with marker? Absolutely not. You could even let them type their sentences if the act of writing isn’t the goal. 

Pursuit of Passions

One of the best ways of motivating children to behave and learn is facilitating the pursuit of their passions. During their homeschooling, there could be huge scope for allowing them to focus and learn about areas they are passionate about.

For example, the child who loves football could engage in his P.E through football, his reading could be about his favourite team, his maths could be adding up points in the premier league, his geography could be exploring which football teams belong to which country and his history could be about football during the world war. 

Facilitating their passions in this way could turn a stressful daily struggle to engage them in meaningful learning into an enteraining and educational process where you develop a closer bond with your child.

Intrinsically motivating children can be a tricky process of trial-and-error. It is impossible to know what will provide true inner motivation to drive them to want to engage for the love of the task and its results, but if parents are willing to put in the time thinking, planning and providing options for their child, they might just crack their magic formula for learning. 

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Behaviour Management Homeschool parenting

How to Motivate Homeschoolers

By now, a lot of parents have their children at home and have either started or contemplated starting homeschooling. There is a lot of information out there right now which can be overwhelming. I believe that the number one priority is to maintain a happy and calm environment. If your child is feeling anxious, this needs to be addressed as soon as possible and I have written about potential solutions for anxiety along with a more extensive explanation of how to use journaling for this purpose also.

However, your child may be calm and, as a parent or guardian, you may be eager to engage them with some academic learning. The question is how to do this successfully? There are general principles that teachers use to encourage positive behaviour such as providing routine and choice and using a specific language. These are key to preventing misbehaviour before it has a chance to start. The next thing that is needed is motivation.

Extrinsic motivation

You may have heard your child talking about “points” they receive in school for being good. Perhaps, they can cash in these points for some kind of reward at the end of the day or week. Maybe, your child talks about their table being crowned “The Table of the Day” and they get to have some reward for their troubles. These are examples of the teacher extrinsically motivating the children. They are offering an external reward in exchange for a behaviour.

Parents can use this concept also to motivate their child to complete tasks and behave a certain way. There are 3 key principles that are necessary to ensure successful use of extrinsic motivators:

The Reward

The child has to be motivated by the reward on offer. It is not a reward just because you think it is. Picking a true reward is a vital first step. Examples of rewards could be sweets, screen time, cooking their favourite dinner, getting to pick the movie, extra pocket money, going out with them to play their favourite game in the garden or anything that they love.

The Behaviour

Pick one or two very specific behaviours to reward and make sure the child knows what they are. Instead of rewarding “being good”, reward “sitting at the kitchen” and “answering five questions” or whatever you specifically want them to do. Once you have picked a desirable reward and one or two behaviours that the child is able to perform, you are setting yourself up for success.

The Frequency

Finally, you need to judge how often to reward your child. As a general rule of thumb, younger children need to be rewarded more frequently. If they write five sentences, they might need to get their reward straight away to maintain motivation. Older children are generally able to wait longer, so their reward could be additional time on a games console at the end of the day or even a special reward at the end of the week. The frequency of the reward needs to be decided by the parent based on their child’s ability.

Two Simple Examples of Successful Systems

Once you have decided on the three conditions above. You can decide how to package it to make it most attractive. Think of yourself as a salesperson and the more positive and excited you are about this new system, the more excited they will be! Presenting the new reward system so they can physically see their progress can be very motivating and can be very simply done with household items.

Using an empty jar, for example, you could mark a line on it with a pen or rubber band. Every time the child performs the behaviour, you could add pasta shells or lentils to the jar. Once they have filled the jar to the line, they can get their reward. The band can be made higher if you feel they can behave for longer or can be brought down lower if you feel they need to be rewarded quicker.

A jar and some lentils can help sell your system.

Here is an example of a visual way of presenting your reward system where the behaviour can be added and the reward. You may say they need to get 3-6 stars awarded depending on their age before they can get their reward.

A whiteboard or paper can be just as effective.

The opportunities are endless and you will find an abundance of options on how to “sell” your system. Make sure your three key principles are locked in first, however, as the success of your system will hinge on the quality of the reward, selection of the behaviour and the frequency of reward above all else.

Best of luck and please share any ideas you what you have found helpful so far or are thinking of trying!

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anxiety

Tackle Children’s Anxiety with Journaling

Anxiety is rife right now. The Coronavirus Crisis has fully arrived and everybody is struggling to make sense of this new isolated world we have been thrown into at the deep end. 

Now, more than ever, we need to look out for our children’s mental health. I have written about 6 different ways to prevent or manage your child’s anxiety during this time with a suggestion of journaling as one of the options. I want to dig into the topic of journaling in this post and give some concrete examples of how to bring out its benefits over the coming weeks.

The Case for Journaling Right Now

Shawn Anchor is considered to be an authority on happiness. Shawn contests from his research that the small act of journaling has the potential to help us rewire our brains to scan for the positives instead of the negatives. This rewiring can lead to the writer developing a positive outlook on life in the long term with increased happiness and therefore, reduced anxiety.

As we adjust to this time of uncertainty, helping your child cultivate this positive mindset could protect them from the outside world – such as social media and news channels – that looks to sell fear and increase anxiety. 

There are added benefits to journaling that it will promote literacy skills through the act of putting their thoughts on paper while Shawn also states that happier people are more resilient and 31% more productive.

How to Journal for Children Who Can Write

Shawn suggests writing about the follow prompts for journaling to garner the maximum results:

  • Spend two minutes a day writing down three things you are thankful for. These must be new things each day and can be as big as your family’s health or a small as your bowl of cornflakes.
  • Spend two minutes a day writing about one positive experience you’ve had over the past 24 hours. 

Added prompts that may help create a more positive outlook are:

  • Writing down 7 things you are excited for at the start of every day.
  • Write about a “win” you had today. So it could be achieving a new personal best, an improvement in a skill, something difficult that you overcame. Write about why it’s important, how to progress and what your next step will be.

There are additional principles to journaling that are important if being used or attempted in the homeschool or school context.

  • A journal is not be read if the writer does not consent.
  • The parent or teacher can guide the child but there is no need to correct it and do not use this medium for correcting grammar and spelling.
  • Modelling the act of journaling by completing it alongside your child or letting them see you do it is an effective way to encourage them.
  • Using fun pens, markers and stationery is a great way to promote this. Let them choose their journal type with options like bullet journals and regular diaries being widely available online.
  • Let them go off script and design and write what they like as well. A journal is a great way to put thoughts to paper, vent and stoke creativity. If your child is engaged, let their imagination run wild.

Journaling for Children Who Can’t Write

If your child is not at the stage where they are ready to write, but you feel that this is something either you or they want to try, you have some options.

  1. The prompts can be completed by drawing pictures.
  2. The prompts can be completed by having a trusted adult write for them.
  3. The prompts can be completed by recording a video diary on a tablet or phone.
  4. The language of the prompts can be adjusted to be age-appropriate in the following ways:
  • “I am happy because”: Respond with anything that is making them happy.
  • “I am excited to….”: Respond with three things (instead of seven) that they are looking forward to doing that day.
  • “A good thing that happened today was”: Let them come up with a mini-win that they had.

Give it a Go!

In this unique time, we have an opportunity to teach skills for dealing with uncertainty and adversity. Journalling is one such tool that has stood to many of the world’s great creatives and leaders over time so it might be worth encouraging your child to experiment with it.

As always, this is one tool among many others that you can pull out and try to promote positivity and reduce negative emotions. It might not work for everyone but it is certainly worth giving a go!

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anxiety

6 Ways to Help Anxious Children during Coronavirus

We are living in anxious times right now. Some children may be stressed, frazzled and overwhelmed by what is happening and the importance of looking after their mental health is paramount. Telling someone who is feeling anxious not to worry or to forget about it is not an effective solution. What we can do instead is focus on strategies that explicitly strive to reduce anxiety and strategies that are more implicit.

If you have a child who feels anxious, I would suggest you use your judgement based on their personality and interests and select either explicit and direct strategies aimed at promoting well-being or more subtle strategies that will help them settle without even realising it.

Explicit Strategies

Option 1: Breathing/Meditation

Getting your child to try focussing on their breath and striving to be in the moment are great ways to explicitly reduce anxiety. The benefits of these strategies are well known and there is so much content out there to facilitate these kinds of strategies. You might want to choose a physical object like a breathing ball or perhaps you want a youtube video for young children. Older children might enjoy learning about how to do 4-7-8 breathing or engaging in a full-on 5 minute guided meditation aimed at children. There are also apps like Headspace and Calm that provide a certain amount of free content to test out.

Option 2: Journalling

Journalling has a body of evidence to prove it has to power to promote feelings of well-being and happiness making it a great explicit strategy for children feeling anxious who are old enough to write (if your child is young and might enjoy this, they could draw).

Three concrete ways to journal to promote happiness are:

  1. Write seven things you are excited for every morning when you wake up.
  2. Write three things you are grateful for every night before bed.
  3. Write for two minutes about something nice that happened in the past 24 hours.

Some children might like to do all three, some might like to do just one. I would emphasise the key to getting the benefits of this exercise is consistency over a period of two weeks or more for the child to feel the benefits.

For a more detailed explanation of journaling, click here.

Option 3: Yoga

Yoga’s benefits for increasing contentment and reducing anxiety are also well known as the poses, philosophy and breathwork involved all can have a significant impact on a child’s overall sense of well-being. They might like to choose from the wealth of resources at Cosmic Kids Yoga or, perhaps, your child would like to try one of Yoga With Adrienne’s videos for dealing with uncertain times. It’s all about finding something that your child likes and will consistently do.

Implicit Strategies

In some cases, talking about stress and anxiety can amplify it instead of reducing it and giving constant reassurance can actually serve to remind an anxious person that there is, in fact, something to worry about. If this sounds like something that resonates with your child, try more implicit and subtle strategies.

Option 1: Exercise

Getting out and getting active has so many benefits that they go beyond the scope of this article but getting your child out and running, playing playground games, practising a sport, cycling or anything that raises their heart rate will help release those feel-good endorphins that are proven to increase well-being. There is no need to says it’s for their anxiety as the act of doing will be enough to feel the benefits. Actually talking about it might reduce its effects as it may just remind the child how they are feeling. Children should aim for 60 minutes a day and if you have a child who is feeling anxious, getting this hour completed can be doubly important.  

Option 2: Immersive activities

The title of this sounds far fancier than it is. An immersive activity is anything that takes focus or concentration to complete. Engaging in an immersive activity can reduce, prevent or stop thinking about past troubles or future worries as they begin to focus on the task at hand. The joy of this is that most hobbies are immersive. Reading, helping an adult bake, garden work, knitting or sowing, building with lego, painting, playing video games and many other activities require your child to get out of their head an into the task at hand.

Option 3: Reducing the White Noise

We all know social media and the internet has huge benefits but it also has its downsides. Constantly being connected to the world can lead your child to take the world’s worries onto their shoulders. A subtle way to combat this is to ensure that a constant stream of news is not being streamed through the television, radio, tablets and phones in the house. Try to create some space for your child to just exist in their current environment. Avoid constantly talking about world events around your child to prevent unknowingly contributing to their feeling of anxiety through the attention we give a topic.

These six options are a menu. They may seem obvious and you may know their benefits already but remember the difference between knowing and doing. If you are worried about your child and their anxiety levels, experiment with some of these and find what is the formula for success for your child.

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Homeschool parenting

Homeschooling and Coronavirus: A wonderful opportunity

Depending on what lenses you are wearing, what you think you see changes. If you are wearing sunglasses, the object appears dark. If you are wearing the wrong glasses, the object appears blurry. If you wear the correct prescription lenses, the object appears crystal clear. All the time, the object never changes, it’s just how it appears to you that changes.

The same can be said about how you view life events. If you view the world through a negative lens, life appears scary and worrying. If you view the world through a positive lens, life appears full of opportunity and optimism. All the time, the life event never changes, it’s just how it appears to you that changes.

I believe that we can change the way we view life like we can change our glasses. 

Homeschooling: A world of opportunity

We are not in normal times so parents trying to proceed with normal schooling of their children at home with English, maths and all that goes with it is admirable but perhaps a misguided priority. We are in a time where the environment for learning is unique and skills and attitudes that could stand them in good stead for life could be taught over the coming weeks. I see an abundance of digital resources being circulated which is a commendable effort by teachers to maintain control. We should also encourage parents, however, to model and teach the following three lessons as the top priority. This period of time in a child’s life could prove valuable in the long run if harnessed correctly.

Lesson 1: Altruism

This is a great time to teach our children to be altruistic through modelling it. Altruistic behaviour is any act which is selfless and done out of kindness and generosity for others. Imagine coming out of this crisis and knowing that you taught your child to be altruistic? Teaching this can be completed by modelling it and talking about it aloud. When talking about your shopping, talk about the importance of not stockpiling food as others may need more. Make a phone call to a grandparent or anyone who may be vulnerable and discuss how it is important to check in on those in need. Ask them can they think of anyone that they could ring. Discuss how you might buy a gift card for a local restaurant that you go to often because they may be struggling for business lately. Wonder out loud if any of your neighbours might need help at the minute and demonstrate how in times of crisis, it’s just as important to think of others less well off than yourself.

Lesson 2: Resilience 

I had the equivalent of my sunglasses on viewing life events at the end of last week. Everything seemed dark. I have taught myself strategies and habits that work for me, however, to build resilience and maintain calm in tough times and when I actioned these, I felt a lot better. As we are in the midst of a tough time, we have the opportunity to teach these skills to our children who may be worried also. Perhaps you have your own habits that you find useful to help you be calm and clinical in the face of adversity? Discuss them with your children with age-appropriate language. Talk about how if you’re stressed, there are things you can do to relieve and reset your mood. Depending on your and their tastes, this could be adding in something like exercise, meditation, yoga, journaling, fresh air, practicing a hobby, reading a book or removing something like excessive screen time, oversleeping or bad diet choices. If we could emerge from this stressful time with our children equipped with tools to build and maintain their resilience in tough times, wouldn’t that be a powerful impact for the rest of their lives?

Lesson 3: Critical Thinking

We are in the eye of a social media and general media storm. How many stories and rumours can we read or watch in a day if we wish? An infinite amount. The era of information means that news emerges 24:7 with breaking news and critical updates being circulated every minute. The problem is that not everything we read is true or valuable. A lot of it is fake, harmful and click-bait. We now have the time to teach our children how to think critically and filter between what is useful and reliable and what is rumours and speculation in the next few weeks with a bulk of content to use as examples. Impress on them that circulated text messages might not be the most trusted source but the WHO official social media channels might be better. Try to discuss how you might assess the trustworthiness of the content. The criteria could be: Who wrote it? When did they write it? Are they experts, or quoting experts, in the area that they are discussing? Begin by reading out material and discussing it with them and how you critique it. Then read it out and ask them to critique its worth. By the end, you may have a child enabled to search the internet and use it for the valuable source it can be. 

These are three lessons that we, as teachers, try to model and teach to children on a daily basis in schools. Parents, however, have far more impact in influencing how their children act and view the world. I suggest that you use this time valuably and try these three lessons over the coming weeks and then, watch your child grow into someone who can act generously, cope with adversity and think independently. What a wonderful job you will have done.

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parenting

5 Strategies Parents Can Use To Be Like Teachers

Some countries and parents have been thrust into a home-schooling situation that allowed for very little planning and forethought in the lead-up. Alas, we are in the middle of it now and many parents may be questioning where to start, what to do and how best to manage their child whilst educating them. Here are five strategies that might be of use to parents over the coming weeks:

Combat uncertainty with structure

In times of anxiety, people seek to control. Adults and children are no different in this regard. A simple way to combat any anxiety that you may see in your child over the coming weeks is to structure the day and explain it to them every morning so they know what to expect. Let the children have some input into the structure of the day to increase compliance. This will help keep your children remain on task and avoid questions about when they will get to do x or play y as it can be pre-scheduled into their day and explained to them so they know it is coming. This could be done verbally over breakfast or you could make a little chart if you had access to a printer, paper or colours. 

App recommendation for this here.

Choice will be your friend

Giving the children some ownership over the activities they engage with will increase the likelihood of a positive experience. Imposition leads to opposition. The trick is to give them a range of choices that you’re happy with and let them pick whichever ones they like so they feel in control. With clever choices, they are still being guided into the desired activities of your choice, however.

Choice can be provided through the timing or sequence of activities or what the activity actually is. This is an amazing chance for your child to get high-personalised learning tailored completely to their interests so depending on the time you can put in and the resources you have, your child could benefit from intensively getting to explore areas of interest to them.

Language will be important

The language parents use to engage their children in an activity will be important. Being a teacher can be like being a salesperson and in this uncomfortable time, I would suggest avoiding using educational language like “work” or “English” or “maths”. Home is a place for children to relax and imposing this school-based language can encourage resistance or disengagement because of its use outside of the school context. 

I would suggest parents just sell the activity. There is no need to mention the learning or objective of it. There are lots of education in everyday home activities that the children will love to get involved in and getting them to work with you will develop their skills without any need for school talk.

Asking them to help you bake some bread is full of learning between reading and following a recipe, the new language used, measuring the ingredients, ensuring the time and temperature is correct without ever having to tell them its educational. 

The same can be said for home improvement indoors, gardening outdoors, watching educational documentaries, putting on fashion shows with adult clothes, painting and drawing, writing up shopping lists, learning new songs, playing board games, following youtube workouts, practising an instrument, exploring some secluded parts of nature in big parks, field or up in the mountains or making something from a cardboard box and some imagination. There is a myriad of simple but creative ideas.

Build Independence

Day-to-day life is so rushed that we often find it is quicker to complete tasks for children than to allow them the extra time to figure it out for themselves. Now is the time to slow down day-to-day life and foster independence that will stand to them when life inevitably resumes at its hectic pace. This could be as simple as teaching them to make their own breakfast, tie their shoelaces and dress themselves if they are young or cook a meal, do their own washing, use the iron or other key life skills if they are older. This is a unique time and providing this kind of learning could stand them in good stead in the long run.

Finally: Screen Time

I would be the first one to say that I don’t love children spending an abundance of time on screens. But firstly, this is the world we live in and technology is irreversibly going that way and secondly, the world and their mother will be spending additional time on their TVs, tablets, phones and games consoles. I would encourage parents to accept this and harness it where possible. Additional screen time could be a useful reward for helping out or engaging in an activity or it also could be used as a calming measure. These are stressful times and having something enjoyable and immersive can help maintain a sense of calm in your child depending on their personality. You know your child best but I would encourage you to not fight the reality that additional screen time is inevitable with added time at home.

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