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Will Months of Remote Learning Worsen Students' Attention Problems?
Everyone in the world feels the effects of COVID-19. It has reshaped the economy, workforce, and educational system all around the world. How will these changes impact our children?
According to an April EdWeek Research Center survey, “Nearly 4 of 5 teachers think their students’ ability to focus has gotten worse with school-related tasks during the shutdown.”
Until the start of social isolation, schools were a place where children could grow and develop amongst their peers, but now classes are conducted through online learning. Teachers were once the only supervisors of the classroom, but now parents are having to step in to fill this role. Everyone’s safety is the main priority, however, these changes along with additional screen time have negatively affected many students’ abilities to focus on school-related activities.
There are many factors that contribute to these findings. However, there are also ways to help improve one’s attention by strengthening executive function. You can think of the executive function as the CEO of the brain, enabling us to control our attention, focus, emotional regulation and more.
We can customize a program for your child to improve the cognitive skills required for strong executive function.
Stress Is A Factor: If you or your child is feeling distracted or experiencing attention problems, that is completely normal. These are unprecedented times, and it is normal to feel stressed. Stress creates chemicals in the brain called stress hormones. These interfere with attention and learning. Focus and attention problems occur more for students and adults who are stressed; it's a natural response to concern and worry. There are so many changes that are taking place that it may take some adjustment before you are feeling and performing like your best self. So take some time in your day to purposely disconnect from online interaction and refocus on simply being mindful. A simple quiet pause a couple of times a day is all it takes. Simply take a deep breath and remember that you will get through this. Give your loved ones a call. Talk about good times of the past and how you'll recreate them together in a positive future. Reach out to old friends to help ease your mind and discuss your worries. When you are feeling less stressed, you can go back to being your awesome self and regain your ability to focus on your work.
Make A List: Our daily routines are currently a thing of the past. Days are starting to blend together, and we must learn how to navigate this new norm. Making a list will help establish a routine. Predictable routines have been proven effective for improving one’s executive function and academic skills. Schedule time for cooking together as family and to have family board games and puzzles night. Create a homework schedule and stick to the plan. Use lists not only for family and home use but also for school subjects. For example, schedule a specific time to do math homework, to begin your history lessons, or to do your homework. You can practice getting into a routine this summer and have a strong start in the upcoming school year!
Reflective Talk: Communication is key to understand what everyone is going through during these times. Being able to analyze one’s behavior can help with executive function and emotional coping. Self-inquiry is key. Reflect on the decisions you made today and the results they yielded. Ask the same of your child. How did today go? What is currently on their mind? How could today be better? What are some new things you want to try? Asking questions can effectively open communication to help one cope during these times.
As summer is approaching, use this time to destress and have fun while keeping your brain sharp!
Gluten Free Recipe:
Sweet Potato Salad
Give traditional potato salad a fresh spin with sweet potatoes, peppery arugula and a tangy-sweet dressing. This crowd-pleasing side dish is also versatile; you can add ingredients you prefer in potato salad, like bacon or green onions. Enjoy at room temperature or chilled.
3 large sweet potatoes (about 3 pounds total), peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
¾ teaspoon salt, divided
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
½ teaspoon sugar
2 cups roughly chopped arugula
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Toss sweet potatoes, 2 tablespoons oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper in a large bowl. Divide the sweet potatoes among 2 rimmed baking sheets. Roast, stirring once halfway through, until the potatoes are softened and beginning to brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, whisk together vinegar, mustard, sugar, the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Add the roasted sweet potatoes and arugula; toss to coat.
By HILARY MEYER
COVID-19 lockdowns worsen childhood obesity, study finds
Research finds obese kids under lockdown in Italy ate more junk food, watched more TV at expense of physical activity
June 3, 2020
|Lockdowns implemented across the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic have negatively impacted diet, sleep and physical activity among children with obesity, according to University at Buffalo research.|
The study, published in April in Obesity, examined 41 overweight children under confinement throughout March and April in Verona, Italy.
Compared to behaviors recorded a year prior, the children ate an additional meal per day; slept an extra half hour per day; added nearly five hours per day in front of phone, computer and television screens; and dramatically increased their consumption of red meat, sugary drinks and junk foods.
Physical activity, on the other hand, decreased by more than two hours per week, and the amount of vegetables consumed remained unchanged.
"The tragic COVID-19 pandemic has collateral effects extending beyond direct viral infection," says Myles Faith, PhD, UB childhood obesity expert and co-author on the study. "Children and teens struggling with obesity are placed in an unfortunate position of isolation that appears to create an unfavorable environment for maintaining healthy lifestyle behaviors."
"Recognizing these adverse collateral effects of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown is critical in avoiding the depreciation of hard-fought weight control efforts among youths afflicted with excess weight," says Faith, chair and professor of counseling, school and educational psychology in the UB Graduate School of Education.
The study was led by Steven Heymsfield, MD, professor at the Louisiana State University Pennington Biomedical Research Center; and Angelo Pietrobelli, MD, professor at the University of Verona in Italy.
Children and adolescents typically gain more weight during summer vacation than during the school year, says Faith, which led the researchers to wonder if being homebound would have a similar effect on the kids' lifestyle behaviors.
"School environments provide structure and routine around mealtimes, physical activity and sleep -- three predominant lifestyle factors implicated in obesity risk," says Faith.
The researchers surveyed 41 children and teens with obesity in Verona, Italy, who were involved in an ongoing long-term study. Lifestyle information regarding diet, activity and sleep was collected three weeks into Italy's mandatory national lockdown and compared to data on the children gathered in 2019. Questions focused on physical activity, screen time, sleep, eating habits, and the consumption of red meat, pasta, snacks, fruits and vegetables.
The results confirmed the negative change in behavior, indicating that children with obesity fare worse on weight control lifestyle programs while at home compared to when they are engaged in their school curriculum.
"Depending on the duration of the lockdown, the excess weight gained may not be easily reversible and might contribute to obesity during adulthood if healthier behaviors are not re-established," says Faith. "This is because childhood and adolescent obesity tend to track over time and predict weight status as adults."
Government officials and policymakers should consider the potential harmful effects of lockdowns on youths with obesity when making decisions regarding when and how to loosen restrictions, says Faith.
There is also a need to establish and evaluate telemedicine programs that encourage families to maintain healthy lifestyle choices during periods of lockdown, he adds.
Faith and colleagues are conducting an ongoing National Institutes of Health-funded study that is testing a family-based treatment for childhood obesity using telemedicine technology that allows participants to be treated in their homes.
8 Ways to Help Your Child Handle Pandemic Disappointments
Coronavirus coping skills for kids
June 3, 2020
|Going out for ice cream. Playing tag with friends. Soccer practice in the park. For young kids, the little things mean everything. But as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic drags on, so do the disappointments.|
Canceled camps and continued social distancing are putting a serious damper on summer fun. That’s hard on young kids — and it’s just as tough for parents to watch their little ones miss out on the simple joys of childhood.
But it’ll be OK, says pediatric psychologist Emily Mudd, PhD. “Kids are incredibly resilient, and it’s our job as parents to help them build on that.” Here’s how.
COVID-19 coping for stressed-out kids
Kids respond to stress in all sorts of ways. They might be sad or moody. They could be buzzing around like a ball of nervous energy. They might fly off the handle at the tiniest things.
What little kids don’t always do is explain how they’re feeling. As a caregiver, you have to read between the lines to figure out how to help them. And however your kid is traveling through this weird time in human history, you can take steps to smooth the ride.
1. Answer questions honestly
“Kids’ No. 1 question is: When is this going to be over?” says Dr. Mudd. “It’s also the question parents can’t answer — and it’s OK to admit you don’t know.”
“Simply state that we don’t know what will happen, or when this will be over, but we do have a plan right now for our family to stay safe. You might say, ‘In our family, we are staying safe by doing things doctors and experts recommend, like social distancing and washing our hands,’” she says. “Be honest, have a calm demeanor, and keep it simple.”
2. Turn off the news
Constant exposure to scary news is stressful for anybody, especially young children who aren’t developmentally able to process these news stories. “Monitor their screen time, and avoid keeping the news on all day long,” Dr. Mudd says.
3. Show you get it
“As parents, we want to fix our children’s problems, but we’re not able to fix this one,” Dr. Mudd says. “One of the most important things you can do is to listen and validate their feelings.”
Ask specific questions about why they’re upset. Acknowledge it’s hard to miss softball season or postpone a birthday party. “You can’t underestimate the power of empathy,” Dr. Mudd adds.
4. Get creative
Finding simple yet special ways to have fun can give kids a serious mood boost, Dr. Mudd says. Bonus points if you can tie it to something they’re upset about.
Missing the beach? Plan a beach party on your patio. If you had to cancel a family camping trip, pick a day and camp in the backyard. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, she adds. “Parents don’t have a lot of mental energy right now, but you can keep it simple and still get creative to make it fun.”
5. Let them choose
Uncertainty is stressful, right? That goes for kids, too. To help them regain a sense of control, let them call the shots whenever possible. Have them pick the restaurant for takeout or choose the film for family movie night. They want to stay in pajamas all day? Whatever works.
6. Help them stay digitally connected
If you’ve watched your little one try to video chat with a friend or classmate, you know how awkward it can be. “Extended conversations on video chat are tough for a 7-year-old,” Dr. Mudd says. “Young children just don’t have the attentional capacity to have meaningful interactions online, like they would at recess while they are simultaneously talking and moving their bodies.”
Try to find activities kids can do together during video chats, such as playing with dolls, eating the same meal, or building a neighborhood from their blocks.
7. Get outside
Nature is a proven mood booster for people of all ages, so take advantage of nice weather to get your kids outdoors. Need to motivate your young homebody? Plan a family hike or create a nature scavenger hunt to give them a fun reason to head outside.
8. Run around
“Kids have a lot of energy,” Dr. Mudd says — a fact that is abundantly clear to families who have been stuck at home for months. And burning some of that energy will pay off in spades.
“It’s important to get daily movement of any kind,” she says. “Moving their bodies will help improve their moods, lower anxiety, and improve sleep.”
Spotting depression and anxiety in children
Being sad or worried is a normal reaction when routines have been turned upside down. “We expect some level of worry and disappointment in kids during this time,” Dr. Mudd says. But keep an eye out for signs of more serious anxiety or depression.
Some of these signs include:
“If you notice any of these signs, call your child’s doctor, and they can help your child get into treatment,” Dr. Mudd says.
- Skipping meals.
- Hiding in their room.
- Prolonged irritability or sadness.
- Not engaging with the family.
- Losing interest in things they once enjoyed.
- Having trouble falling or staying asleep.
- Big changes in emotional or behavioral functioning.
Parents: You’ll get through this
Parenting a young child through the pandemic is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard to watch your child struggle. “This pandemic is the most challenging experience that most school-aged children have been through, but it’s important to remember that they’re resilient,” Dr. Mudd says.
Most small children won’t look back on this period and remember the scary news headlines, she adds. The feelings of being calm and safe will be the ones that linger.
“Kids might remember this as the time they got to camp in the yard or the summer they spent extra time with their families, creating memories,” Dr. Mudd says. “What they’ll remember most about this time is how they felt.”
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