• COVID-19 Parent Resources


    Behavioral and Mental Health Supports for Distance Learning

    Tips from your school Psychologists


    Behavioral Supports

    Create a Reward System

    Reward systems can be a good way to motivate children to complete school work or chores if they are unlikely to do so on their own. Use the steps below to choose effective rewards to motivate your child.

    1.        Review a list of reward choices (ones that you approve of, are acceptable, and ones that are feasible/affordable)

    2.        Write out reward choices on index cards-- to create a master 'Reward Deck'

    3.        Sit with your child and present each of the reward choices. For each reward option, the child indicates whether he or she (a) likes the reward a lot, (b) likes the reward a little, or (c) doesn't care for the reward. Sort the reward options into three piles that match these rating categories. Assemble your child's Reward Menu using their top choices ("like a lot"). If you need additional choices to fill out the rest of the menu pull items from the "like a little" category as well.

    4.        It is helpful to revisit the reward menu with your child every so often to update the rewards so they can continue to motivate your child.

    Create a Schedule

    Schedules help maintain consistent routines and set clear expectations (see example below). Allow your child to help you create the routine for your household.

    Tips for Children with Autism

    The priority right now is the safety of your loved one(s) with ASD and everyone else in the household. These are simply general strategies intended to help manage these unprecedented circumstances. Try what you can and stay as safe as possible.


    Clarifying Expectations

    Now that your children (of any age) are home all day, consider any modifications to the physical space that might reduce the likelihood of danger. If aggression, self-injury, elopement, or property destruction are possible, brainstorm with other family members as you consider the physical layout, one room at a time.

    ●        Should doors and windows be locked to prevent leaving the house without your knowledge?

    ●        Could items that might be thrown be removed or somehow fastened?

    ●        Do medications or dangerous items need to be locked away?

    Beyond safety modifications, other physical adjustments can promote calm and organization. Arranging distinct areas such as a worktable, a relaxing spot with favorite items, and a cozy reading corner can clarify which activities will occur in each space. If there is structured academic or work time, it may be easier to focus while seated in an area with minimal distractions.


    Visual Supports

    Visual supports are pictures and/or written words used in various supportive ways: illustration of steps to follow, options to choose from, labels for organization, and more. These can help individuals with autism navigate their environment more independently by showing what is expected in new routines, multistep activities, and behavior.

    The following are some different ways you might use visual supports at home. Your child’s teacher or behavior analyst might be able to provide additional advice or contact us to discuss how you might be able to use these options in your unique situation.


    Activity Schedules

    An activity schedule can depict part or all of a daily routine. You might keep it simply, “First –, then –.”

    ●        First chicken nuggets, then ice cream.

    ●        First puzzle, then iPad.

    ●        First brush teeth, then get dressed.

    Or you might sketch out the whole day (or sections of the day): breakfast, math worksheet, one TV show, read, play outside, lunch, and so on. Photos or picture symbols can be very helpful if the individual isn’t a fluent reader. You can find picture symbols for almost anything using the Boardmaker program, and you can edit the word labeling each picture. Your child may already be familiar with the style from use at school or work. The company offers a 30-day free trial, so you can print these at home as needed. If you prefer, use photos from your phone if you can print them, or just simply sketch or write out the terms you need. Teachers or behavior analysts working with your child may be able to provide these for you (materials they use at school or new ones specific to the home).


    Spend Time Outside or Moving

    If it is safe and there is no expected risk of elopement, then walks, movement breaks, and fresh air can be enjoyable ways to spend part of each day. If the weather or circumstances don’t allow for this, indoor movement breaks can be good options. Cosmic Kids and Go Noodle have yoga and movement stories your family may enjoy.


    Prioritizing Goals and Addressing Challenging Behavior

    Isolation and increased stress certainly make it difficult to address behavioral and academic goals. Be gentle with yourself as you do your best in these challenging times. You may wish to focus on home-based functional skills such as household chores or choice-making.


    If your child’s team has created a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) of strategies for addressing specific challenges, try to implement any components that are possible at home. Telehealth support (video-based consultation and/or instruction) might be a helpful option. In the meantime, if any existing or new challenges arise, jot down some notes that may be helpful to look back upon. Perhaps keep a notepad out where you can jot down:

    ●        What happened right before the behavior happened (e.g., I told him “Time for bed.”)

    ●        What it looked like (e.g., He screamed and hit his bedroom wall.)

    ●        What happened afterward (e.g., We ignored the screaming and provided minimal attention as we checked his hand. When he was calm, we did his nightly routine with him. Then, he paced in his room and went to bed at midnight).


    Mental Health Supports

    Helping Children Cope With Changes Resulting From COVID-19


    ●        Be a role model. Children learn from your example. Take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Share with your children how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.

    ●        Be aware of how you talk about COVID-19. Remind your child that you are going to do everything within your power to keep loved ones safe and well. Carefully listen or have them draw or write out their thoughts and feelings and respond with truth and reassurance.

    ●        Explain social distancing. Social distancing means staying away from others until the risk of contracting COVID-19 is under control. Showing older children the "flatten the curve" charts will help them grasp the significance of social distancing.

    ●        Demonstrate deep breathing. Deep breathing is a valuable tool for calming the nervous system. Do breathing exercises with your children.

    ●        Focus on the positive. Celebrate having more time to spend as a family. Make it as fun as possible. Allow older children to connect with their friends virtually.

    ●        Identify projects that might help others. This could include: writing letters to the neighbors or others who might be stuck at home alone or to healthcare workers; sending positive messages over social media; or reading a favorite children’s book on a social media platform for younger children to hear.

    ●        Offer lots of love and affection.



    Watching continual updates on COVID-19 may increase fear and anxiety. Dispel rumors and inaccurate information.

    Provide alternatives to TV and social media by engaging your child in games or other exciting activities instead.



    Let your children's questions guide you. Answer their questions truthfully, but don't offer unnecessary details or facts. Correct misinformation or misunderstandings.


    For all children, encourage them to verbalize their thoughts and feelings. Be a good listener!

    ●        Early elementary school children. Provide brief, simple information that balances COVID-19 facts with appropriate reassurances that adults are there to help keep them healthy and to take care of them if they do get sick. Give simple examples of the steps people make every day to stop germs and stay healthy, such as washing hands. Use language such as "adults are working hard to keep you safe."

    ●        Upper elementary and early middle school children. This age group often is more vocal in asking questions about whether they indeed are safe and what will happen if COVID-19 spreads in their area. They may need assistance separating reality from rumor and fantasy. Discuss the efforts national, state, and community leaders are doing to prevent germs from spreading.

    ●        Upper middle and high school students. Issues can be discussed in more depth. Refer them to appropriate sources of COVID-19 facts. Provide honest, accurate, and factual information about the current status of COVID-19. Engage them in decision-making about family plans, scheduling, and helping with chores at home.



    ●        Locate learning resources. Schools’ capacity to conduct virtual learning experiences will vary greatly, but most schools are providing lessons and learning activities for children to do. Take advantage of the many companies and online platforms currently offering free learning opportunities.

    ●        Identify additional resources. Know if your school or district is providing additional resources, such meals, or technology, such as a laptop or tablet.

    ●        Stay in touch. Find out how the school is communicating with families and students. Be sure to read any communications you receive. Check with you children, particularly older ones, as they may be receiving information directly that would be helpful for you to know.

    ●        Connect with school staff. Reach out to your child’s teacher and other relevant school staff if you have concerns about their coping and keeping up with assignments or activities.


    Stay up-to-date on the facts

    CDC WEBSITE: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html



    According to the CDC, symptoms of fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath appear within 14 days after being exposed to the disease. For some people, the symptoms are similar to having a cold; for others, they are more severe or even life threatening.



    Practice daily good hygiene. Encourage your child to practice these simple steps to prevent spreading the virus.

    ●        Wash your hands multiple times a day for 20 seconds. Signing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” or “Happy Birthday” twice is about 20 seconds.

    ●        Compliment your children when they use a Kleenex or sneeze or cough into the bend of their elbow. Teach them the importance of throwing away used tissues immediately after sneezing or coughing.

    ●        Sadly, handshakes and hugs need to be limited to immediate family members, at least for now.

    Build the immune system. Encourage your child to eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly; this will help them develop a robust immune system to fight off illness.

    Be aware of your children’s mental health

    Most children will manage well with the support of parents and other family members, even if showing signs of some anxiety or concerns, such as difficulty sleeping or concentrating. Some children, however, may have risk factors for more intense reactions, including severe anxiety or depression. Risk factors can include a pre-existing mental health problem, prior traumatic experiences or abuse, family instability, or the loss of a loved one. Parents and caregivers should contact a professional if children exhibit significant changes in behavior or any of the following symptoms for more than 2 weeks.

    ●        Preschoolers—thumb sucking, bedwetting, clinging to parents, sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, fear of the dark, regression in behavior, and withdrawal.

    ●        Elementary school children—irritability, aggressiveness, clinginess, nightmares, school avoidance, poor concentration, and withdrawal from activities and friends.

    ●        Adolescents—sleeping and eating disturbances, agitation, excessive worry or sadness, increase in conflicts, physical complaints, delinquent behavior, and poor attention and concentration.

    Reducing Anxiety and Sadness

    ●        Be as calm as you can with your child. Let them know it is okay to feel upset. Try using words that join them in their feelings (e.g., “I’m disappointed I won’t get to hear your choir sing, too”). Help them process their emotions by allowing them to have some alone time, write a letter about how they feel, or talk about the things they will miss.

    ●        After your child has expressed their struggle, work to help them find their own coping strategies. Ask your child to identify some benefits of staying home or activities they are looking forward to doing. Help children regain confidence that you and other adults are working to keep them safe.

    ●        Do not force children to talk, but assure them that they can talk to you any time.

    ●        Children always feel empowered if they can control some aspects of their life. A sense of control reduces fear. One way to help your children foster a sense of control is to offer guidance on what your child/children can do to prevent infection. Allowing your child to make small choices (e.g., which shirt to wear) throughout the day is also helpful.

    Mindfulness Journaling

    What is mindfulness? This is the ability to calmly acknowledge and accept one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, it can be used as a therapeutic technique.


    Utilize a mindfulness journal with your child to create an opportunity for “emotional check-ins”. You can print out the “journal” from the google link below. This journal includes a mindfulness activity that your child can reflect on and write about in their journal.


    Review each activity and what your child wrote together in order to create a discussion about their mental health.


    Mindfulness Journal


    Maintaining Relationships

    ●        Allow children to communicate with family, friends, and teachers via phone or video calls.

    ●        Consider teaching your children how to write letters to friends and family.


    Other Recommendations and Resources:


     There are three key messages about homework that parents need to give their children:

    1.        Homework is an important part of school. Expect children to complete homework and hand it in when it is due. Holding children accountable for homework builds responsibility and time management skills.

    2.       Parental support will be provided as needed. Children are less likely to become discouraged or frustrated when parents offer encouragement and assure them that help is available when they get stuck. For some children, it is helpful just to have a parent nearby while they work.

    3.       Parents will not do homework for their children. This message lets children know that the parent role is to encourage and to help them get unstuck, while at the same time communicating that homework is designed to help children master skills that parents already attained.


    Strategies for Supporting Homework:

    ●        Check in with your children every day. While some children, particularly as they get older, resist help or supervision from parents, minimally parents can ask them about homework and plans for completing it. ‘‘What do you have to do and when are you going to do it?’’ should be a daily mantra for parents as they help their children plan for homework.

    ●        Establish clear homework routines. By establishing daily routines for homework completion, parents will not only make homework go more smoothly, but they will also foster a sense of order that children can apply to later life, including college and work. Writing the routine on a whiteboard or printing it out and giving your child a clock or watch they can read may be helpful. The steps to establishing homework routines include:

    ○      Identify a location where homework will be done.

    ○      Make sure children have all the materials needed to complete homework assignments (e.g., pencils, erasers, paper, dictionary, calculator).

    ○      Decide on the best time to do homework (e.g., early morning, just before or after dinner).

    ○      Make plans for completing homework (i.e., list all the tasks to be accomplished, identify when children will begin each task, and have your children estimate how long it will take to complete each task).

    ○      Include breaks for physical exercise. Exercise helps focus the mind. When planning for breaks, focus more on work completion than the amount of time spent working. Assign content to complete before they take a break, such as a math worksheet or 10 pages to read in a book. Children will be more motivated to complete the task so they can spend the rest of that time scheduled to have some fun.

    ●        Supervise but don’t micromanage. Some children will need more help with homework than others, but a general rule of thumb is provide the minimum help necessary for the child to be successful.

    ●        Help children establish and maintain organizational systems. Help your children keep workspaces neat and set up systems to keep track of homework assignments.

    ●        Look for others to help. Homework can be time-consuming for both parents and children. Parents may find it helpful to take turns supervising homework, alternating by nights or by subject matter. They may also be able to enlist the support of other family members, including grandparents and older siblings.

    ●        Use incentives if necessary. For children who are not motivated by grades, parents may need to look for other rewards to help them get through their daily homework routine. These may include:

    ○      Giving children something to look forward to once homework is complete

    ○      Building in breaks along the way (either after a set period of time or after a set amount of work is accomplished)

    ○      Building in choice, such as the order in which they will complete tasks or the schedule they will follow

    ○      If a child’s misbehavior requires a consequence, make it very quick and direct. The best consequences are those that expire quickly, such as no screen time for one hour.

    ●        Establish clear communication channels with teachers. Parents alone cannot solve all homework problems. When students do not understand the assignment or lack the skills or knowledge to complete it, parents will have to reach out to teachers for assistance.

    ●        Make sure children get plenty of sleep. In order to do this, focus on the wake-up time rather than the bedtime. Make sure they are waking up at the same time every day. The bedtime will follow as the children will get tired at night. Do not allow older children to take naps, as they disrupt sleep cycles. Don’t allow your child to do anything but read in bed. Keep phones and other devices charging in a separate room.

    Working from home while caring for children

    ●        Set reasonable expectations or rules and go over them with your children before you need to use them. Make sure your rules tell children what to do instead of what not to do, and keep them simple and enforceable. For example, if you need to be on a work conference call, you might set a rule such as “play quietly in the living room until I am off the call. If you need help with something, ask one of your siblings nicely. Be helpful and kind to each other and use your inside voices.”

    ●        Make sure your children have age-appropriate and safe activities to keep them busy and engaged. Try to save the most appealing activities for the times that they are likely to be a challenge.

    ●        Make a plan for how you might reward your child for good behavior while you are busy. This can be as simple as looking at them and smiling, or giving a thumbs up when they're on task. You can also give specific praise, such as, “I like the way you’re playing quietly while I’m on the phone.”

    ●        You will also need a plan for handling challenging behavior when it occurs. Use strategies that children are already familiar with and that work for you in other circumstances. If possible, deal with the problem behavior immediately.

    ●        After your call or conference, follow up with children about what went well and what they can work on next time. For example, “You did a great job staying in the living room when I was on my call, and you were helpful and kind to each other. Next time, remember to use you inside voices.”

    ●        These tips will be even more successful if you practice them with your children before you need to use them. Keep practice sessions short and focused on how you want your children to behave in the real situation.

    Self-Care for Parents and Guardians

    Parents and other caregivers play a critical role in helping children cope with uncertain times. However, caregivers must also take good care of themselves to prevent burnout so they can take good care of the children in their charge. All caregivers need to consider the following suggestions to prevent burnout:

    ●        Physical self-care. Maintain healthy eating habits and drink plenty of water; limit the use of alcohol or other substances; get adequate sleep.

    ●        Emotional self-care. Know your limitations; recognize that your reactions are normal and occur frequently among caregivers. If you find yourself overwhelmed by negative thoughts, find ways to reframe your thinking.

    ●        Social care and connection. Maintain normal daily routines; connect with trusted friends or family; connect with systemic supports such as your faith and school communities

    ●        Adequate support resources. Acknowledge that you and your family may need additional help. Access support resources provided by community and volunteer services, including social–emotional and mental health supports.



    ●        Virtual tours of museums and zoos

    ●        “But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids” - https://www.vpr.org/programs/why-podcast-curious-kids#stream/0

    ●        Cosmic Kids Yoga on Youtube

    ●        Drawing with Mo Willems on Youtube (Author of the Pigeon books)

    ●        Have children make vision boards of goals they want to accomplish (e.g., learn a skill, complete a personal project, etc.).

    ●        Watch stories being read through Wake County Public Libraries’ “Storytime Anytime” page - http://www.wakegov.com/libraries/events/Pages/StorytimeAnytime.aspx

    Internet and Broadband Connection

    For families, workers, & students having to make a sudden transition to working and learning from home, the North Carolina Dept of Information Technology (NCDIT) has created an interactive map and list of broadband providers who will provide service for free or at a discounted rate.

    For questions call the NCDIT at 919-754-6733 or email broadband@nc.gov

    Back to school

    School closures due to COVID-19 are temporary. However, just as children may have difficulty adjusting to learning from home, they may also have difficulty transitioning back to being at school after a long break. The following are tips to make that transition smoother.


    ●        Good physical and mental health. Be sure your children are in good physical and mental health. Schedule doctor and dental checkups early. Discuss any concerns you have over your children’s emotional or psychological development with your pediatrician. Your doctor can help determine if your concerns are normal, age-appropriate issues or require further assessment. Your children will benefit if you can identify and begin addressing a potential issue before school starts.

    ●        Review all of the information. Review the material sent by the school as soon as it arrives. These packets may include important information about school calendar dates, bus transportation, and health and emergency forms.

    ●        Reestablish bedtime and mealtime routines at least 1 week before school starts. Prepare your children for this change by talking with them about the benefits of school routines in terms of not becoming overtired or overwhelmed by school work and activities.

    ●        Turn off the TV. Encourage your children to play quiet games, do puzzles, flash cards, color, or read as early morning activities instead of watching television. This will help ease them back into the learning process and school routine. If possible, maintain this practice throughout the school year. Your children will arrive at school better prepared to learn each morning if they have engaged in less passive activities.

    ●        Leave plenty of extra time. Make sure your children have plenty of time to get up, eat breakfast, and get to school.

    ●        Prepare for after school. Review with your children what to do if they get home after school and you are not there. Be very specific, particularly with young children. Put a note card in their backpack with the name(s) and number(s) of a neighbor who is home during the day as well as a number where you can be reached. If you have not already done so, have your children meet neighbor contacts to reaffirm the backup support personally.


    For more information, visit the websites below: