After the kindergartener bit me, we had a meeting. The behaviorist, new to our school, asked:

“Can we completely remove demands?”

He was asking us to stop forcing him to get work done, or even to sit down, or listen. This idea is radical to most educators, but not me. It’s my job to understand how children learn, and how to manage their emotions and behavior.

His idea is simple and true: You have to learn to feel safe and happy before you learn reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Stress, basically, is demand. And stress on parents just increased immensely. Lack of preparation and training to meet these sudden demands – schooling your children is just one – magnifies the stress. The first thing most parents did was add another big demand on themselves. They tried to learn how to be a teacher, on the fly, in a week. That’s an unreasonable demand, and it takes away from the ways that they already are teachers. So let’s start turning this situation around.

First, put yourself first. You’re a selfless parent, and you always say your kids come first. But you can’t teach your child to feel secure and happy unless you are. The good news is, you don’t need to find a video or give a lecture. It’s taught by modeling. As you’re protecting and caring for your kids, don’t forget to do the things that keep you calm, balanced, safe, and happy. They will see this and learn from it.

Then comes your child’s sense of security. Some children are anxious about this situation. Allow them to share what they know, have seen or heard, and are thinking and feeling. Let them know it’s perfectly normal and common to feel stressed or worried. Let them know if you feel the same. Share age-appropriate facts: What is a virus? How is it transmitted? Involve them in the things we can do to minimize risk, in the same way we wear seatbelts and look both ways. Most of all, reassure them that you and they are safe.

Next comes happiness. The simplest part of this is ensuring your kids get nutrition, hydration, sleep, and exercise. One way to do this is to allow them sweets only after they’ve met basic nutritional needs. Give them water all day. Send them out in a safe space to play vigorously for at least an hour a day. If you’re not exhausted, go play with them. Having fun is a great way to be happy, as three 2nd graders reminded me this morning. On rainy days, do silly movement videos and have dance parties. Ensure they get enough sleep. If they can’t get to bed at their old bedtime, let them sleep in later. Their body will let you know when it’s ready to start up again. Most of all, give lots of long hugs, sweet words, or whatever your family does to show affection.

Schools have to provide as much work as they can right now. Spoiler: A lot of it’s not getting done. But it’s their legal mandate, and they’re in the same boat as you are. It’s new, they’re unprepared and learning on the fly, and sharing in the stress and worry because they also love your children. The responsibility of their education, though, is the school’s. You’re helping, and we’re so grateful for anything and everything you’re doing to help. But we want you to put happiness and peace of mind first.

Your child may or may not learn calculus or all of their upper and lower case letters this spring. It honestly doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. My students (and anyone who was a child, then a parent) know that we don’t learn much from being told something. We learn from seeing people do things, and from doing things ourselves and seeing the results. This is an opportunity to teach your children not with words, but with actions. Maybe it’s algebra, but maybe it’s how to respond to stress. Maybe it’s adapting to sudden, unexpected changes. Maybe it’s how to organize time. Maybe it’s how to be happy.

The kindergartener who had bitten me left our school before very long. He wasn’t yet secure or happy, but he was getting there. If he had, we would have gotten other things done. But all things in order. First, know that you’re safe and it’s going to be okay. Then you can work on being happy. Then you can learn.

Philip Medeiros, of Ashford, is a school psychologist and parent. His opinions are his own.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of