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How to Help your Child Adjust to Distance Learning, Homeschooling, or Modified Instruction

The terms “distance learning” and “homeschooling” are hotly discussed topics right now. Many districts and schools around the United States are opting not to start the year in person. While this helps ensure all of our safety, it is still frustrating for parents and children alike. You fear that your child will fall behind. You fear your child will be lonely. You fear you don’t contain the resources or ability to teach your child from home. You fear for your child’s mental and social health. You fear your child may never leave their room. You fear that you and your child will argue constantly about their work.

It’s natural to feel anxious given the unpredictability of the upcoming school year. Your child likely shares these fears. They worry that their teachers won’t help them. They worry that they can’t see their friends every day. They worry about making new social connections or losing existing ones. They worry that all their activities and groups will also be cancelled. They worry that they will lose their sense of community. They worry that they are going to have more conflict with their parents over schoolwork and grades. They worry they won’t be able to measure up for their parents. They worry about being overwhelmed or distracted. Although distance learning and homeschooling can be a difficult transition for many children but there are ways of making it easier and even fun.

Embrace Effective Communication 

Before the school year even begins, have regular conversations with your child about what to expect. Tell them to prepare for some change and uncertainty. Explain that they will be learning, at least partially, from home. You may want to map out a general schedule for them to understand how learning fits into their lives (with the expectation that it will change). Actively listen to your child’s fears, concerns, or disappointments. Brainstorm ways to help your child feel safe and capable.

Although it is healthy to acknowledge your worries, try not to dominate the conversation by talking about your own fears or disappointments with or around your child. They will feed off of your negative energy. Instead, emphasize the positives of distance learning or homeschooling. Portray the change as something new and exciting. Express confidence that the both of you can work through these difficulties together. You may say something like, “I don’t have the answers and I am not sure how this is going to all work yet, but we will figure it out together.” You could even remind them that you struggle at times too, but adjusting to change is a natural part of learning.  

Remain Available 

Once the school year starts, continue to take an active role in their mental and educational health. Continue to listen to their concerns and help them to feel safe despite their frustrations. Give them time to grieve and adapt to the large change going on in their lives. Express that you know they are trying their best. Let them know that you are there for them and ask questions (but don’t overdo it).  

Continue to show interest in their education. Express curiosity and excitement in what they are learning. Show that you are available to listen, problem-solve, or help depending on what they need. If you are traditionally homeschooling your child, you can even get their opinions on some of the different programs available or even whether you will use an online approach or rely on books. Start to map out potential schedules and give your child some limited options on how things may work. Involve them in learning healthy ways to cope with uncertainty during the COVID period.  

Prioritize Consistency in Homeschooling

Treat the start of the school year like any other. Allow your child to pick out their pencils, favorite colored notebooks, and other school supplies. Start having them go to bed a little earlier each night. You may start to get them up at an earlier time. If your child is getting up late (like even afternoons), start with having them wake up 30-60 minutes earlier per week until they are closer to a workable schedule. 

Your child’s schedule won’t look exactly like their past school schedules, but try to keep it consistent. If your child likes to sleep in a little more, pick a new time that they need to up, washed, and dressed. If they need longer or more frequent breaks, schedule these into their day. Form a schedule with your child detailing when they get up in the morning, take breaks/recess, eat snack and lunch, and end school for the day. 

If you are balancing a job that requires traditional hours with their school day, your schedules may be quite different than the typical school year. That is ok.  For example, you may find that your child will have some weekend learning, but shorter learning periods during the week. You may have instruction later in the day, or over an extended lunch hour. You may have longer days and shorter days. You are likely going to have to be creative to manage your child’s school and a job. Maintaining structure will help your child to feel more capable, stable, and motivated. It also makes your expectations and boundaries clear.

Keep Home and “School” Separate

For children who equate home with play, it’s important to create physical boundaries that communicate when it’s time for work. Designate a room for schoolwork and explain the rules of this space to your child. If you don’t have an entire room, try cornering off a part of a room with shelves or curtains. Let your child know that once they enter this space, they are at “school.”

Communicate with your child what behaviors are allowed when in “school” verses at home. Likewise, explain the behaviors allowed when you are their parent outside of school versus when you are their “teacher.” 

Allow your child ten minutes at the start and end of their day to mentally process the transition between “school” and home. In the past, car or bus rides were likely their method of transition. It may be helpful to drive around the block or even just sit in the car with them for a few minutes at the start and end of the school day. 

For more tips on boundaries and relationships in quarantine, visit the link below:

Reach out for Help

Recruit your parents, friends, or family to teach certain days of the week or subjects. Pair up with a small group of other parents and rotate teaching in person or virtually. Tutors are also beneficial. 

If your child is old enough, encourage them to reach out to their teachers or peers when they don’t understand something. Oversee virtual study groups where others in your child’s class learn from each other. 

Therapy is also a great tool for helping you and your child adapt to new schedules. Therapists can help your child cope with their fears and frustrations. Therapy also helps you better support your child through this change. Psychologists can teach your child how to manage a schedule, prioritize assignments, and work on studying techniques. They can help your child problem-solve ways to connect with peers and develop increasing independence and resiliency.

Help Maintain Your Child’s Social Health During Homeschooling

For many children, school is their only connection with friends and the outside world. Learning alone can be confusing, frustrating, and alienating for children used to learning in large groups. 

Integrate your child’s social life with their educational life. Have them practice their writing skills by sending letters to seniors. Let them practice giving presentations to their classmates or relatives via zoom. Play structured games with friends online such as I spy, charades, or trivia. Help your child form a book club with classmates.

Growing Friendships During the Coronavirus Pandemic is a free e-book by Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore and Christine Mclaughlin. It covers many mental and social concerns for children and parents alike. It also includes fun ideas and tips for how to connect virtually and in person.

Release Expectations

Your child may not be as productive or as happy once school starts up again. It is okay if your child falls a little behind. It is okay if they hate homeschooling or distance learning. Despite the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19, distance learning or homeschooling is temporary. The main goal is to get through this period and do our best.  

Just as it’s important to release expectations for your child, it’s important to let go of expectations for teachers, tutors, and helpers. Everyone is doing their best right now. It won’t be perfect, and it may be far from perfect in the beginning. A common reaction to stress is to expect more from ourselves and others. Try to be aware of that stress response, as it often creates more stress, and possible relationship difficulties. Remember that you and your child’s educational helpers are on the same side.  

Finally, release expectations for yourself. Teaching is difficult which is why most people have to train for years. At this time, more than any other, take it easy on the perfectionism. You are not a failure if your child struggles to adjust. Remember to hold compassion for everyone involved in your child’s education, including yourself.

By Dahlia Garofalo, BA and Cindy Anderson, Ph.D., ABPP


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