By Dr. Elizabeth Williams, Psychologist and Behavioral Health Consultant
“I want to go back to school!!!”
Any other parents amazed to hear these words coming from your children’s mouths? Virtual schooling can be challenging for kids, teens, and families. Here are a few ideas to help it go easier.
1. Set the Stage. As much as possible, children should have a designated “School spot” that is free of distractions (unnecessary screens, siblings, etc). Working from the same spot every day helps cue the mind that it’s time to get to work. Help children organize their supplies and work so that everything they need is easy to access.
2. Routine. Children thrive on consistent routine and expectations. Decide together with your children what time you’d like school to start each day, and stick to it. You may help children get in the groove with an “opening bell” activity, such as watching a check-in video from the teacher, writing out their plan for the day, and/or incorporating a mindfulness activity or starting song, depending on the age of the child. Knocking out the most difficult subject first also creates momentum and lets children put in their hardest effort while they are relatively “fresh.”
3. Reward success. On a basic level, this may simply mean that we have to complete our work each day before we get to do fun activities, or especially have recreational screen time. If your child is having trouble getting motivated, ask them if there is anything they’d like to work toward. Some at-home examples include: making slime, playing a board game, family movie night, baking together, or letting the child pick dinner after a week of successful home-schooling. You can also consider ways to adapt what worked for your child in the classroom. For example, if your child was responsive to the color system, you can make your own color chart together.
4. Balance supervision and independence. For children of all ages, but especially for middle- and high-schoolers, the balance between “helicopter parenting” and adequate supervision is a fine line to walk. On one hand, teens want to, and should be responsible for their own work. On the other hand, it is an unpleasant discovery to find that weeks have gone by with missing work piling up. Consider the idea of “scaffolding” - that the shift from total dependence to total independence is gradual and progressive. If this is a challenge in your household, talk together about what kind of monitoring makes sense and what your child or teen’s preferences are, then decide pro-actively and collaboratively what situations would lead to either more earned independence, or to more frequent monitoring.
5. Patience and compassion. We are all coping with a lot right now: loss of the school year, separation from friends, boredom, and all the “adult” fears of this uncertain time. Remember: We do the best we can, and let go of the rest. Expect bad days and know that tomorrow is always a fresh start.
6. Reach out. If you are concerned about how this time is going for your child or family, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Teachers are a great place to start and often have ideas about what works well for your child. Your doctors and behavioral health specialists are also here to support you.