Many kids who are learning virtually this year are burned out from too much screen time and social isolation—or they’re having trouble engaging with academics in an online setting. What can parents do to support children of all ages through the challenges of remote schooling during a pandemic?
ParentsTogether’s Bethany Robertson discussed these issues and more alongside guest Laura Markham, Ph.D., a psychologist and founder of Aha! Parenting, on a recent podcast episode of Katie’s Crib, hosted by actress and mom Katie Lowes. Here are some of the top tips from the episode, which offers honest and tangible advice for parenting during this extremely difficult year.
Focus on kids’ wellbeing over academics
Robertson agrees with most parents that doing school—and everything—from home is “so overwhelming on every front.” It can definitely be hard to keep up with academics this year, but at the same time, our children are facing a mental health crisis and their emotional wellbeing must come first.
So, she says, “Keeping it as simple as possible seems to be the key, and really staying connected to what matters.” For example, if a full day spent on the computer is just too much for your child, as it is for most, you can pare their schedule down to only the meetings or videos that are going to make them feel most engaged and up to date with their learning.
She suggests that parents find a balance between appreciating the extra effort that teachers are putting in right now, while also asking educators to have some grace and understanding for your child’s and your family’s situation.
As Dr. Markham points out, while schools and educators are doing the best they can under pandemic circumstances, “that doesn’t mean that it’s the best thing for your child.” It’s not developmentally beneficial for children, especially young children, to spend so much time in front of a screen.
Build in physical activity
That’s why it’s so important for kids to take plenty of breaks from online schoolwork. Dr. Markham urges parents to make sure kids have time every day for free play, going outdoors, running around, and simply laughing. “Laughter reduces the stress hormones circulating in the body,” she says.
Try to create a routine where kids go outside for a walk or to play in the yard before their virtual school day starts, or build in unstructured play time in between required meetings. During inclement weather, set up indoor activities that’ll get your kids moving.
Make time for personal connection
Besides physical activity, play, and laughter, children also need to bond with their parents and feel loved—especially during this isolating and scary time. Dr. Markham stressed, “The kids who are at risk are the ones who don’t have a parent who can spend time with them.”
For example, Dr. Markham said that being read to by parents is more beneficial for young kids than listening to their teacher read over Zoom. Parents and children can also find ways to focus on their emotional wellbeing—while spending time together—through family mindfulness activities.
This need for connection becomes more difficult to meet when parents need to work from home, but it’s important to set aside time away from work. If possible, schedule a morning shift where you’re on with the kids and an afternoon shift where a partner or other caregiver is on with the kids.
You can also set up times for kids to connect with their peers, even if it has to be over Zoom. If kids have a virtual learning buddy, suggests Dr. Markham, they can chat while putting together a book report, which helps them feel less alone as well as more engaged in learning.
Take care of yourself
Parents of kids from toddlers to teens, emphasizes Dr. Markham, should start with themselves—because “the more we’re relaxed, comfortable, supportive, emotionally generous, grounded, the more we can show up for our kids at any age.”
Dr. Markham offers some specific tips for taking care of your own emotions and stress as an adult. The easiest one for de-stressing: “Parents need to just give themselves a hug. And actually, you can just take your hands and rub them on your arms, and it actually shifts your body chemistry, slows down the stress hormones.”
She also highlights that routine care for your own physical and mental health can go a long way toward effective parenting. She recommends focusing on exercise, meditation and deep breathing, healthy eating, not drinking too much, and getting enough sleep.
And especially when parenting against this chaotic background of a global crisis, sometimes it’s important to shut off whatever you’re listening to or watching that’s causing you distress, and take a deep breath—then you can share with your child why you did that.
Advocate for better solutions for all
Lastly, rather than being complacent about the beyond-stressful situation we’re all in, it’s important to find ways to get involved in making things better for kids and families in our communities and across the country. “There’s such a need for parents to stand up and say, this is not okay. We are struggling and we have been abandoned,” says Robertson. “There is so much that we as a society should be doing to help families in need.”
So whether it’s getting excited about voting or finding fun ways as a family to encourage our communities to vote, raising your voice to make sure all students in your district have access to the internet and devices they need for school, asking your representatives to fight for better economic support for families, or donating to a local food bank or Covid-19 relief effort, finding a greater purpose will help you keep hope alive for yourself and your kids.