Thursday 26 November, 2020

Helping parents support their children during online learning

The continuing spread of the coronavirus in some countries has forced tens of thousands of students to learn online. 

In my practice, I have found this “second-wave” so much more concerning, not just because of the increasing Covid-positive cases coupled with the alarming reports of Covid-related deaths, but also because of the deep, pervasive sadness all around. 

We have to accept that this is our way of life, for the time being, until the world develops a vaccine. The world is in a state of grief, which is important for us to acknowledge and to sit with.  Our delusion of control has been called out and yet we have the same responsibilities, same burdens, same issues that we did before. But, instead of falling into despair, we must rise above. Flexible thinking combined with a willingness to adapt is the name of the game.

So why is online learning so challenging for many parents?  From the discussions I have had with parents and students, there is resistance to online learning stemming from loss, which then in turn has led to a reluctance to adapt.  Loss of an established routine, loss of in-person instruction and, most of all, loss of the school-community has caused grief in both children and adults. However, we understand that opposition to adapting to our new “Now”, will result in the interruption of emotional and intellectual growth.

For many parents and guardians, lack of technology or competition within the family for technology is an issue. Furthermore, I’ve spoken to many parents who felt as though they were ill-equipped to help their children.

Arising out of this, despair and hopelessness hijacks parents’ brains which in turn affects family life on a multitude of levels.  Making space within a home, especially in close quarters is also a challenge. Multiple children with multiple learning needs can be overwhelming for parents to manage, especially when they have different schedules and learning expectations. 

For example, the two-year-old toddler has different learning responsibilities compared to her six and eight-year-old siblings. Moreover, there is sometimes only one parent, day in and day out, who is responsible for managing their various needs in addition to his or her own work.

For some parents, their lack of training and knowledge is a source of remarkable anxiety. Not only do they not understand the devices, platforms or use of technology on a whole, but many do not understand the curriculum demands, academic concepts or instructions given by teachers.

While I’ve spoken to many parents who want to learn, some feel as though they do not have enough time to get up to speed or are ashamed of their limitations.  For some of my parents, working from home has left them without colleagues, office banter or adult companionship.

Being overburdened by longer working hours as well as being saddled with additional responsibilities at home has increased self-criticism and reactivity.  Many stay-at-home parents struggle with being forced into teaching roles and are experiencing their loss of routine which previously allowed them to manage the home and the children. Some have told me they feel constantly on-call or on-demand not only by their children but sometimes by the schools.

Most families will agree, however, that the disconnect from our communities has been difficult to accept. No longer do some have the time, opportunity or even feel comfortable going for that morning walk or having lunch with friends. There are very few opportunities for that much needed outlet.

So, what can we do? How do we navigate this pandemic related “Now” so that we effectively support our children online as well as keep ourselves feeling constructive?

Set realistic goals and be mindful that there is a learning process for all

While some teachers seem to have better command of online learning, we know that others do not for many reasons.  Thus, it is important that you establish a working relationship with your current teacher but also maintain healthy relationships with past ones. Remember your children’s former teachers know your child’s unique learning style, the discipline strategies which proved fruitful as well as the teaching methods which resonated.  In other words, they can tell you what worked since you now have a huge teaching role. There is much to be learned from past and present teachers. The teachers in-turn will appreciate your interest and support.  When all stakeholders speak the same language and are consistent, your child has the best chance of thriving.

Keep a routine as best as possible

If you have older children who are online, try to be in sync with their breaks so that you are also available during that time for a chat, a snack or even a movement break.  Avoid the use of screens during this time to give the brain the chance to reset. However, when they are in session, try to get your work done.  Teaching your preschoolers may be a bit more demanding. But remember, children learn through play and interaction.  Singing songs, playing games and movement activities are key to development.  Allow them to attend their preschool sessions online with supervision; however, you may want to utilise their down time to complete your work.  Ensure that creative time, physical activity, and self-care (for yourselves and your children) are also scheduled in. Screen time for entertainment should be minimal and used only as a reinforcement. 

Minimise distractions where possible

Try to declutter the study area. With multiple children, who are able to be in the same room, set up a study center for each person. Younger children should have appropriately sized desks so that their little legs don’t dangle. Their feet should be planted on the floor to ensure maximum comfort and to reduce distraction. If there is a competition for devices, stagger the hours of homework and revision where possible. You may need to get your child’s classwork sent to you via email ahead of time or pick it up in a hard copy form if possible to review separately with your child. 

Schedule in chores

Chores teach children responsibility and reinforce the importance of being part of a community.  Children always should take responsibility for their personal space such as their bedrooms.  But community chores also teach life skills from a young age as well as encourage independence.  They build work ethic since there is a sense of teamwork and respect for one’s surroundings. However, parents are also reminded to offer a positive reinforcement or affirmation for a job well-done. Try using star charts to keep you children on task but nothing can replace a kind word or a hug.  

If you are a part of a small ‘pod’ or group, whether with family or friends who-are-like-family, be there for each other

If you have children around the same age, maybe you can take alternating days for online supervision of two or three children at a time. One parent told me that in their “bubble” parents take turns watching small groups of children play in community areas for an hour or two at a time, which then frees the other parents to run much needed errands.  This way parents get the chance to take care of work, home and even self.  Remember, it really does take a village to raise a child.

Try to put in one night a week for family time

 A special time where screens are not allowed. It is important to model for your children that screens do not have to be attached to a person at all times. Put in traditional board games, card games or outdoor activities that we played as children (such as Hopscotch, All-Fours or Moral). Play a game of darts, go for a walk or even a swim. At my home, we enjoy making s’mores outside with our children and stargazing. I recently had the pleasure of participating in a wonderful full moon yoga session, online, with my daughter which was both bonding and relaxing. We have this time with our children for such a short period, we need to remember to enjoy their company. After all, being a parent is the greatest gift and honour one will ever be blessed with.

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