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Home has become many things in the age of COVID-19. It is the office, the gym, the salon, the closest restaurant — and for many parents, it is now the classroom. The shift to distance learning has been a major transition for everyone, leaving even the most organized and energetic parents feeling overwhelmed by the pressure of juggling work, chores, and their children’s education.

Remote schooling can be particularly challenging with older children. Teenagers and college-aged students have more advanced work that their parents may struggle to help them with. Older children may also feel more frustrated that they can’t spend time with friends or engage in extracurricular activities they find exciting and meaningful. They, too, are learning how to navigate this new educational landscape, but they must do so without an adult’s maturity, experience, and coping skills.

As a parent at this time, you may worry that you have so many roles to fill that you can’t possibly perform any of them well. It’s important to remind yourself that this global health emergency is unlike anything we have experienced in our lifetimes. Everyone is learning to adapt. By being compassionate with yourself and following these distance learning tips, you can manage your stress levels and make each day a little easier for your family.

Listen Actively and Acknowledge Your Child’s Feelings

Teenagers and young adults seek understanding. Listen to their concerns and validate their feelings, even if the situations they describe seem insignificant to you. Asking guiding questions can help older children explore their emotions and learn to create solutions.

For example: “I know it’s frustrating that you can’t see you’re friends in person at school right now. How do you think you can stay in touch with them?” Demonstrate that you’re listening by giving your full attention and creating a “holding environment,” a space where your child feels heard, understood and accepted.

Recognize the Differences in Your Experiences

It may be tempting to try to relate to your child by sharing experiences from your own life that you feel are similar. Proceed with caution. The world today is drastically different from the world you grew up in, and although you mean well, it may be impossible to fully understand some of the issues children are dealing with now. Stories about how you survived the recession in 2008 won’t necessarily help today’s college seniors, who will be forced to compete with executives and directors for entry-level jobs due to all the pandemic-related job losses. Focus on understanding your child’s experiences, rather than trying to ‘fix’ or compare. them

Establish a Daily Routine 

In the absence of the usual routines, create new daily schedules that give structure to the day. Try to establish a routine that blends age-appropriate education programs with time for reading and time for social engagement and fun activities. Your plan can also factor in morning routines and bedtimes, exercise, chores, and family time. Designating a distraction-free area for schoolwork and homework can help your child focus. But remember: as beneficial as a daily routine can be, not every hour needs to be scheduled. Allow for flexibility and free time, too.

Set New Expectations and Don’t Expect Perfection

The world is evolving around us on a seemingly daily basis. To survive and thrive, we must be resilient and adaptive. It’s unrealistic to expect that everything will go according to plan for you or your child. Be prepared to relax rules at times, or to switch up your educational plan if it isn’t working. Recognize that everyone is doing their best under difficult circumstances and practice compassion towards yourself as well as your child.

Adjusting expectations can be an important part of this process. You will probably not be as productive in your work life as you usually are in this scenario. Likewise, your child will probably not be as focused and productive with their schoolwork. Know when your child needs to take a break — it’s okay sometimes just to make popcorn and put on a movie! Be open to changing your definition of what a successful day looks like and setting new, more achievable goals.

Turn Education into Positive Shared Experiences

Distance learning and learning at school do not have to look the same. In a world that involves much more uncertainty and much less social interaction than we’re used to, look for ways to create educational experiences that are engaging, uplifting, and communal. Take part in activities that you both enjoy and that allow for nontraditional learning. For example, cooking together allows you to spend quality time with your child, and it also helps them build useful life skills and presents opportunities to discuss science and math. These kinds of family experiences play a central role in a child’s well-being.

Lead By Example

Remote learning and remote work involve some of the same challenges. If you are working from home, you have an opportunity to demonstrate good habits for your child. Create a home office space that encourages them to similarly create a dedicated schooling space. Set boundaries that help you stay focused to model how to work productively. Teach your child to handle setbacks at school by reacting to your own work challenges with patience, flexibility, and optimism. Children are attuned to their parents’ behaviors, even if they appear ‘tuned out,’ so be a positive role model.

Communicate With Your Child’s Educational Institution

Keep in touch with your child’s school staff and teachers to ask questions, discuss any concerns your child is facing, and request more guidance. They may be able to provide you with additional learning resources, such as online platforms offering free lessons or ideas for nontraditional learning activities. Parenting groups or community groups can also be good sources of support and tips for distance learning.

We have to adapt, and that’s okay. Life itself is change and development. We want to look back in 10 years and talk to future generations about this crisis. To remember with pride how we coped, whether our children were schooled virtually or not. How courageous were we, and what values did we instill in our children that will stay with them throughout their lifetime.

Learn more about Dr. Judith Zackson’s Parenting & Child Therapy services.

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