Forget Homeschooling, It’s More Important to Keep Kids Mentally Healthy
In these strange times, many of us have new family priorities and responsibilities. These might include working from home while homeschooling the children, taking care of parents or elderly relatives, and helping kids adjust to new, chaotic surroundings or respond to the death of a loved one.
It’s tough to know what to prioritize and how.
I understand that and am here to tell you that right now, it’s more important to keep kids mentally healthy than to homeschool them — and it’s more important for parents to stay sane than to try to do everything “right.”
Why is homeschooling so tough right now?
Homeschooling is usually a carefully planned choice made by parents who have the time, skills, and resources to make it work in the long-term. After all, developing and implementing an age-appropriate curriculum requires a significant time commitment.
During this global emergency, many of us parents have had homeschooling thrust upon us, on top of working and tackling more financial and household responsibilities than ever.
Not surprisingly, we’ve found out just how difficult it is to make this arrangement work. Younger children can find formal learning challenges even at the best of times, but particularly when they are away from the structured school environment and without the company of their peers.
Add the fact that we are living in highly unusual circumstances, separated from friends and family, and it’s no wonder that children may be resisting our efforts to engage with anything academic!
Parents, meanwhile, may be dealing with a lack of support from their children’s schools and/or a huge amount of homeschooling work that seems impossible to complete. Many parents report feeling anxious when they see an email or text message arrive from their child’s school.
How to address homeschooling challenges
If you and/or your children find homeschooling too stressful or anxiety-inducing, protect your mental health by ignoring or unsubscribing from communications until you feel calmer and more equipped to deal with them.
It may also be helpful to call your child’s teacher, if he or she is available, and let them know that identifying one or two key tasks per week would be more useful than a neverending stream of suggestions.
Remember that any work is not compulsory and your child will not be penalized if it isn’t done. The best way to approach anything sent by your children’s schools is to consider it a resource to leverage as you please, rather than the ticking time bomb of stress-producing homework.
Consider these less stressful homeschooling alternatives
Textbooks aren’t the only way to learn during coronavirus lockdown. There are many creative activities that provide great learning for kids, without binding them to traditional educational methods.
Creative activities are equally valuable for developing existing skills along with acquiring new ones, and the following activities are perfect for young children:
- Drawing, coloring, and painting
- Modeling with dough or clay
- Reading together
- Singing (particularly nursery rhymes)
- Counting (whether this is beads and blocks or butterflies!)
- Water or sand play
- Den building
For older children, try these learning activities:
- Brain puzzles like Sudoku, crosswords, and word searches
- Free reading — feel free to move away from curriculum and let them choose their own materials
- Online learning for kids, such as spelling or math apps
- Jigsaw puzzles
- Playing musical instruments or instructional video games
- Baking and cooking
- Planting a vegetable garden
- Building with Legos
- Listening to TED Talks
- Researching topics online and presenting findings as a talk or powerpoint
- Writing emails to family and friends
- Watching educational and age-appropriate YouTube videos
Just remember that children need downtime to relax and recharge between meaningful activities. What this looks like depends on the needs of the individual child, but might include calling friends or family members, watching their favorite TV shows, playing games, reading, running in the garden, or playing with toys.
It’s also important that amidst the chaos, we find a few quiet moments with our children. Read, hug, or watch a movie. Talking to kids openly and honestly about the current situation, and the fact that even adults are trying to come to terms with these uncertain times, is the best way to help them manage overwhelming feelings.
A good rule of thumb is to listen first and talk second, letting your children lead the way with conversations about coronavirus and mental health.
How to build a routine that doesn’t revolve around homeschooling
Under any circumstances, children thrive with a good routine. Now more than ever, predictability is important in helping your child feel safe and secure.
Try to get up, do your morning routine, and eat breakfast at the same time. Build a couple of meaningful activities into your day and allow plenty of time for daily exercise, free play, and relaxation. Stick to your child’s usual bath and bedtime routine — getting enough sleep is vital.
You can also help protect your child’s mental health by ensuring that they eat a reasonably balanced diet that’s low in sugar and high in vegetables and whole grains, with lots of healthy snacks. Also feel free to indulge with sugary treats every once in a while.
Focus on your biggest responsibility
Right now, our job as parents must include showing our children how to manage anxiety in a healthy way. Anxiety is a recurring part of life and this is the perfect opportunity to teach children how to cope with it and respond with strength.
We can do this by being in the moment and staying adaptive to an ever-changing environment. Focus on what you have control over in the here and now, like the physical sensations in your body. Build awareness of how you feel in the present moment instead of thinking what might come to be in the future. Teach your child these strategies as well.
Also, help your child identify his or her worst fear. Get specific. Gaining clarity over exactly what we fear most oftentimes expands our acceptance and brings a sense of calm — we think “Hey, I can handle that.” This can lead to inner resilience and strength.
If children are struggling with anxiety, depression, isolation, eating disorders, or other negative behaviors, arrange for them to speak to a professional.
Lastly, it’s important to schedule time out for ourselves wherever possible. When we’re feeling calm and relaxed, it’s easier to keep our anxieties about homeschooling and parenting in perspective.
Tip: Check out these 9 self-care tips to beat isolation and loneliness.
Go easy on yourself and enjoy being a parent
Coping with the COVID-19 outbreak is a huge challenge, and we’re all anxious about the impact of the crisis on our children’s education and future prospects.
Instead of allowing our worries about homeschooling to spiral out of control, pursuing unrealistic targets and berating ourselves when we fail to meet them, we can focus on what can be done in the here and now to protect our own and our children’s mental health.
If you need help navigating these tough times and dealing with parenting challenges, relationship issues, depression, overwhelm, fear, anxiety, or similar issues, please schedule a virtual telehealth appointment with me.
I am offering a sliding scale for anyone who needs assistance.