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Tips for Helping Your Child Navigate (and Survive) Virtual Learning

By: Banner Hospital

It’s fall, which means it’s also back-to-school time … well, sort of. For some families across the country, back to school is taking place at home virtually on Zoom, in Google Classroom, or another platform.

While this may be a temporary solution until it’s safe to go back to in-person learning, learning online may present some unique challenges for your child (and you as their parent) that they wouldn’t have faced learning in the classroom. Those mild questioning looks and facial expressions their teacher would catch in-person may go unnoticed in the virtual space. Taking proper notes and managing homework may be more difficult. Even socializing with friends at school isn’t like it used to be.

“This is all new for all of us, for teachers, for parents and students,” said Adeola Adelayo, MD, a practicing psychiatrist with Banner Behavioral Health Hospital. “The good news is that this will be temporary and isn’t forever. Reminding yourself and your child of that can help you build resiliency and routine around this temporary normal, so you can use this time as a positive force in your child’s education and development.”

Dr. Adelayo shared some tips to help you and your child navigate (and survive) virtual learning during COVID-19.

  1. Moderate Negative Emotions

Are technology issues driving you bonkers? Are the weekly school town halls making you sick to your stomach? Chances are your feelings and behaviors are being seen and felt by your child too.

If you are feeling the anxiety build, take some deep breaths and regroup. Make sure you are taking time for yourself, even if it’s five minutes here and there throughout the day, to manage and compartmentalize your stress and anxiety. Doing so can help you more delicately and calmly navigate challenges with your child.

The truth is that there will be technology issues, challenges doing homework and managing schooltime versus downtime, but rising to the challenge and focusing on what needs to get done will help your child succeed.

“Fully acknowledge to your child that things do and will go wrong—as with everything in life—but together you are going to get through it,” Dr. Adelayo said. “Just like when your child gets a new video game, this is a world of curiosity, and this is the way you will explore and learn what works and what doesn’t. Just because it’s more challenging doesn’t mean you can’t be successful.”

  1. Set and Keep a Regular Routine

Kids do best when the world is predictable – even in this unpredictable time in our lives. Setting up a consistent routine and schedule is important for them, but it also helps you manage your time at home.

“Research has proven time and time again that routine is the safest thing you can do for your child,” Dr. Adelayo said. “Home and school have combined making it hard to differentiate.  Building a schedule and routine with your child can help them mentally and emotionally separate the two.”

Dr. Adelayo shared these helpful time management tips to build a structure in the day:

  • Pre-make snacks and lunches and have on-hand and ready for breaks and lunchtime. This will save you time, especially if you are also working, and save your child mindless trips to the pantry to scavenger for food.
  • No TV and gaming until after school. They wouldn’t have their iPads and social media up and going during class, so shut those off and designate a time.
  • Dress for success. For your child, the idea of rolling out of bed and over to the computer may seem like a perk of online learning, but it can undermine separating home and school. They may not have to wear shoes at home but getting dressed and ready for school can mentally help them prepare for the day.
  • Set aside downtime between school time and homework. Give your child 30 minutes or so after school to grab a snack, connect with friends, read a book, or watch a TV show, just as they might normally do pre-COVID.
  • Reduce distractions. Maybe it’s a little sibling who disrupts learning or constant app notifications. Create a list with your child of things that frequently distract them. Then find ways to limit them during the school day.
  1. Touch Base with the Teacher

With virtual learning, it will be more challenging for your child’s teacher to catch visual cues or areas where your child may be struggling. And your child, especially a younger child, may not be comfortable sharing or know how to appropriately vocalize their needs.

Online learning is a collaborative effort. To support your child, set up a line of communication with their teacher to share some of the challenges your child is facing and ways you both can support them. If they are struggling with submitting things through the portal, see if there is another method that might work to turn in work. Working together you can help achieve the best outcome for your child.

“Whether your child is anxious, struggling with time management or not engaging with school, it’s the role of the parents to take control and support them, as long as you can do so diplomatically and still let your child feel in control,” Dr. Adelayo said. “Online learning is a collaborative effort between the student, teacher and parent.”

  1. Establish and Maintain Friendships

Connection is so important during this time. Even though they may not be able to be physically close doesn’t mean they can’t be social. Make sure your child is taking the time to connect with their friends—whether via video chat or text message. They can even set up time with classmates to virtually do homework together.

  1. Provide Positive Incentives

If your child is struggling to raise their hand in class or answer a group post from the teacher, positive incentives may help. Rewards can help them focus on developing new skills and motivate them to change their behavior. You can slowly roll back the incentives as your child becomes more comfortable and positive about the new behavior or skill.

“Some parents frown upon rewards to encourage positive behaviors, but positive consequences can actually encourage learning and increase confidence and self-esteem if done correctly,” Dr. Adelayo said. “Rewards don’t just have to be materialistic and cost a lot of money. They can be as simple as free choice time or an extra 15 minutes to play before bedtime. You can work together to create a reward program.”

  1. Bite Your Tongue

Maybe they misspelled a whole bunch of words in their comment to the teacher, or you overhear them struggling with something you know they know. Resist the urge to correct them or answer for them. Kids aren’t perfect, they are learning.

“Try to not let your own anxiety and neuroses get in the way of their learning,” Dr. Adelayo said. “That post isn’t being graded on spelling, and your child may have their own way of processing information and the answer. It’s important that they learn from their mistakes.”

  1. Encourage Physical Activity and Exercise

Exercise is essential to your physical and mental health. Even if they have physical education at school, they’ll still be sitting in front of a tablet or computer for long stretches of time. Encourage them to use their snack and “brain breaks” to do jumping jacks, run up and down the stairs, or simply stretch their arms and legs.

Virtual learning is a challenge for teachers and parents, but for children especially. It’s not ideal, but not much of anything right now is. We might not be able to change our current situation, but we can certainly make the most of it. With creative and positive thinking and efforts, your child can stay the course through virtual learning and anything else that comes their way.

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