April 14, 2024


Science It Works

Here’s How To Support Your Child Emotionally and Academically Through Remote Learning

Photo credit: Roberto Westbrook - Getty Images
Photo credit: Roberto Westbrook – Getty Images

From Woman’s Day

Melissa Bunch’s 7-year-old son Luka starts remote school at 8:30 a.m. every morning. He has a series of Google Meets throughout the day until about 2 p.m. One day, after his last Google Meet, teachers were working with him one-on-one on a phonics assessment, and he broke down. “I’ve never seen him cry like that,” Bunch tells Woman’s Day . “Just crying as he’s trying to spell words.” Remote learning has been emotionally and academically challenging for Luka and Bunch’s fourth-grader Kellan, who both have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and have struggled with staying focused and engaged.

“It’s isolating,” Bunch says. “You’re staring at a screen for eight hours a day.”

Bunch and her kids aren’t alone. Education and psychology experts tell Woman’s Day completing school at home can affect kids’ mental health and development in a variety of ways.

Photo credit: Imgorthand
Photo credit: Imgorthand

“Kids learn from other kids — that’s a necessary aspect of their separation from adults [at school],” Dr. Ellen Braaten, director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program (LEAP) at Massachusetts General Hospital and an associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, tells Woman’s Day. In the very early years of a child’s development, interacting with other kids at school helps them learn problem solving, communication, and negotiation separate from adults. “In not getting that chance, that doesn’t necessarily lead to mental health issues, but it does leave kids feeling isolated and lonely,” Braaten says.

Remote learning also poses unique challenges to kids with learning differences and disabilities. Bunch says her kids not only have more trouble focusing, but they also have trouble feeling motivated to get up in the morning when they know they’re going to be sitting in front of a computer screen all day.

Remote learning will no doubt be more difficult for many parents and students, but experts say there are a few strategies parents can use to help their kids succeed academically and cope with the emotional stress of the pandemic.

Stay in touch with their teachers.

Tanya Anderson, a speech pathologist in Illinois, encourages parents to reach out to anyone the student interacts with regularly at school. “All the staff that I’ve worked with, they are extremely helpful,” she tells Woman’s Day. “They want students to succeed.”

Braaten adds that it is especially important for parents of kids with learning differences and disabilities to keep the lines of communication open from the beginning.

“Look at this as a very collaborative process, knowing that [teachers] are struggling too, and we’re all in this together,” Braaten says. “You don’t want to start in on this with, ‘I’m up for a fight.’ It may get there, but it’s better to not start with that.”

Photo credit: Shelyna Long
Photo credit: Shelyna Long

Parents should familiarize themselves with what’s in their child’s Individualized Education Plan and be prepared to be their advocate. You can meet with the school IEP team remotely if necessary.

Create a space at home where they can focus.

Anderson suggests keeping the days structured like it would be at school. For students who are visual learners, get a large piece of paper, a calendar, or a white board, and write out their daily schedule with them.

Then, set up a space where they can work every day, Braaten suggests, even if it’s at the kitchen table, and give them a bucket or bag of school supplies. If possible, she says it’s also great to buy a cheap inkjet printer so that kids can “be a little more self-sufficient at printing off things when they need it.”

Help them learn in the way that’s best for them.

Parents should try to be aware of how their child learns best, whether that’s visually, aurally, or by experience. So if they’re a visual learner, help them learn to highlight important information, or print out graphs or illustrations. If they’re an experiential learner, you could use dice to help them with math, create a scavenger hunt, set up a science experiment, or make slime letters, numbers, and shapes.

If they have trouble focusing, Anderson suggests letting them take breaks or do an activity that’s more engaging and fun.

Talk to them and spend time with them.

Braaten suggests caretakers set aside time regularly to check in with kids about how they’re feeling. In addition to hearing them out, she suggests problem solving around any issues that they’re having by asking “how do we make this better?.”

Photo credit: MoMo Productions
Photo credit: MoMo Productions

She adds that the pandemic could have a significant impact on kids with autism spectrum disorder, who are at higher risk for anxiety. In order to help them develop their social skills when they can’t interact with people as much, Braaten suggests watching TV and movies, and talking to them about what the characters are going through. “Even though that’s not direct social skills, it’s still learning about social skills,” she says. “I recommend that for parents even when there’s not a pandemic.”

Watch for signs of depression or anxiety.

Parents should watch for “any major changes in their child’s sleep, eating, or emotional regulation,” Braaten says. “Sometimes kids with anxiety don’t talk about feeling nervous — what they do is they get crabby and belligerent, especially adolescents.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, signs of anxiety and depression in kids also include:

  • developing separation anxiety

  • developing a phobia

  • social anxiety

  • being very worried about the future or about bad things happening

  • having repeated panic attacks (heart racing, trouble breathing, or feeling dizzy, shaky, or sweaty)

  • feeling sad, irritable, or hopeless all the time

  • changes in energy levels

  • difficulty paying attention

  • self-injury or self-destructive behavior

If you notice that your child is struggling emotionally, one of the first things Braaten recommends is calling their pediatrician. “There’s a lot more access these days to mental health professionals, because they are available online and kids can access them during the day because school days are not outside of the home,” Braaten says.

She says you should also talk to your child’s teacher so that they’re aware and discuss some temporary accommodations that might help.

Organize outdoor playdates for them.

As Braaten says, kids learn from other kids, so setting up safe playdates will help improve their problem solving, critical thinking, and communications skills. But having someone to let loose with is also important for their mental health.

Just like adults get lonely when they don’t have friends to talk to, kids feel the exact same thing. “But they don’t have the same sort of social networks that we do,” Braaten says. “And even though, yes, they can see their peers on a Zoom class, it’s not the same.”

Allowing kids to see their friends in a safe way will help them feel like they aren’t so alone, in addition to aiding in their development. The risk of contracting the coronavirus is relatively low as long as you’re outdoors and at least six feet away from others, according to the Mayo Clinic. Therefore, Braaten suggests organizing outdoor playdates as often as possible while the weather still isn’t too cold and reminding kids to wear their masks.

“I would just get in the mindset as a parent that your social activities are going to be outside,” Braaten says. “Think about what your child likes to do indoors and move it outdoors.” They could fly a kite with a friend, hike, bike, or play sports. Or they could sit outside on separate blankets and read and talk.

Use online resources.

There are a lot of free academic and emotional support resources available for parents online now as a result of the pandemic. Braaten suggests:

Cut yourself some slack.

Parents can only do so much, especially when they work outside of the home for most of the day. Braaten recommends maximizing the time that you have with them and remembering that the pandemic, though it’s been going on for longer than anticipated, is temporary.

There’s also a lot to be said for kids learning “on the fly,” she says. “A lot of times learning can happen with cooking, with planning ahead, figuring out how the family is going to act in certain situations. They are learning an awful lot by living through a challenging time. That’s going to make them much more resilient and in some ways also very good problem solvers in the future. So I think parents also need to sort of cut themselves a bit of slack to say, ‘We’re doing the best we can’ — and that can be a really great teacher for kids too.”

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