Erika Coles, Ph.D.
Although elementary school children in our area have returned to in person classes, some families have elected to continue with online learning and middle and high schools have transitioned to a hybrid model to start out the school year. These decisions have forced many local families to balance the unique challenges of supervising online schoolwork, monitoring their children’s behavior and attention, and keeping up with their own work schedules. This can create an enormous amount of stress for both parents and children. Here are some tips to help balance the demands that our “new normal” has created.
Maintain a routine:
One of the most important things you can do for the whole family is to create and maintain a routine, even if that routine changes depending on whether it’s an in person or online school day. Create a schedule of activities for the day, including the designation of space where everyone can get their work done that is relatively free of distractions and specific times to work on different assignments and subject areas. For example, morning routines can consist of a regular wake up time, showering and getting dressed, breakfast, and a set time to sign on and start online assignments.
Stay in contact with teachers:
It’s important to maintain communication with your child’s teachers and school. It can be challenging for even the most organized and diligent students to keep track of due dates and assignments when attending classes online. Although every parent wants their child to learn independence, it can be helpful to check in with teachers about progress even in between grading periods to make sure your child is on track and understanding the assignments that are being given.
Allow for breaks:
Children (and adults!) need to take breaks throughout the day. Allow your child to take breaks after they’ve completed a task or at predetermined times. Breaks should be used as rewards, not just to avoid difficult assignments. One way to assure that breaks don’t last too long and that the whole family stays on schedule is to use a timer.
Praise (and rewards)
Make sure you’re using positive parenting strategies, such as praise or rewards (such as extra screen time), to reinforce your child staying on task and completing assignments. Praise is most effective when it is specific and used frequently so children know exactly what behaviors you are expecting from them. For example, telling a child “I love how you sat right down and got to work on your math assignment right at 8am!” is more effective than just saying, “Good job”.
It’s important to focus on your own wellbeing during these challenging times and prioritize things that support your mental and physical health, like getting enough sleep and making sure to get regular exercise. It’s also important to stay connected with other parents, especially because many of us are experiencing similar challenges. It’s okay to lean on others for support, other parents can a wonderful resource for different strategies to try at home, or just to vent frustrations! If things become overwhelming, there are many resources in the community to support mental health, including Health West please call (208) 425-2489.
Dr. Coles is a licensed psychologist who works for Health West at Jefferson Elementary and Indian Hills Elementary.