Even if we don’t count summer vacation, a lot of kids across the country have been learning in front of screens for almost a whole year now. Yup, you heard that right. Whether you feel like it’s flown by or dragged on (or a bit of both), it’s hard to believe we’ve all been doing this for almost a year.
Teachers have been working hard to make remote school feel like real school, and caregivers have been doing their absolute best to encourage their children along the way—but the reality is, this is hard for everyone. And even as some aspects of remote learning have gotten smoother over the course of the school year (we all know about the mute button by now, right?), the emotional and psychological challenges have only gotten harder. If your child is showing signs of real fatigue or low motivation at this point, they’re not alone. And while we all wish we could wave a wand and fix it, it just isn’t possible. But here are a few ideas for a midwinter reboot:
Check in about how everyone’s doing. If you haven’t done this in a while, take a step back and ask how everyone’s feeling. What’s one thing that’s going better than it was earlier in the school year? What’s one thing that’s gotten worse? Try to keep the conversation open-ended and non-judgmental: Maybe your kids are struggling with something you didn’t know about, or maybe they’re actually happier than you think. This is also a chance to be transparent with your children about how you’re doing (to the extent you feel it is appropriate to share). These are difficult times, but they also offer a unique opportunity for caregivers to model what it means to be a learner and adapter, and those open lines of communication are so helpful.
Create new incentives. Early on, we recommended introducing some small incentives to get everyone through the day. If you’ve let those fall by the wayside, or they’re feeling a little outdated now, try setting up some new ones. These don’t have to be big things, but they should feel fresh and exciting: Friday night ice cream sundaes, a mid-afternoon basketball break, or something fun for everyone when the weekend arrives—whatever makes your family feel enthusiastic. If your kids are really lacking in motivation these days, you might want to consider offering these incentives just as celebrations for getting through the day or week—without attaching a higher bar like earning certain grades.
Refresh their learning space. Everyone benefits from working in a space they enjoy—even if that’s the kitchen table. Making your child’s remote learning area feel new again could be as simple as adding some decals or artwork to the wall, putting their school materials in different containers (try decorating old cans or glass jars to make new pencil holders), or, if their learning space is portable, shifting to a new location for a different view. (As an alternative to actually changing their learning space, consider letting them work from the couch after lunch or one day a week—anything to give them a fresh environment.)
Revisit the daily schedule. Take a look at how your kid’s day is playing out. Do they have enough snack breaks? What about time to step outdoors or jump around to some music? If you feel like your child could benefit from changing up the routine so they have another chance to stretch their legs or look up from the screen, it’s worth raising this with their teacher. You can also model for them how you get through your daily schedule. Walk them through what’s on your calendar and talk about how you’ll keep track of your to-do list, when you’ll take breaks, and how you’ll cope if you fall behind. It’s always useful for them to see how their grown-ups handle tough times.
Make some really fun plans for the future. Eventually this pandemic will be over. (Really.) There will come a time when everyone can return to school full-time, in person, with their friends and teachers. What do your kids most want to do when that time comes? Consider putting something in writing that you’ll all do together when it’s safe enough. This doesn’t have to be flying to the moon, by the way. Maybe it’s just hugging Grandma.
Seek additional support for your children if they need it. The mental health challenges facing young people right now shouldn’t be underestimated, and parents and caregivers can’t be everything to our kids (much as we want to be). If you think your child is experiencing depression or anxiety and needs additional support, don’t hesitate to reach out to school or a mental health professional.
“If your child is showing signs of real fatigue or low motivation at this point, they’re not alone.”
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