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As the new school year starts, many parents are bracing themselves for the uncharted territory of long-term remote learning while working from home. 

Spring shutdown was a whirlwind of chaos as we scrambled to wrap up the academic year. No one had any idea how to handle a complete standstill and panic; we all scrambled to figure out Zoom class passwords and technical glitches of emails not sent, documents not uploaded, and assignments lost. We’ve been holding conference calls with our kids screaming bloody murder in the background. We kept our fingers crossed and told each other it was temporary, that this year was a wash and next year we would catch up, yet here we are.

Children will not walk through campus, make new friends, and chitchat in hallways. No P.E. classes or science experiments gone wrong, no cutting of the frogs. I know many parents are feeling a mixture of sadness and anxiety. Our children are missing out on important formative experiences. How will it affect them? How will we cope? 

The lucky few who have a surplus of resources may find this to be an enriching experience, but those who do not enjoy such advantages are facing serious logistical challenges. Children that are in middle/high schools have a better capacity to self-organize and manage their academic workload, as well as a better grasp of negative consequences. However, elementary school-age children need significant handholding. 

Each age group will come with its own unique set of positives and negatives. Teenagers are capable of navigating digital platforms and accessing the workload without supervision. However, the part of the human brain that is responsible for calculating risk is not fully developed until they hit 18 years of age, hence younger people are more likely to take unnecessary risks, mismanage their time, and prioritize impulse over preplanned activities. Not to mention teens are in developmental protest with authority and are therefore harder to manage. On the other hand, teenagers have stronger social bonds outside of their families that may allow them to organically form support systems without significant parental involvement. 

Younger children are more committed to pleasing their parents; therefore, consequences and rules are more effective. Younger children will have more time to catch up academically, not to mention their workload is easier to comprehend and manage for a parent. 

Here are some basic suggestions for parents seeking some guidance on how to handle this coming school year:

1. Remember, this is still temporary.

2. Make a list of your support network. Even one hour a week can make a big difference in helping you track your child’s progress. 

3. Expect setbacks. Children are not capable of comprehending the big picture; therefore, they will at times get bored, frustrated, tired, and protest either overtly or covertly. This may mean getting distracted, not completing work, losing assignments, etc. 

4. If you have a partner, make a clear plan together. Try to split responsibilities so you don’t end up arguing over your methods and undoing each other’s work. This way, you each get a break from having to be the bad person. 

5. Outline your expectations and schedule to your children, as well as consequences for not adhering to the agreed rules. Follow through! 

6. Be flexible. You might have to adjust as you go and learn what works and what doesn’t. 

7. Reach out to your child’s school community to see if there are useful resources such as free tutoring, peer support groups, study groups online, etc. 

8. If you have an elementary school child and you have to work during school hours, try to give yourself a break. Explain to the teacher about your situation. Try to do your best at getting your child to at least attend online instruction. You can catch up in the evening and on the weekends. Everyone understands this is a trying time. 

9. Remember that school for children is an important social/playtime. Don’t make homeschooling all about academics; allow your children to play. Try to find a safe group of at least a couple of peers, so your child can have some social interactions weekly. 

10. Get out of the house. Kick a ball and breathe the fresh air even if it means postponing homework for an hour or so. 

11. Stay in the moment and take it one day at a time. We might have to adjust to new rules and regulations or find ourselves back in school, so try to manage your long-term anxiety by just focusing on the task at hand. spt

Sophie Schoenfeld

Sophie Schoenfeld, MFT is a local marriage and family therapist. For more info, visit sophiemft.com.

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