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How distance learning can impact the family

Challenges — and opportunities — abound while families live, work, and go to school at home.

When Covid-19 shut down the country in mid-March, many of us thought we’d be back in our offices and schools before the end of spring. Yet, here were are countless months later, working and learning from home — together.

It’s a road we hadn’t imagined. And it’s going to take imagination, patience, and perseverance to get us over the bumps. As well as empathy — for our families, neighbors and ourselves.

If you have school-age children, you understand the extra layer of stress it’s added to the mix. Whether your young ones are doing full-time distance learning or are taking in-person classes part-time (i.e., the hybrid approach), there are challenges unique to each situation.

Let’s explore some of them — and remember that we’re all in this together.

Financial implications of distance learning

Being a teacher was not your career choice. Yet here you are changing careers in the middle of a pandemic — and you’re not even being paid for it.

Luckily, many working parents are finding that their jobs can accommodate the shifting schedules of their stay-at-home students. However, because of their type of work or their child’s needs, some moms and dads are having to give up full-time work (and their pay) to help teach their children.

Families who have children with special needs find themselves in a difficult spot. Many public schools are providing virtual learning for these students. However, oftentimes, parents need to oversee classes and therapies. It’s difficult for parents to provide this sort of hands-on assistance while working a 9-to-5 job. And for the schools that have re-opened their doors, it can be scary for mom and dad to send their child with special needs back into a brick-and-mortar classroom in the middle of a pandemic.

Tutoring and homeschooling programs are an option, but an expensive one. For example, one parent who has a child with ADHD and dyslexia reports the cost to be between $5,000 and $10,000 for homeschooling curriculum. Therapy services are extra.1

If you need financial help, look into workplace benefits (such as FSAs or HSAs), special savings accounts, and other resources (such as a letter of medical necessity from your child’s doctor).1 Also, talk to other parents of children with special needs and see what’s helping them.

Distance learning can take an emotional toll on kids

Once upon a time, kids complained about having to go to class. They thought they’d much rather stay at home. Now that they can’t attend class in-person, they’re missing their friends, their teachers and school staff, and the school environment. It’s an emotionally challenging time for them — and for you.

You might need to initiate the conversation to find out how they’re feeling. Encourage honesty. How do you feel about your art class being online? Do you miss seeing your friends? Are you finding it hard to stay focused? And then talk about it. It’s important that children — and adults — express their true feelings.

Emotionally suppressing (i.e., bottling up) their feelings can have a negative impact on their learning. The energy and self-control needed to hide their feelings can cause them to lose their focus. After all, it takes a lot of extra energy and willpower to pretend everything is fine.2

It’s also important to help children identify how they’re feeling. Are you anxious? lonely? sad? This is called the “name it to tame it” technique, and it can help an unpleasant feeling to dissipate. You might want to follow up with an empathetic, “I’m sorry. That’s really hard.” The point is you’ve helped them unearth and label their emotions, not try to get them to change them.2

Honestly expressing their feelings will help them focus, as will a designated work space. Their desk can be small but it should be in an area where they can concentrate. School work only should be done here, and taking breaks and social media checks should be done elsewhere.2 Breaks can include a creative hobby (i.e., doodling), physical exercise (i.e., bike riding, walking), or anything else that’ll rejuvenate your student. Just encourage them to get their work done before taking that break — they’ll enjoy it more.3

Focusing on your own emotions and well-being is also a requirement for success. Be patient with yourself and let go of perfectionism. Don’t compare your current reality with that of the past — or with others. (It’s OK if you’re not making Instagram-worthy meals for your family.) Also, school is going to look different for your child this year. But there are positives that can come from this change: Learning to manage disappointments while still looking to the future with hope is a good life lesson for all ages.

Consider learning pods

Some families are turning to tutors to help supplement their children’s education. But it’s expensive. Private instructors can cost anywhere between $25 to $80 depending on the educator’s experience and where you live.4

That’s one reason learning pods, or micro-schools, are popular. Parents pool their resources to create a shared learning space where either a tutor or a rotation of parents supervises their children’s online learning.5

Another reason is to lessen the impact of social isolation, which can increase anxiety. A happiness study that followed children into adulthood indicates that having positive social relationships at a young age helps them develop into happier adults.5

For a learning pod to be successful and safe, it should include no more than two or three families.4 Families also need to agree upon and establish ground rules that everyone in the pod will follow. Of course, this includes frequent hand washing, social distancing, and mask wearing. Also, to help mitigate outside risks, discuss what is acceptable behavior for when the students and their families are outside of this social bubble. Does anyone in the group eat at restaurants, work out at a gym, or travel by airplane? All these activities increase the risk of contracting Covid-19.5

Make every moment count

Quarantining at home with your family isn’t so bad. Before the pandemic, you and your loved ones were rushing from place to place. Now you have an opportunity to spend more time together.

You might be limited in some of the places you can go. But don’t let that limit your imagination, or your fun. Game and movie nights are sure bets. Here are some more ideas:

  • If someone in your family plays an instrument, perform a concert at home. Do other family members outside your household want to listen in? Broadcast your performance on video chat. Or in your backyard, as long as the audience members keep a safe distance.

  • Revisit some fun memories by looking at old family photos. Then, talk about new ways you can make memories together. Visit a state park, make a new cookie recipe together, take a road trip to a nearby destination, build a fort. Take photos of these moments together, because someday you’ll be looking at these photos with a smile.
  • Find something to laugh about. Start a joke-a-day ritual. Or create some silly dance moves that you may — or may not — want to share on social media. Belly laughs lower blood pressure, reduce tension, and make you feel better emotionally and physically.6

The point is, have fun together.

And try to think how you can help others who might be feeling isolated or who are in need of a pick-me-up. This can be a family member, a friend, a classmate, a neighbor, or a grocery store worker. Really, these days, anybody could use a reminder that they’re cared for and loved.

Handmade cards, homemade baked goods, or a Zoom game night are nice ways to say, “I see you and appreciate you.” Reaching out will make your family’s heart feel good. Plus, you’ll be instilling in your children the importance of giving to others — one of the most important lessons you can teach young ones.

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1. Epperson, Sharon. “Special needs families face increased financial pressure in Covid-19 crisis. This can help.” cnbc.com, July 21, 2020.

2. Carter, Christine. “Three Ways to Help Your Kids Succeed at Distance Learning.” Greater Good Magazine, August 31, 2020.

3. “How Can I Succeed at Distance Learning?” jw.org, 2020.

4. Ali, Safie Samee. “Many parents want it; few can afford it. Amid school uncertainty, private tutoring ramps up.” nbcnews.com, July 19, 2020.

5. Sergent, Jim. “Learning pods help kids bridge social divide.” usatoday.com, September 22, 2020.

6. Bonior, Andrea. “6 Ways to Increase Your Patience with Distance Learning.” psychologytoday.com, September 29, 2020.

DOFU 10-2020
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