The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unchartered territory for everyone to navigate. For parents, the territory has come fraught with uncertainty, frustration and worry. Homeschooling, adapting to online learning and caring for the physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of children in lockdown have been, and remain, sources of tremendous strain.
Then came the reopening of schools, with different grades set to go back in phases over the course of the next few weeks. Some children are already back at school, some are still at home, some are waiting to go back, and others won’t be returning.
“Whether you have decided to send your child back to school or you have chosen to continue homeschooling for the remainder of the year, it’s stressful for you and your child. There is no clear answer on what exactly is the right thing to do – it depends entirely on your context. Parents are under a lot of strain to find new ways for their families to cope with the situation,” says psychologist Ilse de Beer.
The uncertainty can increase stress levels
Says Ilse: “Uncertainty about the future exacerbates parents’ stress levels, and this will have an impact on children’s coping mechanisms. If you’re overanxious and on the verge of panic, you can be sure that it will rub off on your child. You can’t expect your child to cope with their anxiety and fears if you as an adult are unable to control your own.”
School will be different
Going back to school will be a whole new world after weeks of isolation. For those who’ve decided to send their children back to school, Ilse has this advice:
- Realise there are different sources of fear. There are the anxieties relating to readjusting to the routine of school after such a long period of isolation, as well as anxieties around catching up on schoolwork, reuniting with friends and teachers, wearing masks all day and adapting to new social distancing norms.
- Then there are the fears of the virus itself. You afraid for the safety of your children, and your children may be anxious about catching COVID-19 themselves. It’s essential to acknowledge your fears and those of your children. This validation is crucial for them. Talk about what is worrying your child at the moment and try to address their feelings of anxiety with rational solutions.
- Normalise your child’s stress, in other words, don’t overemphasise or disregard it. Make sure your children feel heard – be empathetic when they tell you things and don’t make unrealistic demands or false promises. For instance, you should acknowledge that yes, there is a lot of schoolwork to catch up on, but they need to take it one day at a time. Tell them you’re confident they’ll get through it, and you’ll be there to help as much as you can.
- Get organized, make lists, stay connected with your children and with what they’re covering at school, and do have a homework routine. If there’s one thing that parents had to do in lockdown, it was to be involved in their children’s schooling. Don’t give up on this involvement when they go back to school.
How to ease your child’s COVID-19 fears
On quelling fears of the virus, itself, Ilse says you should provide your children with age-appropriate, basic knowledge of the coronavirus. “Rather than instilling more fear, encourage your children with solutions for keeping themselves and others safe, such as wearing a mask, washing their hands, using sanitiser and observing social distancing,” she adds.
Things to take into consideration if you want to homeschool
The decision to homeschool your children for the remainder of the school year is a difficult one for parents who have chosen to do so. “The focus is to limit the risk of your child being infected with the virus and this is understandable,” says Ilse. “However, you must consider that the sustainability and success of this choice depends on several factors.”
These factors include:
- The level of support you’ll receive from your child’s school or education institution
- Your child’s age and whether they’re able to work independently
- How many children in your home will be homeschooled
- Your employment situation and the time available for teaching.
“If, as a parent-teacher, you don’t have the appropriate amount of support from your child’s school and if you don’t have enough time to give your children equal and enough support, you should consider that this choice might not be right for you,” says Ilse.
“Remember that most parents are not teachers. Taking on a new job that you’re not trained for can be highly stressful. Certain subjects are challenging for children to study on their own, for example, mathematics, science and accounting. They need someone to explain these subjects to them in a language they understand. As a parent, this will become your responsibility, so you need to make sure you’re equipped and ready for this,” Ilse adds.
Other factors to take into consideration
Ilse says you should also take your own and your children’s temperaments into account. “If you are a ‘doer’, it means you need things to happen fast and efficiently, but if your child is a ‘dreamer’, it can lead to conflict and frustration.” She adds that children who are introverts or loners don’t mind being on their own, but children who are extroverts need to be among other people and do activities with them. For these extrovert children, homeschooling could prove to be a battle.
If you’ve carefully deliberated homeschooling and deemed it the best solution for your family, Ilse has this advice:
- Keep a proper timetable. Schoolwork must start at the same time every day and follow a structure. Don’t let children play around when it’s time to work, but give them sufficient breaks.
- Encourage your child to work as independently as possible. Schoolwork is their responsibility in the first place. It might seem easy to do some of the work for your child or to give them the answers. But, in the long run, this will not help your child.
- Make sure you do fun and enjoyable things together like baking or playing board games. There should be time for work and time for play. Families need downtime, too. As the adage goes: “Families that play together stay together”.
- Make sure that everyone in the family has some time for themselves. Everybody needs some “me time”.
- Make sure everyone gets some physical exercise, whether it’s playing with a ball, taking a jog around the block, or walking the dog. Too many hours locked up inside is not good for anyone’s mental health or relationships.
- Don’t be too critical on yourself or your children – this is an abnormal situation, and everyone is doing the best they can.
More about the expert:
Ilse de Beer is a Christian psychologist, specialising in health psychology. As a motivational speaker, she focuses on equipping people to function better emotionally in their day-to-day life. She holds a Magister Artium in Psychology from the Potchefstroom University for CHE as well as a PhD in Psychology from the University of Pretoria. Learn more about Ilse de Beer here.
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