8 tips for helping your child succeed this school year

Posted on 10/23/20 09:52:am


Share this article:

Virtual. Face-to-face. Hybrid. Homeschool. Kids across the nation began this school year unlike any other. Parents may be juggling more roles than they ever had to before, and students’ learning environments may fluctuate as the pandemic waxes and wanes. This can feel overwhelming and stressful to everyone involved. Dr. Amanda Heins, supervising psychologist at Rogers’ Oconomowoc campus, shares ways parents can help their child get comfortable wherever they are learning, work through uncertainties related to their school year, and support academic success.

Motivating your child in their learning environment

  1. Children and teens notice how adults around them structure their day and navigate situations that present throughout the day. Known as observational learning, the way parents handle and express their emotions has a significant impact on the way their child could respond when in a similar circumstance. Does this mean parents should bottle up any difficult emotions when their children are present? Not necessarily. These are very powerful learning moments for your child, as it confirms you experience these emotions too and allows them to witness how you (someone they idolize) handle feelings. If you are not feeling in control of your emotions, it is a great opportunity to model how to take a self-care break and allow the intensity of your emotions to subside. For example, you may say, “I’m feeling stressed with how much is on my to-do list, I’m going to take a pause and go get the mail.” Once you are in a rationale mindset, it is important to reintegrate with your child and maximize the learning moment. You might say, “Thank you for being patient. I wanted to make sure I was in control of my feelings so I could be helpful to myself and others.” By sharing a bit about your experience, it normalizes the “curve balls” that life throws at us and shows how to navigate these using a growth mindset.
  2. Communicate and validate. We know that a child’s emotional well-being influences educational performance, learning, and development. Remind your child that whatever they are feeling, it is better to share instead of keeping it to themselves. No matter the emotion, let them know you’re their safe space and here to listen. As they share, it may be tempting to “fix” the concern; however, try to resist that urge. Instead, validate your child’s emotion, reflect back what you are hearing from them, and ask them how they plan to handle the situation that is prompting the emotion. For example, you could say “It sounds like you’re feeling frustrated that recess isn’t the same as last year because of COVID-19. COVID-19 has changed a lot of things, hasn’t it? How can you make the best of recess right now?”
  3. Create and maintain a learning space. For children attending school in a virtual or hybrid model, identify “distraction-free” places in your home and create a routine in how these can be used. Does your child get “wiggly” or need a change of scenery throughout the day? Encourage “movement breaks” and suggest your child rotate to different designated learning areas throughout the day just as they would during in-person learning. Each child’s emotional and learning needs are unique! Involve your child in the creating process, as this will naturally increase their interest and investment in using these spaces. 
  4. Stay connected. Build time in the day to promote social engagement. If your child attends school virtually or in a hybrid model, consider setting up a virtual lunch, study hall, or recess with classmates and friends. To increase the consistency and structure of these social opportunities, parents may consider connecting with their child’s teacher to discuss the best way to set this up to promote inclusion. It will be important to set clear expectations of how to use technology during these timeframes.  
  5. Be active. Being active can help kids as well as grown-ups stay focused and recharge. Students attending school virtually may benefit from sitting on a medicine ball, standing while working, or having a fidget toy accessible to get some wiggles out and stay focused. It is important to practice how to use these tools, as they can become distractions without guidelines. Build in movement breaks throughout the day. We know exercise has positive implications on attention, emotional stability, and our physical well-being. Activities such as running in place for five minutes, dancing to music, yoga, or stretching are great ways to move during the school day. To avoid getting bored with the same activities, many schools provide students with fitness materials that you can reference. If the weather permits, get active outside. Taking regular breaks that include physical activity reduce the monotony of online lessons.
  6. Navigate uncertainty by focusing on what can be controlled. COVID-19 has created profound levels of uncertainty, causing many of us to feel increased levels of anxiety, stress, sadness, and frustration. Take time to talk with your child about the pandemic and answer questions they have as succinctly and simply as possible. Validate their emotions and discuss safeguards such as wearing masks, social distancing, healthy hand hygiene, cleaning, and screenings that your family, school, and the community are taking to help mitigate risk for COVID-19. Focus on what can be controlled rather than what cannot.
  7. Empower your child to speak up. If your child is attending school in-person, they’re likely adjusting to the guidelines the CDC has provided to decrease the spread of COVID-19. While your child may want to follow these guidelines, peer pressure and teasing can complicate matters. Encourage your child to talk with you about the situation, validate their emotions, praise their efforts, and ask them how they plan to handle the learning moment. While it can be uncomfortable to be assertive with peers, role playing may assist your child in feeling more confident in handling situations and when to seek out adult support to resolve the situation.  
  8. Modify schedules. If a parent’s work schedule offers flexibility during the pandemic, adjusting your schedule to support key moments in your child’s school day can go a long way. Whether you are home to greet them as they get off the school bus, supporting them with a virtual math or writing lesson, or simply being there to check-in and offer encouragement throughout their day, this can help your child feel supported. It is important to communicate with your child about what they need rather than assume, as well as clearly let them know when there are times you have work obligations. Incorporating visual management such as a daily schedule may help. Remember, how would your child function during the school day? Would they have a grown up at their side, one-on-one for the entire day? Find a balance that works well for you and your child, as well as model what a day would look like if they were attending in-person. Having you with them during key parts of their week may be the little nugget of motivation and consistency they need to succeed.

As we go forward, Dr. Heins reminds us to “Try to assume good intention from your child, school, and community. Each of us is navigating the best we can. Remind yourself and your child that this is a tough time for everyone. Praise their strength and resilience for moving forward as best as they can in the middle of a pandemic. If you or your child are worried about a classmate, reach out to your teacher.”

For more back-to-school resources, including podcasts, blogs, and tip sheets, visit our Back to school resources hub.

Reaching out for help

If you, your child, or someone you know is struggling with mental health, Rogers can help. We offer multiple levels of care in locations across the country for children, adolescents, and adults. Call 800-767-4411 or request a free, confidential screening online.

Call 800-767-4411 or go to rogersbh.org to request a free screening.