I have suffered my share of pain with homeschooling like pretty much every other parent I’ve spoken to. I went into this being excited about helping my child learn and spend time with him, and am wondering now what went so wrong. I have felt sorry for myself and how little time I have to do anything, and I have felt every other emotion you can think of.
What I hadn’t felt into deeply was how hard this was for my 6-year-old son. My focus was on homeschooling him and then trying to manage my emotions and reactivity and then my workload. I didn’t spend much time on his emotions, until it became crystal clear that his emotional well-being was my primary job, not being the good parent who got their good kid to turn in all their work in good time.
My husband and I made a decision that our kid’s mental health and overall well-being was more important for now than doing every bit of school work. If someone was going to be disappointed it would be fine. Schoolwork, they can recover very fast. Their mental health, however, can lead to anxiety, and many kids (and grown-ups) are going to have PTSD from all this.
That we are not ready for or talking about nearly enough.
Dr. Shefali Tsabury, the amazing author of "The Conscious Parent,” said on a recent call, "If you aren’t suffering from some form of PTSD from all this, you are in denial." Yes, this is really big for the body and mind, at any age, whatever your situation, wherever you are in the world, even if you feel you are doing well throughout all of it.
We don’t realize how big it is for our kids. They seem happy, want to play all the time, are getting more screen time, eating more snacks, going to sleep later. What is not to love about their experience of all this?
But that is their external world. Their inner world we aren’t homeschooling nearly enough. It is most likely never on the daily schedule. They miss their friends. They miss being silly as parents often get tired of all this. They miss playing outside. They miss being away from us and coming back with stories to tell that we are excited to hear. They miss parents who are super happy to see them at the end of the day. They miss learning, as opposed to just doing endless homework. They miss the unpredictability and fun of what happens in a day. Now, days feel all the same to them, too, believe it or not: the boredom of what they eat, their school responsibilities, what they are allowed to do. That is so constraining for a child who seeks out the new, the unpredictable, the unexpected, the outside, to thrive and grow.
How can we focus on their emotional well-being and mental health, and not only on their academic schedules and fitting everything that is required of them into our busy days?
Here are five suggestions that we’ve put to the test in our own crazy home.
1. Do kind acts for kids, too. When we speak of kindness, we think of healthcare workers, old people living alone, people who have lost jobs. We forget how big a change this is for kids, too, and how they also need our kindness. Lighten up their load and their school work wherever possible. Be flexible on some things.
What do you want your kids to remember about this time at home with you? Fun, magic memories, and moments together? If so, actively set about creating them. Try a tracking chart.
Too often as parents, it's about us feeling good about our kids having completed their work. We forget to put our focus on them and how they are feeling. We want to tick it off: Done. And when it's not, or it takes forever when it should take 20 minutes, we get impatient. We want to feel some sort of progress so we can move onto what's next. None of this puts the attention on the kid and getting them to feel good. Giving them the time they need. Praising them for everything they got done in a day. Giving them a sense of their own learning journey.
What are some kind things you can do for your kids?
- Do they want pancakes for dinner? You say yes sometimes.
- Do they want to build a fort with all your bedroom cushions? You also say yes.
- You leave them a surprise that they find in the morning when they wake up.
- Do they want a movie afternoon with the family? You say yes when you can and you schedule it.
- They want to listen to their favorite song 20 times in a row, let them.
- They want to stay in their pajamas all day, fine.
- They want to play with a bag of gummy bears and create an imaginary town. Sure.
Being kind is about relaxing the rules a little, letting them be in control a little. Making it all a little more fun.
2. Always tell kids the truth. They need to be able to trust you, especially during a time like this. Their intuition is strong and hasn’t been shut down yet by everyone telling them they should trust their mind more. If you want your kids to tell you the truth, then you need to be impeccable with this, too. Now is a good time to start. They can feel when something is off.
Recent studies show that when parents hide their emotions and the truth from their kids, these kids will have much higher levels of anxiety. The "not in front of the kids" theory needs to be put aside. This is your chance to be real, cry your tears in front of them, tell them it's been a bad day for you, or that you are exhausted and need your own time and space, or specifically what the virus is doing to the world. They don’t need you to be superhuman during this time. They just want a Mom or a Dad that is real, present, and available when it matters most. This gives them permission to be human, to have a crap day, and not have to hold it together and try and be perfect again and again and again, to please you and the world.
3. Find experiences to help kids be kind and remember their inherent goodness. This is a good time to embody what kindness is, to have this experience be more than just self-concern, protection, control, and survival. The kindest thing to do is to be gentle with your tiny humans, something I have failed many times at. And my son has told me so.
That said, we have also found ways, all suggested by him, to be gentle and kind around us. For Earth Day, my son and I went to a giant hill here in Switzerland where we are isolating and cleaned up all the rubbish. It felt great and it taught him way more about being kind to the Earth than anything I could ever have said. Seeing the giant black bag of trash that he collected was a more valuable lesson than anything his school had him complete that day. Kindness doesn't have to be towards people only—animals, the earth, any living being is worthy.
When we think of kindness, we usually think of actions. Kindness is also in words. Write your kid a card and praise them for qualities you see in them. Be a mirror for their greatness, not all their annoying behavior. They cherish things like letters and cards.
Leaving kind phone messages for other people can brighten their day, more than you know. Kids leave brilliant, and often hysterical messages. Get them to sing a song or make one up. We have been picking someone to leave a message for every day. Grandparents, cousins, people we know who are lonely or having a hard time.
It gives children the power to impact others, when often they are made to feel small and powerless to affect change. And it gives them a fun goal that isn’t about school. And to top it off, they often get tons of fun messages in response, giving them a sense of community that they need right now.
We also came up with the idea of writing letters for friends and family. It gets a kid to practice writing and spelling without them knowing it, and it is also wonderful to receive a paper letter in the mail and not one more email Zoom meeting.
4. Find appropriate media for them to understand what is going on. It's important to help kids grasp what is happening and not hope they just get back to normal life as soon as possible. Their world has and will change. They actually want to know, want to learn; meet them in their request. We have been showing videos to my 6-year-old—a BBC video of kids walking hundreds of miles in India to get home to their villages with their parents, with no shoes and one biscuit or a banana for the road. This did way more than me talking about how he should be grateful or not be spoiled, or how lucky he was compared with others. All empty words, compared to the impact that four minutes about India had on him.
A video like this can give them perspective, appreciation, gratitude, and is usually comes from an authority that is not their parent for once. They need that. Someone else teaches them. We’ve also done a lot of TED-ED videos, PBS Kids, Flocabulary, EarthSchool, about the virus, germs, being healthy, the impact of sugar on the brain, stress, and other topics. Kids are very visual.
5. Make health and movement important. Show kids how people are finding fun ways to exercise; there are some very funny ones, like using dish soap on the kitchen floor to create a wet treadmill. My husband does dead-lifts using my 60-pound son as his weights. This shows kids the importance of health and moving their bodies and that there are loads of ways to be creative. Share with them that Emotion=Energy in Motion. While we are all cooped up inside, all this energy needs to go somewhere. Make it a family project.
Try a joint yoga class with them. They are way more flexible than you are, as you will discover. Let them do pull-ups off the bedroom doorway. Give them a goal to beat. Kids love goals. If they want to use your bed as a trampoline, it won't be the end of the world. In the end, you may have a much happier child. Let them come up with their own ideas. This is always much better than telling them one more thing. Kids need to feel like an equal part of the family team and unit. Always include them.
Everyone is doing their very best to deal with life right now. Including you. Including our kids. They don’t know when their schools will reopen. They don’t know when they will see their friends. They don’t know when they will see their grandparents. They don’t know when they will go back to their favorite playground. This is huge for a kid. Not only do their parents and teachers control their whole world, but also some virus is also controlling every remaining aspect of freedom. Do not underestimate a child’s sense of uncertainty right now, even though they may look as if all is well on the outside. Children are meant to be free. Free in their bodies, feelings, and in any and every expression. Yes, our freedoms have been restricted now. But it doesn’t mean our children’s spirit needs to be, too.