Fri | Dec 3, 2021

Dealing with the stress of homeschooling

Published:Sunday | February 7, 2021 | 12:20 AMCecelia Campbell-Livingston - Sunday Gleaner Writer

“Here’s a little song I wrote

You might want to sing it note for note

Don’t worry, be happy

In every life we have some trouble

But when you worry you make it double

Don’t worry, be happy

Don’t worry, be happy now.”

– Bobby McFerrin, Don’t Worry Be Happy

Since March 2020, family life as we knew it has been suddenly and drastically changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many children across Jamaica, and indeed the world, are dealing with changes to their social lives and daily routines, to include the inability to access education, facing food insecurity, and some are even experiencing unsafe (emotional and/or physical) home environments.

These challenges can cause sadness, despair, anxiety and stress. Parents and guardians are now forced to play a more hands-on role in the educational life of their children since it was mandated that all teaching and learning be done virtually as a means of containing the spread of the deadly virus.

Psychologist Dr Kevin Waite told Family and Religion that the pandemic has thrust many persons into the role of de facto schoolteachers, with some parents being left alone to shoulder the burden of homeschooling their children, while others lack the necessary technology and know-how to effectively do so.

“I have spoken to many parents whose children are at a disadvantage because they lack the monetary resources needed to purchase laptops, tablets, or even Internet data, and some, their inability to read or write renders them incapable of assisting their children to do their lessons. This is becoming a major struggle for the children who are now left with a dim future, while some are sick and fed up of online learning,” he pointed out.

Stressing that some parents are anxious to get their children back in school for face-to-face learning, Waite said there are others, however, who would much rather weather the storm and keep the children safe at home.

Acknowledging that some amount of stress is inevitable as parents and children are now grappling with adjusting their lives to fit a situation that they did not envisage and are therefore totally unprepared for, Waite said the awesome task of finding someone to monitor children at home while their parents brave the virus and go out to work, while running the household at the same time, is by no means easy.

“This situation has significantly increased the risk of experiencing high stress levels and negative emotions in parents, with a potentially cascading effect on children’s well-being. Keep in mind that this is a stressful time for children as well, and that it’s normal for them to regress or act out in ways they normally wouldn’t. Going easy on your children, yet being firm, can help reduce stress levels for parents and children,” he noted.

CELEBRATE COMPLETION

For children who are frustrated with online learning and are feeling out of their element, he said parents can set goals with them and celebrate their completion.

Dr Waite noted that, since so much has been stripped from our everyday lives, having something to look forward to can help children stay motivated. He also shared that setting up small rewards, like watching an episode of a favourite TV show or a favourite cartoon, can help them tackle that unpleasant math assignment.

“Get the whole family in on it. If you all set a few goals and plan breaks together, your children will see that you are a team.

Second, arrange virtual playdates. Offer an alternative to in-person playdates via the Internet. Set your children up on video conferencing services like WhatsApp video call, Facetime or Zoom, so they can keep in contact with close friends and grandparents, for example. This will help them feel connected and less isolated,” he said.

Not to be left out, Dr Waite stressed, is the extra love, affection and attention.

Noting that dealing with the pandemic can be especially tough on adolescents who are missing out on key moments in their lives, Waite observed that many are spending long periods separated from their friends and are missing important school events such as exams, parties, sporting activities and graduations.

“While the teen years are always difficult, your child may be even more angsty, moody, or defiant at the moment than is normal for their age. They may resort to spending more time on social media as a way to keep themselves occupied. While it has many positive aspects, social media can also negatively affect your child’s levels of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty. We have to teach our children how to balance their Internet life versus their real life,” said Waite.

familyandreligion@gleanerjm.com