Recently, I’ve had so many questions about how to manage the struggle that kids have during remote learning. I’ve even heard my daughter say what a challenge it is for her kids during these challenging times.
As a learning expert with more than 30 years’ experience, I decided to write something for you and your family, to make remote learning easier.
The biggest problem is that your child has gone from teacher-directed classes to learning on their own at home, with and without your support. you certainly can’t be with them every single second.
Your kids aren’t able to see their friends or participate in extracurricular activities. They are anxious and stressed by not just remote learning but the state the world is in right now.
Depression and anxiety are on the rise, say experts, and motivation is plummeting.
More than 3 out of 10 parents worldwide report that their child is “experiencing emotional and mental harm due to school closures.”
So, what can you do to maintain your child’s mental health during remote learning?
Become a Partner in Your Child’s Learning
On top of this, you might worry about your child’s education. They’re facing challenges with remote learning that perhaps they never faced going to school or are getting worse by staying at home.
Without their teachers and friends to help guide them as much, you are the closest partners they have in their learning right now.
You might worry because your child is struggling to focus or is demotivated to study. But there’s multiple reasons why this could be the case.
For starters, younger students might not have fully developed executive functioning skills. These include things like paying attention, self-control, organizing, and regulating their emotions.
Without a teacher keeping an eye on them and helping them stay on track, activities they could complete in class are much more difficult.
They’re making up for their still-developing executive functioning skills along with keeping up with schoolwork. And so, they might feel school is harder, more stressful and therefore far less motivating.
This, along with the lack of routine and separation from their friends, contribute to anxiety, lack of motivation, stress, etc.
This puts you in the unique situation of redefining the role you play in your child’s education.
Before you might have been checking up on their homework and helping occasionally. Now, you have to be more in tune with the challenges your child is facing, to help overcome them in a healthy way.
5 Ways to Maintain Your Child’s Mental Health During Remote Learning
1. Help Your Child Set Realistic Goals for the Day
Despite the difficulties you’re facing with remote learning, you can cultivate lifelong skills and learning strategies.
One of these is teaching your child how to keep themselves productive and motivated.
Breaking tasks down into a series of smaller tasks and checking off their to-do list one by one is one of these methods.
If your child spends hours struggling to get through an assignment, the more discouraged they are likely to grow.
If they break a task down though, every time they complete a step, they’ll experience a sense of accomplishment.
This is because of the chemical messenger dopamine in their brains.
When you accomplish something, the dopamine level in your body pulses up. It lights up the reward pathway of your brain.
This sense of reward is so enjoyable that your brain seeks it out again.
Research finds that people with a go-getting attitude typically tend to have high levels of dopamine in the parts of the brain involved with motivation and reward.
Basically, the dopamine in your system makes you feel eager to repeat what you did to experience that same sense of accomplishment.
For example, imagine someone complimented a recipe you cooked. Did it motivate you to make it again, or try to cook more?
Or imagine someone praised you for your input at work. Did it leave you feeling pleased and eager to work hard to receive such praise again?
An unexpected reward like this creates a spike of the dopamine level in your body. And this spike is so enjoyable your brain is motivated to seek it out again.
Falling levels of dopamine are associated to symptoms of depression and anxiety.
On the other hand, healthy levels of dopamine can help reduce these symptoms.
So, help break your child’s assignments down into a series of tasks. It helps your child tackle their schoolwork a step at a time. And it also helps them stay motivated thanks to the accomplishment they feel every time they complete a step.
It also makes the task seem less overwhelming and allows your child to complete it in a more well-planned way.
2. Help Your Child Take More Brain-Based Breaks
Part of creating a sound routine is remembering to take enough breaks!
And this isn’t just because your child might be bored, or wanting a snack, or thinking about texting a friend.
Breaks are brain-science proven methods of improving productivity, learning, recall and motivation.
If your child feels overwhelmed after a stretch of studying, it’s because their working memory is overwhelmed.
This is a temporary store of memory your child is using to keep information they’re learning in the moment.
Imagine you’re typing up a document on your computer, and it suddenly crashes. If you hadn’t saved what you were working on you lose the whole document, right?
Working memory is a bit similar. You need to make sure you take the time to save the information to make sure it gets committed to longer-term memory.
So, if your child gets distracted, overwhelmed or is unable to soak in any new information after a while studying, it could be because their working memory is too full.
The good news is that a short break of 5 minutes is enough to restore your child’s working memory.
And in fact, taking a short break helps your child’s brain switch into a default mode. This is also a necessary part of retaining and recalling information.
In this mode, the brain goes over what it has learned and what it already knows. It creates meaningful connections and memory since it doesn’t have to focus on absorbing new information.
So, help your child take more brain-friendly breaks, of around 20 to 25 minutes. They will feel a sense of accomplishment every time they complete a study session. They will also find they are better focused, and more productive.
The more productive they are, the more accomplished they will feel. And the greater the dopamine keeping them motivated and in a healthy mental state!
3. Make Sure Your Child is Getting Enough Sleep
And getting ample sleep is extremely important for your child’s mental and physical well-being.
When your child doesn’t get enough REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, it can affect their brains in multiple ways. This includes affecting their amygdalae.
Amygdalae are small, almond-sized nuclei in the temporal lobe of the brain. They not only play a part in long-term memory formation and learning, but also regulate mood.
Studies find that those who don’t get enough sleep at night remain more reactive to negative emotions they experienced the day before.
Plus, just one night without quality sleep can lead to a build-up of brain “waste” in parts of your child’s brain. This includes the amygdalae.
This causes brain fog, making it difficult to learn or remember, and negative moods and emotions.
Sleep is also when your child’s brain processes everything it learned during the day. This is when it commits information to long-term memory.
So, if your child is not getting enough sleep, they’ll be more forgetful about what they’re doing in school. This will only make their struggles worse and lead to falling dopamine levels and less motivation.
And speaking of dopamine, which keeps you alert and wakeful – a lack of sleep can reduce dopamine levels the next day. So, your child will feel demotivated, sleepy, unfocused, cranky or irritable, and so on.
It might be tempting for your child to spend an extra couple hours watching TV or on their gaming consoles or phones. But sleep is a neuroscience-backed necessity for sound mental health and learning.
So, make sure they’re getting enough of it!
4. Go Exercising Together
Making sure you spend good quality time with your kids is essential for the mental health of both you and your child.
Studies show that those who feel more connected to other people experience fewer depressive and anxiety symptoms.
And one activity you can do together with your kids is exercise. This boosts both your physical and mental health!
When you exercise, your body pumps more oxygen-rich blood to the brain.
This helps the brain run more efficiently and build itself up.
Exercise is known to boost neural connectivity. This means the brain’s nerve cells create pathways to store knowledge faster and more efficiently.
It also improves the growth of the hippocampus. This is a very important part of the brain involved in learning and memory.
Exercise thus helps improve your child’s learning and memory. It also helps improve their mental health by increasing their levels of endorphins, dopamine and serotonin.
You already know that dopamine helps boost your motivation and focus. Along with the other chemical messengers circulating your system, you’ll also experience a boost in your mood!
And with everyone spending so much time at home, the exercise is needed for your physical wellbeing too!
5. Make Sure to Maintain a Healthy Diet
Some types of guilty-pleasure treats, like fast-food, pastries and cakes, candies, can make you experience a temporary “high” of dopamine.
This is why it’s so easy to get addicted to certain types of foods. Your kids might always be asking for them. And you might be tempted as well, since your brains keep expecting a sense of reward.
But when it comes to refined sugar, refined flour, greasy and salty foods, the dopamine rush you experience is short-lived.
In the long run it actually leaves you feeling tired, unfocused, demotivated, irritable, and more.
This is because after that initial spike fades, you actually experience a dopamine shortage.
This is why your kids experience sugar rushes and sugar crashes. They go from bouncing off the walls to barely wanting to move.
There are plenty of healthy alternatives to naturally boost dopamine in your child’s brain, to keep them alert, focused and of course, happy and healthy.
Food (like salmon, mackerel and other fatty fish) rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, is a fantastic option to incorporate in your diets.
Fruits (like berries), veggies (especially leafy greens), nuts, unprocessed meats and dairy are all healthy components of a well-balanced diet. These all contribute in turn to healthy dopamine levels.
A healthy diet keeps your child energetic, in good spirits, and able to focus on their schoolwork.
The current circumstances are difficult if not devastating for many.
To minimize the damage to your child’s wellbeing, remember that you are partners in their remote learning.
Which of these 5 ways to maintain your child’s mental health during remote learning are you trying out first?
Pat Wyman’s super power is helping people learn, read and remember everything faster.
She is the CEO of HowtoLearn.com and an internationally noted brain coach known as America’s Most Trusted Learning Expert. Pat has helped over half a million people in schools and corporations such as Microsoft, Intel and Google improve their lives with her learning strategies, learning styles inventory and courses, including as Total Recall Learning™.
Pat is the best-selling author of more than 15 books and is also a university instructor, mom and golden retriever lover!