A certain degree of parent involvement is necessary for most children to engage in online school sufficiently. However, too much parent involvement can backfire and hinder children’s academic and behavioral development. So, how much is too much? And when is it not quite enough? The answer is: it depends on the child, their teachers, and your parenting values and level of availability to engage. This series of blog posts presents recommendations to help guide your involvement in your child’s online education. The first consideration is general monitoring of engagement in online instruction (e.g., staying on task during teacher-led instruction, asynchronous learning time, etc.).
General Monitoring of Online Instruction
Staring at a screen all day is hard. Even adults are susceptible to finding themselves wandering onto Amazon or social networking sites during the workday. For children and adolescents, who have less-developed executive functioning skills, it can be particularly challenging to stay the course and focus for hours at a time. This is particularly the case in an online environment, which is inherently less engaging than in-person school. Furthermore, due to the structure of online school, teachers are not in a position to fully monitor each students’ engagement in academic activities. Parents are not equipped to do so either. The good news is that many children and teenagers can manage their schoolwork despite distractions. However, some children and adolescents’ struggles to stay engaged may adversely impact their academic progress. For these children, it is unrealistic for parents to micromanage their children’s every move. Even if parents could do this, this would not be helpful, as it doing so fails to equip children with the skills that they need to manage their tasks and responsibilities independently. Instead of providing constant monitoring/supervision, parents may help their children more by leading them to develop systems that they can use to keep themselves on track. The following tips/strategies may be helpful:
- Help your children develop daily schedules/routines. Work with your child to determine what their daily schedule should realistically be. Of course, some of this will be laid out by the school, but it can help to assist children in planning out additional details such as when they will get up, eat breakfast, and what they will actually do during asynchronous learning time, etc. It is helpful to include basic daily self-care in their schedules because regularly doing things like getting dressed and sitting down for breakfast can add to a sense of normalcy and overall daily structure. For younger children, you can work with them to create a visual schedule that they can follow each day. Teenagers may benefit from using planners or digital calendars to outline their routines.
- Incorporate breaks. Within your children’s schedule, make sure to incorporate several predetermined opportunities for breaks. Breaks should occur both when there are built-in gaps of time throughout the school day and during asynchronous time. If children know when their breaks are coming ahead of time, they may be more willing to “power through” to get to them. It can also be helpful to encourage your children to get up and move during their breaks, or if nothing else, do something that they genuinely enjoy, which can help weave some happiness into their days.
- Create an environment that is conducive to learning. Encourage your child to do their schoolwork in a space that is quiet and has limited distractions. Even a space such as the kitchen table may be too distracting for children, especially when the whole family is home during the day. Therefore, it can be helpful to separate their “workspace” from their “fun space” by creating a separate location where your child can focus.
- Physically limit distractions. Many children do not have the self-control to refrain from using “fun” electronics and toys until the school day is over. Therefore, it can help to remove your child’s biggest distractors and give them back at the end of the school day. However, some children are known to “skirt the system” by surfing the internet or texting from their computer. In that case, you may consider researching how to impose limits on specific apps and websites during school hours through parental monitoring apps.
- Help your child organize their digital environment: where do they access their materials? How can they check messages from teachers? Where should they take notes? How many tabs should they have open? The answers to these questions aren’t always intuitive. Even after months of online school, many kids are still struggling to organize their virtual learning environments. You can help by assisting your child in developing a system that is clear and uncluttered.
- Consider using rewards. Online school can be inherently less rewarding than in-person school. Therefore, it can help to create and implement your own rewards system to keep your child motivated to pay attention during online instruction. Rather than providing constant supervision, you could check in at varied (random) times throughout the day. For example, if you pop in and “catch” your child on task for 3 out of 4 check-ins, they could earn a special reward at the end of the day, such as special time with you, increased privileges (e.g., increased screen time or a slightly later bedtime), their choice of show or game with parents, etc. Talk to your child about what would be rewarding for them and incorporate their ideas into the rewards system.
- Give specific praise. In addition to tangible and intangible rewards, it can help children to hear from you about what they’re doing right. In particular, children will be encouraged by very specific praise about precisely what it was that you liked (e.g., “I am so impressed that you waited until break time to ask for your phone, good job!”). It is also helpful to encourage their hard work as opposed to their achievements.
Overall, remember to go easy on yourself and your children. The pandemic year hasn’t been the strongest academic year for most kids. This is to be expected. However, you and your children are doing the best that you can with the circumstances you’ve been dealt. Take opportunities to celebrate what your kids have learned, including how to take on more independence and responsibility with school at a much earlier age than older generations ever did. These are skills that will serve them well in the future.
By: Meghan McMackin, PhD, Supervised by Misti Nicholson, PsyD