4 steps parents working from home can take to support their kids' mental health and virtual learning

Erin Lester/Getty ImagesUsing phrases like ‘I can see you’re really frustrated’ can help your child feel validated when learning remotely.
  • Amy Morin is a psychotherapist, licensed clinical social worker, mental strength coach, and international bestselling author.
  • As millions of kids are studying from home during the pandemic, Morin says it’s critical for parents to help their children stay mentally strong and focus on their psychological well-being.
  • If your child is complaining about spending endless hours on Zoom, validate their feelings by offering empathy and reassuring them that it’s OK to express their frustration.
  • Avoid the cycle of negativity by reframing words of discouragement, problem-solving together, and finding ways to cope.
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Working from home isn’t easy — even when you’re an adult. So imagine trying to learn maths facts and do science experiments over Zoom when you’re a kid.

That’s the situation millions of kids are finding themselves in right now with remote learning during the pandemic.

Many of them are tired, frustrated, lonely, and anxious — and rightly so.

We spent the last decade limiting kids’ screen time because it’s bad for their brains, and now we’re telling them to stare at a screen all day so they can get an education. On top of that, we’ve taken away their social activities and asked them to do classroom learning without actually being in a classroom.

Clearly, all of these changes could take a serious toll on their psychological well-being. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help your kids grow from this experience — as hard as it may be. Here are some strategies that can help them stay mentally strong when they’re remote learning.


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Validate their feelings

When your child complains that Zoom meetings are boring, resist the urge to tell them how much you would have loved to be able to attend school from home when you were a kid. Knowing you may have liked it won’t help them feel better.

It’s equally important not to insist you had it worse. Telling them you had to walk to school uphill both ways in a snowstorm every day won’t help them feel grateful that they can stay home.

Rather than talk them out of their feelings, validate how they feel. Put a name to what you think they’re feeling by saying something like, “I can see you’re really frustrated by this.” Then, offer some empathy by adding, “It must be hard to sit here all day staring at your computer screen.”

Even if you think their reactions are a bit dramatic, don’t minimise how they feel. Instead, reassure them that it’s OK to feel whatever emotions they have right now.

Reframe words of discouragement

When you hear your child say things like, “This is awful. I’ll never figure out how to do maths,” step in and help.

But don’t get caught up in reframing all their negative thoughts for them. Saying, “Yes, you will figure out,” can help but eventually, you want them to learn how to talk back to that negative inner voice themselves.

Ask questions like, “What’s some evidence we have that shows you can figure out how to do maths?” Then, you might point out how they have made progress in maths this year or that they have learned a lot of other hard things and they can learn this too.

Looking for evidence to the contrary is a great skill because when you’re not there to reframe their negative thoughts for them, they will know what to do.


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Problem-solve together

It’s important to help your child recognise that sometimes you can change the environment and other times you can change how you feel about the environment.

When your child presents problems that can be solved, work together on changing the environment. If your child says their neck hurts from staring at the computer all day, brainstorm some options together — like getting a standing desk or taking walking breaks every 30 minutes.

Let your child experiment with solutions (even the ones you don’t think will work). Whether they want to take notes with a crayon or they insist on sitting on an exercise ball, allow them to experiment with different ideas. If those experiments fail, encourage them to try something else.

Practice coping skills together

Teach your child coping strategies for dealing with uncomfortable emotions. A child who is easily frustrated might benefit from a “calm down kit” which might be a shoe box filled with items that help them feel better — like a colouring book and crayons, Play-Doh, and a joke book.

You might also work with your child on dealing with loneliness and boredom — two emotions that are likely to crop up when remote learning. Talk about strategies for managing those emotions in a healthy way — like calling a friend, reading a book, taking deep breaths, or doing art work.

Just make it clear that it’s OK to feel those things. You don’t want your kids thinking they have to escape all signs of emotional pain. Instead, a healthier message is to tell them, “This is hard but I know you’re a strong kid and together we’ll work on figuring out how to deal with this the best we can.”

If you’re concerned that your child may be developing a mental health issue, like depression or anxiety, talk to your paediatrician. A referral to a therapist may be in order. Many kids are struggling right now and a professional can help improve their mental health during this really tough time.

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