By Nadja Streiter, LMSW
Distance learning involves sitting in front of a screen for a significant chunk of time, and it’s often followed by more of the same for homework assignments. This can be a real challenge for many kids, especially those with learning or attention issues. Here are some suggestions for setting up your child to succeed despite the challenges.
Consider Seating and Setting
“Zoom fatigue” can be worsened by less-than-optimal ergonomics. Aim to have your child use a comfortable desk chair with back support. For those who benefit from mobility while viewing their teacher, consider the use of an exercise ball or a standing desk.
When considering a suitable work station, opt for a place near a power source. This avoids the need to change location at inopportune times such as in the middle of a lesson or halfway through a homework assignment.
If a quiet work setting is not an option, noise-reducing headphones will help reduce distractions.
Establish A Morning Routine
If followed consistently, a morning routine can lead to good habits that will carry over when life goes back to normal. It removes the need for all the small decisions that slow kids down, especially for those who struggle with transitions. (“Should I eat breakfast or get dressed first?”).
Work with your child to create a morning checklist. If possible, incorporate a little exercise, even if it’s only a few jumping jacks or 5 minutes jogging in place. Getting blood pumping helps prepare the mind to learn.
Protect Productive Time
No matter what your kids say, multi-tasking is a myth. When kids engage in attention switching it can take up to 23 minutes to fully refocus on the task at hand.
Block distracting websites and notifications on devices used for schoolwork by enforcing a “one-device rule.” If your child is old enough to have a phone make sure it’s out of sight (and earshot) while engaging in academic activities.
If you can’t get full buy-in—often the case with older kids—start small by turning off notifications when doing homework. Some kids catch on and realize they spend less time on homework when there are fewer interruptions.
Build In Break Time
It might be easier for you to have your children get their homework done right after class, but that might not be best for your child. In addition to perpetuating the message that homework is a negative (something to get out of the way) instead of as a positive (the opportunity to practice what you’ve learned), it isn’t reasonable to expect most kids to work straight through. If they were in a physical setting, they would have at least the ride or walk home to take a break and rest their minds.
Build in a gap between school and homework. Ideally get them up and moving, outdoors if possible. If they’re clamoring to catch up with friends but it means being on a screen to do so, then help them find a shady spot outdoors to chat or game.
Make Technology Work for You
I’m a fan of using technology to enhance our lives even if that means more screen use. For example, if your child resists writing down assignments or struggles with keeping track of his work, consider having him use a digital homework planner. These apps allow parents to take advantage of the same behavioral psychology techniques, like progress bars, that video game developers use to keep kids playing.
Most kids would prefer to be in the classroom seeing their friends face to face, going out for recess and eating lunch in the cafeteria, but they have no control over the school format mandated by their state or district. Understand that your kid’s screen time for school feels different than screen time for play and entertainment–and it is. Don’t shame them when they want lots of recreational screen time even though you might feel they’ve had enough. Deliver your message with compassion, and work toward a compromise.
Model the Behavior You Want to See
Whether you think so or not, your kids are always watching you. Model in your work the behaviors you want to see from your children. I often recommend that you draw their attention to those actions by announcing what you’re doing to support their concentration. Modeling is one of the most effective tools a parent has and even if you don’t see immediate results or evidence that it is working, be patient. At a minimum you will be the beneficiary of these strategies.
Nadja Streiter is a clinical social worker and therapist who specializes in Technology and Video Game Addiction.