Top tips to de-stress teaching your children at home
Homework can be hard enough to deal with - a source of stress, angst and tantrums for parents and children alike. And now we're being asked to supervise even more of our children's learning while schools are closed during the current pandemic.
Being cooped up for most of the day and separated from friends is a lot for everyone to deal with, so we don't need any additional tensions around learning and school activities thrown into the mix.
Firstly, try not to worry about getting lots and lots of school work done - bear in mind that although the school day is five hours long, your child only spends a tiny fraction of that time actually learning so you can cover the same ground much, much more quickly than you might expect. Also remember that some kids will adjust better than others to learning in a different environment, so try to be realistic about how much work you can get through.
And don't get too caught up in trying to teach your children new things - consolidating existing skills and improving on areas that your child doesn't have a firm enough grasp of is extremely useful and should be doable without you having to earn a primary teaching degree in the interim!
Mum of three and primary school teacher Grainne McElroy has some more some tips for how to de-escalate, reduce tensions and get some work done without arguments.
Set up for success
Create the right atmosphere
We can’t expect our kids to focus if there is a lot of noise and distraction, for example if younger siblings are playing or if the TV is on in the same room. Make sure there’s a space for school work that’s calm, quiet and free from distractions. Sitting on a chair at a table not only helps massively with concentration but also enables children to write clearly and present their work as well as they possibly can.
Lots of children will take advantage of any excuse to jump up from the table - have everything in place and easy to reach, from rubbers and sharpeners to a glass of water so kids can settle down to business.
Get in the know
Most schools have sent out packs of work for kids which include some information for parents, but even with this, it can be tricky to know exactly how to help your child if they're stuck on something. This is where a virtual parents group can provide the support you need - form a group on WhatsApp with other parents to see how they are tackling a particular area and you will probably get lots of great ideas!
Concentration is tricky when tummies are rumbling. Hunger can make us all cross and irrational - it leaves us in a poor state to do any learning, making homework a bit pointless when we're feeling this way. Give your child something to eat before they begin, or set the child up with a healthy snack that they can nibble on as they work.
Be clear about expectations
Pulling your child away from a fun activity to do schoolwork can unsurprisingly raise their hackles. If children know what is expected of them with regards to their work, they are less likely to be disappointed or upset when they have to stop playing and get stuck in.
For those who are reluctant to do the school learning tasks they'v been set, try to turn it into a game, or schedule a fun activity for after they've finished. Say “School work first, then we can find something to do that you really love.”
Kids enjoy when someone takes an interest in what they are doing and of course, they love praise - focus it on the effort they’re putting in and their own creative approach to things rather than their outcome.
Remind kids that having to do their school work and learning at home isn’t a punishment but an opportunity for them to show off to you just what they can do! It may come as a surprise to them that schools being closed doesn't mean they're on holiday, but it's a great chance for parents to get to know what their kids are learning and spend time doing it with them.
Give them some control
It can help to give a sense of self-determination and power back to your child if they have a little bit of control over their own schedule. Let them choose which piece of schoolwork they are going to do first, or at what time they’re going to start. NB you'll need to be realistic with this one, but even letting them choose between 11.30 and 11.35 can make a difference!
Just be there
Sometimes children just need to feel connected with you. This doesn't mean standing over them while they do their work, or even more pointless, doing the work for them, but can be achieved by making yourself available and reinforcing that you are on their side.
When emotions run high
Calm the storm
It’s hard, we know. You’ve most likely had a crazy day - maybe you've been juggling home working around the kids and queueing for the supermarket, and making meals with whatever was left on the shelves. The pressure in the household, combined with all the big emotions that children experience can cause them to just flip their lid.
Take five minutes out to help your child process what they are feeling and connect with them, emotion to emotion. When kids act out, it’s because they’re saying ‘I don’t know what to do with these emotions I’m feeling.’
Name it to tame it
It can help to label their emotions for them - frustration, worry, anxiety, tiredness - as just saying the feeling out loud can go a long way towards dealing with it.
Model a good response yourself to show them how it should be done. Say: “I’m feeling really frustrated about this too, so I’m going to take some really deep breaths for a minute, and then try again.”
It can sometimes seem like your child is deliberately dragging out their schoolwork tasks, but often what seems like an attempt to antagonise us parents is actually our children struggling to deal with everything they have going on in their lives - not necessarily just the tasks in front of them.
If your child has completely lost it, there’s little point in attempting to push on with school work in the midst of a tantrum as their capacity to learn and benefit from it is fairly small.
Physical activity is a great way of helping children come down from those high emotions and start to become calm again. Different things work for different kids, but a break for a bit of exercise can make all the difference. If you're lucky enough to have a garden, a run around is a great refresher between school work tasks and there are lots of great workouts for kids made available online recently which you can try if you have no outdoor space.
Other kids may benefit from a short play with a favourite toy, or if you’ve time and emotions are really high, how about an early bath? Water play is a fantastic way of bringing children down from a tantrum - and then attempt to tackle their schoolwork tasks once they’re calm.
Know when to let it go
If it's all too much don't worry. These are exceptional times and schools will understand if kids haven't been able to get through all the work that has been set. You can take these times as an opportunity to explore more fun and less conventional ways for kids to learn, like helping you in the kitchen, or while watching springtime emerge.
Have you any other tips for parents like yourself? Join in the discussion on our Facebook page and share your stories.
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