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Taking the stress out of home schooling during Covid-19

Most parents would be better off by relaxing their approach

Home schooling is the highest reported stressor for parents in a survey of more than 600 people about the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis conducted by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).

This is a completely unsurprising result for me as a mental-health professional. Educational difficulties and struggles with homework have been in the top three sources of stress for the families I have been working with over the last 30 years.

Many of the primary school children I see describe long protracted homework battles with their parents, which are usually damaging to both the child’s and the parents’ self-esteem. This is despite the fact that there is little evidence that homework for primary school children actually has a positive benefit on their educational attainment (with the exception of reading at home with parents).

In contrast there is substantial evidence that repeated battles over homework have a negative impact not only on the child’s learning, but also on the parent-child relationship, putting both under daily stress and impacting their mental health.


So now during the Covid-19 crisis, the pressure has increased on parents to now not only do homework, but to also take on the bigger role of ‘home schooling’. I am not surprised that this is multiplying the stress on parents and children.

The tragedy is that this stress is largely unnecessary, as most parents would be better relaxing their approach and focusing on informal learning and fun projects rather than setting up a formal ‘school’ in the home.

Like homework, the pressure for home schooling often comes from parents. Driven by a desire to do the best for their children, they pressure the teacher to send home extensive lesson plans and then try to bring the structure of the school into the home.

While this formal home schooling might work for some children and parents I suspect they are in the minority. However, once the standard is set then peer pressure kicks in between parents and all feel under pressure to do the same home schooling, even though this is stressful and counterproductive for most families

A more relaxed approach

During the Covid-19 crisis there is already a great deal of pressure on families, whether this is parents struggling to balance work and parenting, children bored and missing friends and everyone dealing with worry during these challenging times.

As a result it is important to reduce pressure and create a balanced routine in the home that includes study and learning in a relaxed way. For secondary school children, who are more independent in their learning, this might mean supporting them following their school day (and to link in with the online classes and school supports).

For primary school children this might mean focusing on one or two daily learning times when you turn off the television and other screens and review some school lesson plans but making sure to go at your children’s pace.

Follow your child’s lead in learning

Remembers that the lesson plans sent by schools are only guides, and should be followed flexibly according to your child’s learning style. Be wary about adopting the ‘strict teacher’ role and if a lesson becomes stressful, take a pause and try a different approach.

Indeed, the best home-learning projects for young children are those that are largely child-led and centred on creative, fun learning. This might include, learning to cook a meal, sowing seeds in a window box, doing a craft, reading a favourite book together, playing music or interviewing granny by Skype about her childhood.

Pick home-learning projects that motivate your child and build on their interests and strengths.

Focus on play and fun time

As well as setting aside ‘school time’ in the day, it is also important to set aside daily play times when you can have fun and give your children your full attention.

Taking time to play with and connect with your children is probably the most important role you have as a parent and this is the time when they usually open up and talk and learn the most from you.

These play times are usually the most highly rated daily moments for parents and reduce stress and increase well-being for children and parents. Vary what you do during play times according to your children’s age and interests.

They might include doing a craft together, playing board games, watching a family television show or going on nature walk together. Set one or two interesting goals each week that you can look forward to, whether this is trying a new game, watching a new movie or doing an online quiz together.

Help children plan their routine

Help your children create their own routine and to alternate their activities throughout the day.

For example, as well as doing school work in a given day they might alternate between screen time by themselves; doing a play activity; reading a book; watching a television programme with the family; playing in the garden; playing music; and going for a family walk, etc.

The key is to strike a balance between screens and other activities as well as time alone and time with the family.

Take the pressure off

Being cooped up in the same house already brings a lot of pressure. Reduce your expectations and don’t expect to be a super parent doing everything.

Have a gentle start to day, set one or two goals, let your children watch a bit more television, get outdoors for a bit and focus on enjoyment and relaxation as much as you can.

In the NPHET survey, while home schooling was the greatest stressor, being outdoors, whether walking or gardening, had the most calming effect for people.