Tips for getting through the rest of this school year — and possibly next

Illustration of kids driving a dad crazy with yelling and jumping
Many parents are struggling with home learning during the COVID-19 outbreak (Illustrations: Adobe Stock/David Chrisom, Boston Children's Hospital)

If you’re like most parents, you’re not trained to be a teacher or a tutor. And yet, many parents are finding themselves in these roles since schools closed in March. For many, it’s a role that can be fraught with frustration and guilt. If you don’t make sure your child keeps up with schoolwork, will they fall behind? And if you force your child to complete every assignment, will your relationship suffer?

With a few more weeks left in this school year, and an uncertain fall semester,  we turned to Sue Costello, a clinical social worker at Boston Children’s who works in the Boston Public Schools as a clinician and consultant. Although she usually works most closely with teachers and principals, since the shift to virtual learning Costello has been working with more parents, offering guidance and support through this new educational landscape. She shares some of her tips here.

Realize you’re not alone.

“This shift has been a huge transition for everyone, and being home all day can feel very isolating,” says Costello. “For many parents it can be helpful just to remember that most caregivers are in exactly the same boat, and that feeling overwhelmed is a totally normal reaction.” She suggests reaching out to other parents, whether by phone or on a video call to get support and share frustrations, tips, and advice. “It’s really important for parents to connect and realize they are not alone. Sometimes simply hearing that other people feel exactly the same way can be very helpful.”

Illustration of a mom reading a book while her daughter paints.
Taking a break in your day to do something on your own can help ease tension.

Take a time out.

“If you need a break, tell your kids you’re taking a time out, and grab some quiet time alone for yourself,” Costello says. Better yet, schedule some quiet time in the day where everyone in the family gets to do their own thing, whatever that may be. “While you’re reading a book, your child might be drawing or watching a video. The idea is to do whatever will keep everyone quiet and happy for a half hour or so.”

Illustration of a family fishing, all wearing masks.
Find other ways to engage your children in the world around them.

Find other ways to learn.

Even if your kids aren’t hitting the books every day, Costello says to remember they are learning many life lessons right now that are teaching them other skills. And if trying to help your child get through the school day is a fight or simply too overwhelming, she suggests finding other creative ways to keep them engaged.

“Plan an imaginary road trip on Google maps calculating mileage and travel time, read recipes and cook together, play games or puzzles, read a book together, tell stories, or watch a movie together and then talk about it.” She adds that fighting about schoolwork isn’t good for parents or children. “Reducing family stress is good for your children and good  for you.”

Illustration of a parent and teacher connecting by phone
Let teachers know if you’re having trouble

Reach out to teachers.

Having worked with teachers for many years, Costello knows how much they value parent feedback. “If you think your child’s work is too much, reach out and let them know,” she says. “Teachers want to be supportive and hearing your particular struggles can be very helpful for them.” She adds that it’s important to remember that many teachers are struggling, too. “We’re all in this together, and all under stress, and I think it can help to recognize that.

Illustration of family hugging.
Try to remember that this time is challenging for everyone, and you’re doing the best you can.

Remember you’re doing the best you can.

Costello says that under the current circumstances, no parent can do everything that’s being asked of them and do it well. “Although people may be in very different places, we’re all struggling in one way or another in the current pandemic,” she says. “We tell parents, ‘Just take a breath and do the best you can. And realize that whatever you’re doing is good enough, even if you don’t cross everything off on your list for the day. There may be days when nothing gets crossed off, and that’s okay. Things will change from day to day, and that’s normal, too.’”

However, Costello says if you are finding yourself routinely struggling to get up in the morning or manage your stress or feelings, consider reaching out for support. For help, contact your primary care doctor or call the parental stress hotline at 800-632-8188.    

Get more answers about Boston Children’s response to COVID-19.

Share this: