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From the Mouths of Kids: What We’ve Learned from Students Schooling at Home. Part 4: Stress at Home

by David Engle | Jul 28, 2020 | 6 min read

As parents deliberate whether to send their children back to school in the fall, amid skyrocketing COVID-19 cases in many parts of the country, perhaps we should all listen to some people who will give it to you straight, who have experienced learning at home first-hand–kids.

As we shared in the first three parts of this blog series (catch up here, here and here), YouthTruth, a national nonprofit organization, conducted an anonymous survey of more than 20,000 students, who provided more than 40,000 open-ended responses to the following three questions related to schooling at home during the spring 2020 school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • What about learning at home do you like? Are there things you hope will stay the same next school year?
  • What about learning at home do you find challenging? How can your school help?
  • Since your school building closed, briefly describe your day…

From there, YouthTruth analyzed the responses, categorized them accordingly, and created a list of five benefits and five challenges associated with learning at home (remember, learning at home is not the same as homeschooling!).

These are some really interesting and valid insights that neither parents nor educators may have been fully aware of. And they deserve as much consideration as the challenges when deciding the right course of action for the upcoming school year. But right now, we’re going to focus on the challenges since there may be solutions that can be implemented either by you as a parent or by school administrators. In part 1 of this series, we discussed distractions and ways to minimize them; in part 2, we talked about the challenges of online schoolwork and schedules; in part 3, we got into lack of motivation. Today, we’ll focus on challenge 4: stress at home.

Stress at home can appear in so many forms, especially in the COVID-19 world. There are jobs to do around the house, siblings to deal with, parents working from home, pets to take care of. While being at home with everyone has its benefits, it can also lead to tension, quick fuses, frustration, and anger. And those can all turn into big problems. Plus, for younger children, it may be challenging for them to receive the help they need with schoolwork, which can lead to disillusionment toward school in general…and that’s certainly not something any student should have to deal with at an early age.

The following statements came directly from students who suffered from stress at home throughout distance-based learning during the spring.

“Some people have chores, family members who need extra help, older family members, siblings, and pets […] You might be helping your grandma and miss a Zoom meeting and that adds a lot of stress.”

While not all children are in situations exactly like this, many have similar scenarios unfolding at home. If grandparents or other relatives are currently living in the house, that certainly adds another layer of responsibility–and stress–to the situation. Most kids do have jobs or chores to do around the house, but nothing should preclude a student from attending a scheduled Zoom class or meeting.

Every family’s household is different, so there’s never going to be a blanket solution to problems such as these. However, stress can be minimized with just a little bit of schedule juggling. For example, chores wait until after the school day. Siblings/family members take turns walking the dog or feeding the cat. If students are on the younger side, the adults in the home should probably be the ones responsible for the care of any elderly relatives–that’s a large burden to place on a child’s shoulders. That said, if Grandma needs a glass of water or Grandpa needs help getting out of a chair, kids can certainly help out with those tasks.

During the school day, especially if classes are being held live via Zoom or another app, school should be every student’s top priority and focus. Obviously, individual families will have to work out solutions to accommodate this, but every child needs to be 100% committed and dedicated to school during school hours. Barring emergencies, breaks between classes, and scheduled gaps during the school day, that’s where every student’s attention should be.

“I live with four others and my brother’s family is always over, and I usually have to take care of my niece and nephew. And recently I started working again because restaurants are opening again.”

To put it mildly, this student has way too much going on at home. And that’s probably pretty common for older students; those in high school tend to work part-time jobs, which cuts into time during the evenings and weekends–time that might be dedicated to studying or completing projects and homework. As long as jobs aren’t taking teens away from their computers during school hours, it’s just a matter of juggling the responsibilities to the best of their ability. Millions of teenagers work part time, so it can be done. But…

When you start adding all of those other layers on top of school and work, stress is an obvious result. Babysitting and spending time with family is important and fun, but it has to be done while accommodating school. Again, school must remain the #1 focus during school hours. If the extra stress is occurring after the school day, it might be time to push back a bit with some of the requests. Everyone has their limit–no teenager should be realistically expected to put in a full day of school, dedicate time after school to studying and homework, work a part-time job, and babysit for the family. It’s simply too much, and that’s why this particular student is documenting how stressed out he/she is.

Family is family, but lines must be drawn. Whether that means no babysitting during the week, or only working on weekends, parents need to work with their kids to ensure they’re in the right headspace. There are plenty of things to stress about during adulthood–kids and teens shouldn’t have to deal with those things while they’re trying their best to get a good education.

“Maybe what schools could do is give us this time off. And summer break or any breaks […] stress is going around the world like a virus. And we as students and teachers need this time off to relax and not need to get more stress from school right now. We don’t need more stress than we already have.”

This is a very interesting point of view. And, given that everyone’s stress levels are off the charts these days, it’s a valid point and something to think about. You can’t place a value on rest and relaxation when it comes to mental (and physical) health. An extended period of time off would probably be just what every student and teacher needs to recharge their batteries and concentrate on school once it starts up again.

That said, this scenario is not likely to unfold, especially with the federal government making a very strong push to get schools fully reopened for the fall. Whether that happens is another story, but it’s safe to say there probably won’t be any further extended vacation breaks for teachers and students. But there are ways to manage the stress and succeed in school without growing inordinately stressed.

Much like school days pre-COVID, after-school time should be spent doing things kids enjoy. While that may be more limited these days, kids can still ride bikes, shoot hoops, take walks, play video games, watch TV, and FaceTime with friends once their schoolwork is complete. With situations being different today (different household scenarios due to COVID, etc.), those activities may need to happen at different times and after other responsibilities are taken care of, but it’s important for kids to have their own personal time to spend doing the things they enjoy–that is a surefire way to reduce stress.

Like many of the issues surfacing from this survey, every home’s situation is a little bit different. But the basic principles still apply across the board…kids need to be able focus on school without added stress, and also have time to unwind by partaking in activities that they love. As everyone marches on through this new way of life, it’s important for children to maintain their mental health and well-being, and as parents, it’s our job to help them navigate through these uncharted waters.

Whether you homeschool full time or are experiencing it for the first time due to COVID-19, it’s important to monitor stress levels in your children. If your child is showing signs of stress or agitation, talk to them. Find out the root causes. It could be an easy fix, such as shifting household responsibilities or simply stopping certain practices or routines around the home.

We’re all stressed right now. It’s been a trying five months, and who knows how much longer life will look this way? But as parents, we need to keep our kids staying positive and with as little stress as possible. It’s a whole new world for them too, so let’s try to keep it a happy one for the sake of their well-being.

How have your children been dealing with this stress during the COVID era? How have you been helping them through it? Share in the comments below.

David Engle
Hello, and thanks for reading! I’m David Engle--dad, husband, sports fan, and writer/editor. As a father for the last 18 years (father of two for the last 14), I consider myself to be pretty well-versed in all things related to education, childhood, and parenting, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to share some insights and knowledge with fellow parents. I have been a professional writer and editor for a quarter of a century (it pains me to admit that) and have been writing in the educational space for a number of those years. I reside in southern New Jersey with my wife, two kids, two dogs, and three cats. Never a dull moment.
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