To reduce homeschooling stress for both parent and child, encourage self-efficacy.

Homeschooling anxiety?

Homeschooling, stress, self efficacy. How does it all come together?

While the real homeschoolers did their research, charted a pathway, bought learning material, and embarked on a journey, most of us have been catapulted into it by a force so sudden that we’ve found ourselves in a blur of hurried activities.

Our lack of preparedness both in skills needed to teach and adapting the home into living, working and learning space can, understandably, make for a stressful home environment.

The parents homeschooling through the societal changes brought about by the Covid-19 outbreak have found themselves in a challenging position of needing to reorganize not only their homes and their days, but also their thoughts and emotions to enable them to parent, work, teach and still maintain the symbol of the home as the space where we return to rest, rejuvenate, connect and engage with each other in fun and vulnerable ways. This would be taxing for anyone, even outside of a crisis.

So how do we as parents and carers maintain a psycho-emotional soundness while supporting our children through their learning and other related anxieties and challenges? There is no sure answer to that question unfortunately. But here are some ideas I have found helpful to consider:

Redefine terms

It is incredible how much freedom and clarity a fresh perspective can infuse into a hopeless situation. Flipping through Week 1 material for home learning I could feel the cortisol rising. How was I to understand all the content, translate it to my child and support his learning? “I can’t home school”, my brain was screaming. And I agreed with that reality.

What then could I do? As I flipped through the slides a second time it all crystalized for me that I would not be home-schooling. What I would be trying to do instead is to facilitate my children’s learning at home as much as I can. And I can do that. I am doing that. I feel energized to do that. My sudden change in attitude towards ‘homeschooling’ is called self- efficacy.

Why is self-efficacy important?

Self efficacy= I’ve got this. Or at least some of it 🙂

Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s ability to perform a task successfully. It makes tasks look less daunting. .

It is not about building self-esteem or how one feels about oneself, but rather getting the child to believe they can engage in a task that seems daunting, helping them make connections so that they can visualise how they can learn, then supporting them as needed to do the learning and ensuring a sense of success.  

Learners who believe in their ability to successfully engage in learning tasks are more proactive and innovative in learning engagement.

Please resist the temptation to bribe your children in order for them to complete learning tasks. It neither sustainable nor does it build self efficacy. Worse still, it makes learning somewhat conditional on circumstances outside children’s control, and therefore dis-empowers them as learners.

Rewarding learners for positive attitude, showing initiative, completing tasks…is entirely different and beneficial in building self-efficacy.

Learners who believe in their ability to successfully engage in learning tasks are more proactive and innovative in learning engagement.

Self-efficacy is as important in your child as it is in the homeschooling carer. If your child is looking to you to guide learning, your seeming flustered about the content or pressure from other responsibilities may negatively affect the child’s belief in him/herself as a learner. It is worth noting that self-efficacy can change from subject to subject or task to task within the same subject.

Do what you can

We all know that it is difficult to fit in a whole day of work, homeschooling and housekeeping within the few hours of daylight. So do what you can at least every day, and do it well. Pacing yourself according to your capacity is likely to reduce anxiety in both you and the child.

Consider that maintaining in your child a love for learning and ways to engage in it might be more useful to him in the long run than huffing and puffing to get through the weekly planner while bracing yourselves for that every single day. Also, encourage as much independent learning as possible. Teachers aren’t always looking over the students’ shoulders to guide their learning.

Give children a sense of success

You are both learning. Parents learn first in order to interpret tasks to and guide children’s learning. It might take more time and commitment for those of us with younger children than parents whose children are older, more independent learners. But the goal is still to keep the child motivated.

As an adult, it might dampen your motivation to engage in an activity if you believe you are going to fail, keep failing or your performance gets criticised often. It is not different for children.

Help children know what they have accomplished or done well. You can also chunk lengthy tasks into sections the child can achieve so they have a sense of success. Even recounting a single successful learning process or activity at the end of the day helps build and maintain motivation.

Chunk lengthy learning tasks into manageable sections

Help children make connections and give them think time

Learning= making connections to incrementally build knowledge

This is important for younger learners, or when a new idea is being introduced. Children process information a little slower than adults. It might look straightforward, but we learn by making connections.

Does this new knowledge/task connect with something they already know?  For example, when my child had difficulty understanding how to order objects according to mass, which is abstract, we detoured to a visual task of ordering objects according to length. We then applied that concept to the task on mass, which took care of his initial difficulty.

You see, learning is taking new information and connecting it to what is already known hence building on knowledge incrementally. Helping children make learning connections and giving them time to think and process facilitates learning better than supplying solutions.

Try and be fully present when engaging with your child in their learning

This might be a challenge if working full time or if children need a lot of learning support. But informing the child that you need 5 more minutes and then attending to their query might be more helpful than distractedly giving instructions over your shoulder. Children want to know that they matter above your to do list.

Every child and family is different, but I’ve noticed that when I’ve been too absorbed in work to engage with learning queries single-mindedly, the children disrupt my work time in attention seeking ways more. It might be different for older children, but their parents’ interest in their learning does not mean any less to them.

Be truthful and specific with feedback

Meaningful feedback is a sure way of building motivation and self-efficacy in your child. Being specific and truthful about your child’s learning engagement tells him that you are interested in his learning, are aware of his skills and are therefore able to support him in growing these skills and celebrating his efforts. ‘Great work’, ‘awesome’, ‘good job’ may make a child feel good, but it is not very helpful feedback for supporting learning.

Helpful feedback is specific and truthful

A child once said to me that even when he had not done well, his parents still said he had. And it bothered and confused him. He could not depend on his parents to help him with his weak areas if they refused to acknowledge that he had any. Failure is part of learning. Children are not looking for a pat in the back. They are looking for their efforts to be recognised, and for this feedback to guide their next efforts with support.

What did you like about the colours of the artwork? Is the coding task too complex for you to give feedback? Did the ideas expressed in the essay reflect empathy? Did the child form the letter P correctly for the first time? When not sure, it’s best to ask the child to explain their work to you so that you can be truthful, and specific in giving learning feedback. It might be hard, but you can try.

Complain a little less, celebrate small successes and find time to just be

family is also a place to retreat from current restrictions and difficulties, and that is worth preserving amidst all the pressure

We all know that on the other side of ‘homeschooling’, it will be much easier to catch up with schoolwork than to catch up with being family. So stress less about what is unattainable and celebrate what is. More importantly, home still needs to be home for the family. Because family is going to outlast current restrictions and difficulties.

Family is also a place to retreat from current restrictions and difficulties, and that is worth preserving amidst all the pressure. Seeing as it is that the only way out of this it through this, we might as well adopt an attitude that can sustain us.

If you feel overwhelmed this is a good song to listen to by Superchick; full volume, eyes closed. Its energy and choreography can be cathartic to a brain in chaos. It might help.

Feeling like all you’re doing is holding on and only just with your nails? Don’t worry. Under the current circumstances as long as you’re holding on, you’re doing great!

All that said, please remember that your children may be in need of a little more compassion than usual to deal with the confusion of their world-turned-upside-down. And in the home, your child needs a parent more than a teacher. And that this too, shall pass😊.

Happy living and homeschooling dear reader!!

Nini Mappo is a trained teacher who has taught everyone between the age of 4 and 72 years old. She has qualifications in Teaching ESL, primary school teaching and teaching students with cognitive and emotional learning difficulties.

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