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Why kids have such a hard time with online school during COVID-19

Is your child or teenager struggling with school during the COVID-19 pandemic? They’re not alone. Here are some reasons why. 

 

Kids have lost all of their external structure. Let’s talk about structure and routine for a second. We know that children and adults alike benefit from structure. Why is this? Because structure and routine allow us to not have to think too hard. Sounds weird, right? In fact, when we have consistent structure, things are predictable, and that allows the brain to focus on the task at hand, rather than constantly worrying about “what’s next”. For a great video on the two types of thinking utilized in the brain, check out this video: https://youtu.be/UBVV8pch1dM

 

Having external structure has another benefit as well: priming. Priming is the brain’s ability to create associations between things so that in the future, we can be better prepared, and all of this happens without conscious effort. We prime children’s brains for focused learning by creating a distraction-free environment, and have them seated quietly and calmly before we ask them to try something new. Sound familiar? For more tips on parenting during quarantine including how to create school structure, see my blog post here

 

The myth of intrinsic motivation. Parents tend to make the mistake of viewing learning as something that should be pursued relentlessly for the sake of learning, no matter the difficulty. I’m here to tell you right now to toss that view out the window. Look, people, I love my job, and I enjoy doing it, but I definitely don’t work for free. Neither does your kid. Especially if they’re struggling learners. If you child is displaying the following red flags, they may have an undiagnosed learning disability or ADHD, and should be evaluated by a professional so that they can receive learning accommodations and remedial services:

 

Red Flag #1: They are displaying school refusal. Right now, this may look like excessive trips to the bathroom, refusing to get out of bed, refusal to participate in online zoom classes, or saying things like “I hate school”.

 

Red Flag #2: You say “my kid just has no motivation, they just need to try harder”. This is a BIG red flag. Children do not like to fail. It is costly psychologically and socially for them to fail at school. If you find yourself saying this to other parents, your friends, or your kid’s teacher, something else is going on and your child needs help. Don’t wait. The cost of untreated ADHD and learning disabilities is very high. 

 

Red Flag #3: Saying things like “Mia is better at reading/math/writing than me”. Sometimes, this is just a normal competitive spirit between children. However, when it’s something that is said frequently, and especially if coupled with a resistance to doing math/reading/writing, then it’s time to get help. 

 

Red Flag #4: Your child seems anxious or depressed, and they get worse when faced with schoolwork. They may be despondent, experiencing anxiety or panic, and are easily overwhelmed. They may be experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches, upset stomach, or saying “I don’t feel good”. 

 

They’ve lost their peer network. When it comes to school, peer pressure can be a helpful thing. Kids generally don’t like to be the only one NOT doing a certain activity, and teachers can capitalize on this when they have children in person (don’t you want to join the circle, Daniel? Everyone else is heading to the rug for circle time…). This becomes much harder to do via Zoom, and now there are fewer social repercussions for not joining in the group activity. Additionally, children can’t look to their peers to understand an activity or to figure out what they’re supposed to be doing if they missed an instruction. 


Fortunately for most, the end of school is not far away. Parents can help by not putting too much emphasis on things like homework, and putting more emphasis on quality family time. Heading into summer is also the perfect time to seek professional help for struggling students, or to get an evaluation if you think your child may have ADHD or a learning disability. If you or your child are struggling, we are here to help. We offer evaluations and treatment for children and adults with ADHD, learning disabilities, autism, depression, anxiety, and traumatic brain injury and concussion. Call us today at 650-614-0014 or email us

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