Back to School Got You Stressed Out? Here’s The One Thing You Should Avoid (and 7 Things You and Your Kids Should Do!)
The 2020-2021 back-to-school season doesn’t look anything like it did in years past, and many students will begin their new year online. Even if your children have grown accustomed to distance learning, there’s a lot you can do to make it more effective.
Raise your hand if any of the following sound familiar:
- Bought a new computer
- Upgraded your internet connection
- Created a “school” space in your home
- Felt yourself struggling to find balance
Let’s get that one out of the way first.
Don’t Strive For “Balance” – It Doesn’t Exist
When you combine distance learning with work-from-home dynamics, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Seeking balance – as if it were something you could order online – is an exercise in futility. Psychologist Fay Van Der Kar-Levinson, PhD emphatically recommends removing “balance” from your to-do list. Balance isn’t tangible and striving for balance doesn’t work because there’s no such thing. Besides, using that word can make you feel like you’re not measuring up when you’re probably doing a darn fine job.
Keep Your Kids on a Traditional Schedule
Being “school ready” means more than just logging on. Former Los Angeles Unified School District principal and distance learning consultant Phyllis Scadron says, “Students should brush their teeth, get dressed, and eat breakfast” just as they would on a traditional school day despite learning from home. School is your child’s “job,” so don’t let at-home education turn learning into a haphazard experience.
Add Leafy Vegetables to Your Child’s Meals
In a lot of ways, we are what we eat. Dr. Neda Gioia, the owner of Integrative Vision and a certified functional nutritionist, reminds parents that children need the proper nutrients for overall well-being as well as eye health. “The photoreceptors in the eye filter blue light naturally and reduce oxidation, but we only receive lutein and zeaxanthin through our diets,” so try adding broccoli, spinach, or kale to your child’s meals to support their eye health.
Design a “School” Space with Your Kids
Imagine working at an empty desk in an empty room with nothing to look at but a computer and a wall. Sounds bleak, right? Just like your workspace, your children should contain things they select, but it should also be set up exclusively for learning. “Be it a table or just a tray,” Scadron says, “your children’s workspace should serve their educational needs.” Just remember not to use the same space for dinner or bedtime if you can help it.
Protect Your Children From Eye Strain
Screen time does a number on all of us, but it’s especially problematic now that children are spending so much time online. Dr. Gioia offers the following recommendations:
- Make sure computer screens are at least 16–30 inches away from the eyes. The perfect distance is between 20 and 26 inches.
- The top of the screen should be slightly below eye level and horizontal.
- Match the brightness of the room with the screen.
- Use anti-glare screens, if necessary.
Build In “Off-Screen” Time
Depending on their age, you may need to set a timer to remind your kids to get up and away from their computers regularly. “Brain breaks,” Scadron says are key, “but they should be non-digital and off-screen. No T.V. No video games.” Children should shift gears and do something physical, like playing outside if that’s an option. Anything that allows the brain to rest and recharge will work. “Many schools provide at-home kits and art supplies, so children will have something else to stimulate them in between lessons.”
Your children also need to rest their eyes. “A child’s lens is very clear,” Dr. Gioia explains, “which allows blue light transmission directly into the retina. Studies have shown that myopia (near-sightedness) can be caused by near work, so getting routine eye care is imperative.” And remember, darkness causes the body to produce melatonin, which helps all of us transition to sleep, so “children should stop using digital devices 3-4 hours before going to bed.”
Get Some Fresh Air
Spending time outdoors has proven benefits, and your local park is the perfect place to reap them. Shinrin-yoku, the Japanese term for “forest bathing” means “taking in the forest atmosphere.” Research has shown that getting outdoors for even 20 minutes can improve your sense of well-being. “Just seeing other people out and about” can decrease feelings of anxiety, Dr. Fay says.
Reach Out For Help When Behaviors Become Patterns
You know your children better than anyone, and you already know what’s normal and what’s not. But Dr. Fay says extreme withdrawal or extreme fear may signal the need for additional support. “If children are consistently fearful about being around other people, develop extreme changes in their sleeping habits, or regularly refuse to eat dinner with the family,” you may want to seek help. Remember, there will always be bad days, but patterns are cause for concern.