Distanced learning, virtual learning, online learning—call it what you want—but this model of schooling has quickly become a reality for many students across the globe. While we are focused on the logistics of the technical and physical aspects of online learning, let’s not overlook the emotional and mental health side of it as well.
So how do children fare in this online environment? What sort of things should we consider as parents and educators to support our youth in this new set of challenges? Will these new circumstances create extra anxiety? What about our students with learning differences who may already be experiencing some anxiety in their schooling experiences?
When you consider some of the cognitive load that comes with online learning, there are many new potential stresses being introduced to the learning environment:
- Wifi or internet issues: freezing screens, downed internet, internet hiccups that might kick you out of your call temporarily (and missing content or instructions due to any of the above).
- New technology: trying to figure out how to open and use new software, how to save items, how to submit or “turn in” items, how to flip between seeing the live class and programs that you are supposed to be working on.
- Discomfort being on screen: it takes time to get used to having your face on the screen for all to see! There definitely could be some self-consciousness around this.
- Background noises: many students who are working from home may be contending with siblings who are also doing distance learning, parents working from home, pets running around, household chores being done, etc.
- Increased screen time in one place: especially in elementary school, kids are not used to sitting in one spot for long periods of time. They move from desk to small groups, to the library, to the gym, to the carpet, etc. They are not used to staring at a computer screen or being in one spot for such long periods.
When you look at all of these new potential items that children are contending with, within this context, it helps to understand how an online learning environment can produce extra anxiety and stress.
“Living with anxiety is like being followed by a voice. It knows all your insecurities and uses them against you. It gets to the point when it’s the loudest voice in the room. The only one you can hear.” – Unknown
Let’s chat about some of the things to keep in mind while assessing how our kids are TRULY doing from an emotional and mental health perspective during online learning:
Thought #1: Many of the things that cause school-related stress (keeping up with classmates and the pace of the class, not understanding content, time pressures on tests, having a hard time staying on task, etc.) will still trigger anxiety when learning at home. Those same stresses exist whether in a physical classroom or a virtual one.
Thought #2: Consider what the intended outcome is for attending school (to love learning, to develop and grow, to prepare us for the future, etc). Those are still the same goals but they have just become more complicated. We don’t know how the future will look and it is easy for all of us (kids included!) to feel hopeless and nervous about the possibilities.
Thought #3: There is still social pressure with online/remote learning. People are allowing access into their personal spaces and environment in a different way. This could create the possibility for ridicule, shame, and bullying. Kids also do not have their regular friends with them to chat with or feel supported by. This can be isolating and leave students feeling even more alone.
Thought #4: When we’re overwhelmed by the pressure we shut down, browse the web, and put off the tasks that are draining our energy. Our kids will do the same thing and when they get behind, procrastination, worry, and guilt might become a cyclical issue.
Thought #5: New York Times teachers found that about half of their students didn’t log into their remote learning courses. We have to consider the why behind this. It is easy to jump to the conclusion that those students don’t want to learn or are unmotivated (which is why they didn’t log on). However, we must look at students as individual people, each with their own set of circumstances. They may not be logging on due to many different reasons: anxiety, uncertainty, fear, family issues, tech issues, etc., and not just due to motivation issues.
Thought #6: Those with anxiety often feel uncomfortable with unpredictability and change. Right now online learning may seem to be the safest option for education, but there are also a lot of changes that come along with this mode of learning.
There have been so many changes this year. We need to keep checking in with our kids. Some of the struggles and anxieties they may be feeling are ones we can predict, others may take a little more digging, and need to be looked at from different angles and perspectives. With the unpredictability and uncertainty of life and learning right now, it is easy for anxiety to creep in.
So as a reminder to all of us, here are some common ways anxiety might manifest:
- Inability to focus
- Fear of school
- Tantrums over school/homework
- Stomach aches
- Rapid breathing
Online learning can provide some great benefits to kids with learning differences such as ADHD, dyslexia, or LD over in-person classes. Let’s not look at either option as “the ideal” since none of our current options are perfect for our kids right now.
Instead, let’s support, nurture, guide, and watch out for them, and each other as we all ride this rollercoaster full of anxieties, uncertainties, and hopefully some moments of gratitude together.
“If we could look into each other’s hearts and understand the unique challenges each of us faces, I think we would treat each other much more gently, with more love, patience, tolerance, and care.” – Marvin J. Ashton
For more online learning tips and resources for children with learning differences, visit www.shiftyourthinkingld.com.
- Assessing Your Child’s Mental Health While Learning Online - January 11, 2021