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  • Writer's pictureDr. Lisa Oefinger

Back to (Virtual) School Part 2: How Can I Motivate My Child During Distance Learning?

Motivation has been “trending” in my practice these past few weeks. Many parents wonder how to help their children invest in distance learning. Admittedly, this can be a challenging feat. Online lessons (even with the most talented of educators) may not be as engaging as physically being in a classroom surrounded by peers. This does not mean that children won’t learn or that this year will be a “waste.” However, this may mean that we continue to think differently about education, adjust expectations, and find the space to create. Here are some strategies for supporting students in doing their best work. Maybe some of these tips will be helpful for you and your family.

Tip #1: Clear expectations. People perform best when they know exactly what to do. As distance learning often includes a combination of synchronous (i.e., live) and asynchronous (i.e., self-guided) tasks, expectations are constantly shifting for kids. To support the students in your home, consider simplifying the expectations with them. Delivering information in multiple ways (saying the directions, displaying written directions, providing visual schedules, using timers, etc.) can be helpful. Using clear, simple language is also important.

Tip #2: Clear time frame with built in breaks. Ideally, breaks are built into synchronous learning lessons and supported by the teachers. Still, some students may need support with using these breaks. What should your child “do” during breaks? Maybe provide them with 2-3 options that work for your family? During asynchronous learning, try setting time intervals for work, followed by timed breaks (e.g., 15 minutes of work, 5 minutes of break). Cell phone checks and other personal technology use can be saved for break time.

Tip #3: Sensory and movement breaks. In schools, students (especially elementary students) move around. They travel from the rug, to their desks, and back to the rug. They switch stations during literacy and math blocks. They switch classes and go to their lockers or cubbies. And so much more. Expecting students, especially younger students, to remain seated for long blocks of time is not realistic and probably not healthy. So, how can we integrate movement into distance learning? Maybe participate in synchronous learning lessons while walking around? Maybe tie a bungee cord to the chair legs so their legs can bounce? Maybe they can sit on a yoga ball? Or maybe something else. Test it out and see what works for your family.

Tip #4: Incentives. Rewards work far better than punishments. This is demonstrated over and over again in behavioral research. Additionally, from an attachment/relational perspective, rewards strengthen the bond between parents and children, which further contributes to behavior change. What type of incentive plan can you implement at home? The expectations should be attainable so that kids can feel the benefits of attaining the rewards. Children can also help with identifying rewards they consider motivating (e.g., family movie night, choosing the dinner menu, additional screen time, etc.).

I’m curious to hear from you. What’s working for you and your family? Please reach out. – Dr. Lisa

DISCLAIMER: This blog is for informational and educational purposes only. It does not imply nor establish any type of therapeutic relationship. It should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. If you think you need immediate assistance, call 911 or your local mental health crisis hotline.


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