2 parenting mistakes to avoid as kids go back to school, according to experts

  • As school gets underway, parents have to consider how to best support their children who are again learning under unusual circumstances.
  • A pyschologist and homeschool expert agree that parents should lower their expectations of their children and should maintain a calm demeanor, even when the situation feels chaotic.
  • Yelling can be particularly damaging to children because it can take away a child's sense of safety and security.
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Across social media, parents are sharing their children's first-day-of-school photos, even if "school" is in the kitchen and the teacher is mom. 

For children who are learning remotely or are being homeschooled, images of them setting up their work stations around the dining room table or in the backyard underscore how vastly different this academic year will be compared to years past.

Just as many parents have adjusted how their children are learning this year, they should also adjust the expectations they have for their children, said Annalise Caron, a licensed clinical psychologist and director of CBT Westport, LLC.

At a time when tensions and anxieties are running high and children have to adapt to a new way of learning, parents should understand that their kids may not be able to perform in the way they have at other points.

Part of that adjustment also entails working to keep as calm of a demeanor as possible with children, especially when kids appear to be struggling. 

Due to stress and anxiety, parents should lower their expectations this year

"Lower your expectations to reality," Caron told Insider. "The mistake would be expecting that a child can be — and you can be — exactly as you would be if the world were running smoothly, if we didn't have the pandemic, if you weren't working from home with your child. You can't have the same expectations and be successful."

While it will differ greatly from child-to-child, most students regressed academically during the period of remote learning. That's why Caron advises parents not to compare a child's academic performance now to their performance a year ago — before their worlds were upended. 

That translates into parents not putting excessive pressure on children to catch up to where they were academically or to get as high of grades as they once did. Caron recommends allowing children to skip assignments or ask for extensions if they're burnt out. 

"You can't have the same expectations because if you do, you'll be forever let down," Caron said. "You don't want to take that letdown out on your child."

Parents should ease up on some rules if that helps foster a calm environment

Lowering expectations doesn't solely apply to academics, according to Caron. If it's too difficult to adhere to the set bedtime routine, Caron recommends allowing children to stay up a half hour or hour later, if that will help prevent an argument or allow a parent to feel less stressed.

If a parent needs distraction-free time to complete a work assignment or to get dinner ready, it's OK to give a child extra time with a device, Caron said. 

Both veteran homeschoolers and behavioral health experts also agree that, as much as possible, parents should avoid getting into heated arguments with their children, and to prioritize protecting their relationship with their kids.

Persistent yelling can distress children and also lead to long-term consequences, including depression and low self-esteem. It could also interfere with a child's ability to learn.

"A human being who feels incapable will stop trying," Mahnaz said. "If you make comments or you get frustrated and your child starts to feel like they can't learn it, they're going to stop trying. It's going to get more and more frustrating." 

Even more concerning than the educational consequences is how being exposed to a volatile parent can affect a child's wellbeing. Caron said parents should be especially mindful about maintaining a calm disposition during a time when families are facing mounting stress and might be more susceptible to shouting at, and criticizing, children in the home. 

"We all lose it sometimes," Caron told Insider. "But the reason that we want to not overreact is because it can take away a child's sense of safety and security. That has a lot to do with their mental health and has a lot to do with how safe they feel to explore the world."

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