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Why Do Kids Act Up More During Distance Learning Than In-Person School?

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They fidget. They fuss. They squirm in their seat. If you’re finding that your student is struggling to learn from home, you’re not alone. Having to facilitate their studies while still trying to get 1,000 other things done during the day isn’t easy on anyone, and it’s easy to lose it when your little learner is more interested in interrupting your work Zoom call than focusing on their class work. But there are reasons why your kid acts up more during distance learning than at school — and some of the answers might surprise you.

The world is topsy-turvy right now, and trying to get your child to learn remotely is rough.

“Most children are learning from home for the first time in their lives, bringing up new relational challenges for parents and children regardless of age,” says Beth Tyson, MA, a psychotherapist and childhood trauma consultant, tells Romper in an email. “Adults are struggling with the frustration of meeting their children's emotional needs while also keeping them on track academically.” Now, add to that job (and just overall life) stress, and it’s creating chaos that wouldn’t necessarily occur if your kiddo were still in a classroom and not, say, studying at your kitchen counter.

Before you send your kid to detention, here are just a few reasons why they might be more annoying than usual.

1. They Don’t Have Control

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If life’s circumstances have you feeling a little powerless lately, imagine how your kiddo feels. “When children spend time apart from their parents with peers and other adults, it helps them gain a sense of confidence and mastery over their world,” says Tyson. “School is an entire microcosm where parent's input doesn't interfere on a moment-to-moment basis, and this freedom can be incredibly calming for a child.” Without being able to control their lives with consistency and structure that they need, they can act out or struggle with their studies. So try to give them times when they can act independently, whether it’s scheduling time with another child practicing safe social distancing, or allowing them to try new things without parental supervision.

2. Their Home Environment Isn’t Ideal For Learning

If you find it tempting to turn the TV on while you work remotely, imagine how your kiddo feels with all of their creature comforts right there next to them. Add to that phones ringing, dogs barking, younger siblings wanting to play, and you have the makings for a mess. Although it’s almost impossible to ditch the distractions, you can try to minimize them. Set up a space for your child to learn that isn’t smack dab in the center of the activity, and make a schedule for interruptions, like snacks or walking the pet pooch.

3. They Miss Their Friends

Sure, learning is the primary goal of being in school, but don’t forget how important socialization is, too. Kids crave being with their BFFs, and sometimes, a screen just won’t do. “We are built for connection and our kids need to have strong friend and family connections,” Robbin McManne, a parenting coach and author of The Yelling Cure tells Romper in an email.. “Our kids may show signs of being sad, lonely, or more needy because they are missing their friends.” Wherever you can (and it’s safe to do so), schedule time for your child to have playdates with people in your safe circle of friends. That way, kids can get the interaction they need — and you can get a break, too.

4. They’re More Relaxed At Home

While your child might think twice about talking back to a teacher, you’ll most likely hear exactly what’s on their minds when you’re a parent. “When children feel safe and comfortable, they are more likely to show you the ‘shadow’ sides of themselves,” says Tyson. “At home, a child may feel safer to let these dark sides of himself show because he believes his parents will not abandon or reject him, but they’re aware that teachers and other children can more easily change their feelings and opinions.” If your child is acting up more than usual, try to see things from their point of view. They might be feeling anxious, scared, stressed, or sad, so be a secure spot for them to express their feelings.

5. They’re Tired Of Their Screens

Even though it might feel like you can’t separate your child from their screen, believe it or not, they’re probably just as tired of it as you are. Zoom fatigue is a real thing, after all, and it can take a lot out of your child when they’re stuck in front of one for hours on end. “We are finding out how exhausting it is to be interacting in front of a screen with people, versus face to face,” says McManne. “If your kids are irritable and more tired, which can lead to them being less cooperative, Zoom fatigue might be the reason.” While you might not be able to control their class times, you can encourage your kid to take regular breaks to recharge their bodies and minds.

6. There’s No Routine

Even though you can feel like you’re in a rut, routines help people have balance in their lives. And when there’s no routine, everything (including your kiddo) feels out of whack. “Our kids thrive with routines and even with online school, face to face, or a hybrid of both, our kids need to have a regular and predictable routine each day,” says McManne. Try to establish a morning routine so that your child has some semblance of normalcy in their lives. This a.m. structure can help your child begin their days feeling more in control — and relaxed.

7. They’re Struggling With Expectations

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There is so, so much pressure on parents of remote learners to do well. Even though your child has a teacher, you’re now tied into their academic success more than ever — and that can put a lot of pressure on both of you. Without even realizing it, you might be subconsciously expressing some educational goals that might be too lofty… for now. “Parents all want to make sure that when their child is learning at home, that they don’t fall behind, and this is leading parents to hyper focus on their school to the point where they find themselves caught up in power struggles, yelling, threatening, and punishing,” says McManne. Take some time to do a self-check to see if you’re inadvertently putting too much pressure on your child. And if your kiddo is doing okay, try not to worry.

If your child is acting up during digital learning a lot more than they would be if they were in school, try to cut them a little slack. It’s a wonky time for everyone, and they're trying to adapt just like you are. Speak with your child about any issues they might be facing, and take a deep breath together as you help your child go the distance with their distance learning.

Experts:

Beth Tyson, MA, a psychotherapist and childhood trauma consultant

Robbin McManne, a parenting coach and author of "The Yelling Cure"