“Distance learning is not going to harm your child’s education if there is a partnership between you, your child, and the teacher,” write the top-notch team of educators and child psychology experts behind The Distance Learning Playbook for Parents (Corwin). 

The writing team includes Rosalind Wiseman, best known for her groundbreaking book about girl empowerment, Queen Bees and Wannabes, which became Mean Girls, the movie and musical. Wiseman and her coauthors, Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey and John Hattie, do an impressive job of arming parents for the unique challenges of distance learning by laying out their points in actionable, easy-to-follow steps. For more about the book, read our review here.

During a recent interview with BookTrib, we further probed Wiseman for her insights:

Q: How do parents pivot when the routine you’ve established and worked so hard to follow for your family suddenly changes, with schools switching from in-person to virtual or vice versa?

 A: We have to accept that the only certainty in our families’ lives right now is uncertainty. When that’s our foundation, it becomes easier to think more clearly, process negative emotions in a healthy manner, and act calmly and consistently, which is precisely what our children need most from us right now.

So when you are frustrated, name it. The reasons you’re frustrated may seem obvious, but when we slow down and ask ourselves why we’re feeling what we’re feeling, we are better at creating solutions. Instead of saying, “I’m so stressed,” pause and specifically describe what is behind that feeling. When this is your approach, it doesn’t matter what the problem is, you have a strategy to think through the problem. This isn’t just for you. Your child can use the same strategy to help in difficult moments as well.

Q: Do you need to become your child’s teacher?

A: No. Instead, think of yourself as the teacher’s partner to support your child’s education. You may be worrying or hearing a lot of young peoples’ “loss of learning” during COVID. Here’s a secret: About 50 percent of instructional minutes in school are spent on things students already know. This year, our collective task is to focus on what students need to learn and use the time we have with them to make sure they are learning those ideas.  

Q: What are some best ways to approach your child’s teacher, especially when you are confused or frustrated by something?

A: Most likely this will happen when your child complains about something that happened in the class. Here’s a strategy to help you: Ask your child if he or she is venting or wants advice; sometimes kids just want to get things off their chest and they don’t want you to do anything about it. If they do want advice, ask them to show you the teacher’s directions and expectations.

Depending on your child’s age (middle school and older), your child needs to directly communicate his or her frustrations clearly and politely to the teacher. You can review the email for the clear and polite part. If they are younger, you can take the lead in communication, but first ask your child to write down or even draw what is bothering him or her — so it’s coming from them as much as possible. After the initial communication, follow up with an email thanking that teacher for his or her time and confirming next steps.

Q: No one can handle everything well all the time. What is the number-one thing parents should focus on for their child’s well-being during distance learning?

A: I am going to give you three things, actually: we need to (1) encourage our child’s love of learning; (2) support their mental and physical health; and (3) be proud of their accomplishments, small or big, and show it. While you want to stay away from praising good grades, it really matters when parents show they are proud of their child’s hard work, creativity, and ability to get better at something they have struggled with in the past.   

 Q: What do you recommend to help create a productive learning environment in your home for distance/hybrid learning?

A: Routine! Routine! Routine! But having said that, what kind of routine? There are five things that make people happy, even in really tough times: a sense of purpose, a hope of success, meaningful social connection, fulfilling work, and a place to process and find peace. If you base any routine you or your family create around these five concepts, a schedule will more easily fall into place. What does that look like? Every person needs, however small, a place they can productively work; ideally that is the child’s bed. Every person needs a way to begin and end the day having a place to process and find peace — so that means no screens an hour before people go to sleep is paramount!

 Q: What steps should parents take first if their child is a target of online bullying during this time?

A: First it’s really important to have an understanding of the conflict, because conflict is a common part of life and not every conflict people get into is bullying. Here’s a starting place to decide what kind of problem your child is experiencing: 

  • Rude is unintentionally excluding, isolating or hurting someone’s feelings.
  • Mean is intentionally excluding, isolating or hurting someone’s feelings.
  • Bullying is repeatedly abusing power against another person.
  • Drama is a conflict between people that is entertaining to everyone else.

Rude, mean and drama can still hurt your child, but when you are deciding what to do, you need to know what the problem is so your response matches the problem. Also, by middle school, most young people think bullying is a younger person’s problem or a word that doesn’t match the complexity of their lives. However, no matter the level of conflict, schools should be turning off private chats in online classes as a way to limit mean behavior. If your school doesn’t do this, talk to your child’s teachers to see if this is possible.

Buy this book!

Rosalind Wiseman is the founder of Cultures of Dignity, an organization that shifts the way communities think about our physical and emotional wellbeing by working in close partnership with the experts of those communities ― young people, educators, policymakers, and business and political leaders. Her other recent Corwin publication is Owning Up: Empowering Adolescents to Create Cultures of Dignity and Confront Social Cruelty and Injustice (2020), a comprehensive social justice program for grades 4-12 which is in widespread use across the world. She is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World, the groundbreaking book that was the basis for the movie and Broadway musical Mean Girls; and Masterminds & Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World, which addresses the social lives of boys and was awarded Best Parenting Book by Books for a Better Life.