What To Do If Your Child Resists Online Learning

Posted by Jason Novak on 5/12/20 5:49 PM

If your child is resisting remote learning, you are not alone. It’s similar to learning an instrument for the first time: In the beginning, it’s exciting. Then, when harder pieces that require more determination and practice come along, the novelty starts to wear off, and many children beg to quit. Now, remote learning is beginning to lose its shine. It’s no longer new and it feels more like work for a lot of students across the country.

It is natural for children to have a variety of reactions—including resistance—to the massive shift in learning that has happened over the last few months. If your child is in that place, now is not the time to push hard and turn a negative situation into a battle.

If you are the parent or guardian of an elementary school child, you might be tempted to throw in the towel right now. After all, how important is it for your child to make it through five more chapters of math concepts? With everyone at home, your own work, and now your child’s schoolwork, it just doesn’t seem sustainable.

But, with weeks, if not months, of more social distancing ahead, there are some reasons to hang in there. So don’t give up! Working through this period of resistance is an opportunity for children in the upper elementary grades (3–5) to learn resilience and independence—including what strategies they need to work on their own and how to respect boundaries that you set.

Quite a lot can be gained from having children of this age face their own work and their own boredom and think creatively about how to use their time. Academically, it is important to keep your child’s skills sharp and growing in reading comprehension, writing, and math, especially multiplication, division, and everyday math. And, you’ll want your child to remain connected to the subjects that interest them most, including the arts, science, and social studies.

Below are a few suggestions to help you and your child get over this bump in the road. The resistance won’t end overnight, but these tips should help lessen the friction. 

Tips for Staying the Course With Distance Learning

Talk with your child. If your child is upset, it is important to acknowledge their feelings first and foremost. Then, when your child is in a receptive frame of mind, here are some developmentally appropriate questions you can ask them:

  • Besides returning to the school building, what would make remote learning easier for you? You might have to think about this and give me an answer later on if nothing comes up right away. 
  • What is one thing you would like to say to your teacher? Is there anything you want to ask your teacher?
  • Would it be helpful to have more contact from certain adults at school? If so, who?
  • Who else could you reach out to for help?
  • Are there any other strategies we could put in place to help you be successful?
  • What is one thing you could do at home that we could send into your teachers?

Keep routines consistent. If you don’t have a routine, create one that you can stick with through the week. When establishing a new routine, make sure everyone knows what happens when and give it time to take hold.

  • Post a daily or weekly schedule to promote your child’s independence. If they are not sure what they should be doing after lunch, they can look at the schedule.
  • Work into the schedule some activities that your child can look forward to, like a family bike ride, game time, a drawing break, or special snack. (School structures generally offer recess breaks, snack breaks, and scheduled times for movement multiple times throughout the day.)
  • Set clear boundaries. Let your child know when you are available and when you are not available and hold to those times.

Reduce workload and screen time. If your child is resisting remote learning, it is okay to start by scaling back the amount of work or screen time expected. You can consider offering a break after a certain amount of work is completed. If you have the time in your schedule, you can also offer time away from the screen to talk through the work or project that is being shared. Children are looking for spaces of connection and involvement right now.

Focus on assignments or activities that your child enjoys and work from there. If your child won’t read the assigned books or articles, allow them to substitute other reading material with your approval. Encourage reading of all kinds and be sure to ask your child about the material to deepen their comprehension. If your child doesn’t like to read, but enjoys math, spark their interest with some everyday math activities or challenges.

Structure homework time via video conference with a friend or older student. Your child might be more motivated to do schoolwork if studying with a friend or a peer is an option. Alternatively, your child’s school might be able to identify an older student who can act as a study buddy or mentor and keep things on track.

Take a day off from virtual school. If you and your child hit a wall, you might need a break. But be sure to come back together afterwards and assess if the break was helpful. It is also wise to communicate with your child’s teacher about the break you decided upon. If you do offer a break, be clear about the  expectation that the work will continue.

Be kind to one another. These are stressful times. Don’t hold yourselves to unachievable standards. Make what progress you can and be sure to find a little joy together each day.

Next steps: If these ideas don’t help your family, be sure to reach out to the school. You might also explore some parenting support from organizations like the Parent Encouragement Program (PEP) or Parent Child Journey.


Looking for a school for your child?

Lowell School is an independent school in the Colonial Village neighborhood of Washington, DC, that offers Pre-Primary, Primary, and Middle School programs. It offers a rigorous and hands-on curriculum that nurtures each child’s natural curiosity and desire to learn, and supports the development of individual voice and self-reliance. For more information, please call 202-577-2000, email admissions@lowellschool.org, or follow Lowell on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

Topics: Parent Resources for Remote Learning

Jason Novak

Written by Jason Novak

Jason Novak is the director of Primary School at Lowell School. He received his BS in music education, K-12, from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA, and his MA in educational leadership from Teachers College, Columbia University, NY. In addition to his work as a music teacher and school administrator, Jason has also worked closely with educational and child advocacy groups such as the National Association for Independent Schools (NAIS), the Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Educators, the Human Rights Campaign, the Friends Council on Education, and local and national chapters of the American Orff-Schulwerk Association.