Every single day, you get emails about it. You open Facebook and see your friends talking about it. You pop onto twitter and it’s the number one trending hashtag. You’re on aisle D14 in Target and the woman looking at curtains next to you is talking about it. You, quite literally, cannot escape it. It’s probably in your head right this very second. That’s right, we’re talking about going back to school.

2020 has been a year for the books. Between unruly fires, talk of World War 3, and a global pandemic, the last thing you want to be worrying about right now is whether or not it’s safe for your child to go back to school. Fortunately, most colleges and schools seem to be taking the online learning route for the time being. However, it does impose a new wave of challenges. Students caught a glimpse of online learning last school year but preparing to go back to a computer screen rather than a class full of their friends can be both mentally and physically taxing.

Whether they’re entering their first year of college or going into the second grade, students need to get excited and motivated for their upcoming classes. Here’s how you can help:

How to Mentally Prepare Your Child for Online Learning

It’s hard to dig yourself out of a pit of “ugh” when you feel like you don’t have anything to look forward to. This means it’s important to start encouraging kids to get excited about school, even if it’s online. While it’s easier said than done, there are some ways that you both can sit down and establish healthy boundaries before classes ramp up again. Try these tactics.

1. Establish a Routine

Sticking to a schedule provides stability, which kids need. Plus, it keeps them from wandering off and becoming distracted.  It’s easier for adults to set limits and understand workloads than it is for teens and kids. So, while they might not realize they miss the structure that school provided them, they do thrive in structured environments. Try starting and ending school at the same time every day. Also, schedule lunch and other breaks for the same time every day, too. They might not like the idea of it at first but will come to appreciate it.

2. Maintain a Positive Attitude

Children and teens often take after parents and other figures they look up to. When your child was learning to talk, you knew not to let curse words slip because they would most likely pick them up and say these words themselves. Similarly, by maintaining a positive attitude yourself, your kids are more likely to keep up with a positive attitude, too. Sometimes it may be challenging, but it’ll pay off in the long run. Here are some tips for staying positive:

  • Change your narrative
  • Channel your anger and frustration into something positive like going on a quick walk
  • Address when your child is being negative and encourage them to find the silver lining
  • Change “yes, but” into “yes, and”

3. Praise Their Effort

Taking notice and commenting positively on how your kid or teen is growing can give them the momentum to keep going. Maybe they put in an extra hour of studying and got an A instead of a B on their test. Maybe they read through a hard assignment on their own and took great notes. Or maybe they got the answer to a math problem wrong but asked the right questions to figure out where they messed up. No matter how big or small the victory, it’s worth recognizing.

4. Maintain Accountability

Schedule daily check-ins to make sure they’re on track. Sometimes kids have a hard time being motivated by their parents, so chances are a friend or classmate will instead. If you have a teenager, encourage them to text or message their peers once a day just to see how they’re doing. This will give them the chance to take a quick mental break, talk about anything that’s hard for them to comprehend, and hold themselves accountable for staying on top of their work.

How to Physically Prepare Your Child for the Zoom Classroom

Preparing for the new school year generally involves purchasing fun, new supplies, picking out the perfect outfit for the first day, and waking up extra early to get ready for the day ahead. This year, though, kids will be stuck at home and unable to socialize as they normally would. It’s important to establish boundaries between home and the classroom. Here are some ways you can do that:

1. Create a Space Specifically for School

By creating a space that’s dedicated to schoolwork, your child can mentally step away from their school day to relax—just like you would with work. Even if you don’t have room for a brand-new desk, find a small spot that your child can set up and call “school.” This can be the end of your dining table, a desk in their room, or even an end table pulled up to a chair in the living room.

2. Celebrate Special Occasions

When kids are at school, they get to celebrate holidays with fun decorations and spirit weeks. This is another aspect that’s taken away in virtual learning. Help motivate your kids by creating those special occasions at home. If your child’s teacher has a schedule of holidays or spirit weeks, take it to the next level and decorate the house. Not only will this get your child excited, it will help them feel a little less trapped at home without fun interactions.

3. Stay Active

One thing even you may have noticed with working from home is the major decrease in physical activity. Instead of getting up and walking around the office or going to lunch, you’ve become even more sedentary than at the office. The same goes for kids. They aren’t walking the halls or going outside for P.E. Being active is important for children and by giving them time to release their energy, they can be more focused when it’s time to sit down and get work done. Try:

  • Taking walks around the neighborhood
  • Racing each other down the street
  • Playing soccer, flag football, or kickball in your yard or neighborhood park for 30 minutes
  • Jumping rope or play hopscotch
  • Tossing a ball back and forth
  • Turning up the music and dancing it out

4. Find Ways to Get Excited About College

The 2020 high school seniors have really had a hard time coming to the end of a monumental time in their lives. This can be especially draining if their freshman year of college is hanging in limbo. This should be a time of excitement. While it may be uncertain as to whether or not they’ll be starting class in-person, it can still get them motivated for going off to college by physically preparing. Take a day trip to their favorite home goods store and let them pick out a couple things that get them excited for this next chapter.

2020 has surely been a rocky road for most. For young minds that are having a harder time navigating this new normal, taking these extra steps to help them out along the way can make a huge difference. Online learning can be tough, but with a little added assistance, they can put their best foot forward and start the new school year off right.