Mental health experts offer tips on balancing multiple students in one household

Back to School & Beyond: Should siblings share supplies

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - For many families, sending children to class this year means taking a trip just down the hall of their own homes. It’s also - many times - a package deal.

With multiple school-aged children and teenagers in one household, parents say learning from home amidst the coronavirus pandemic can be a challenge.

Rock Hill mother Bekah Ludlow Hart has two boys, 4-year-old Jaden and 6-year-old Benji. She said that although they are each other’s best playmates, it also means the occasional squabble.

“This one [Benji] cried because this one [Jaden] looked at him,” said Hart. “Then, Jaden wants to know what’s going on… but he’s not ready for first grade material. And then Benji says, ‘Why doesn’t he have to do this?’”

For Bekah and her husband, Blake, it’s a lot about balance and catering to their child’s specific needs, along with establishing separate work spaces.

“This is your crayon box, this is your crayon box,” said Hart. “This has a ‘J', this has a ‘B'. But then, of course, the next day, it’s like, ‘Why does this one have two purples in it?’, or ‘Why does this one have one crayon in it?’”

Sara McAllister, another York County mother of three boys, says she’s not only established set spaces and times for work, but that each space is complete with equipment to encourage them to focus on the work and not each other.

“They’ll have their own desks in separate spots,” said McAllister. “So that hopefully they can focus. And they’ve got headphones now. That way they can do their zoom meetings with headphones.”

“Without mama hearing?” says her 5-year-old son Silas.

“Without anybody hearing and getting distracted,” says McAllister.

Local family psychiatrists like Dr. Sashalee Stewert with Novant Health agree that establishing separate work spaces in the home are a solid start.

“If you’re able to set up different work stations where each child has their little setup and they feel responsible for their area to just give them that time, I think that’s very helpful,” said Dr. Stewart.

She and other health professionals also recommend the following:

  • Sitting down and having an honest conversation with children about the reason for the remote classroom, how it will work and what is expected.
  • Allowing your child to help make the schedule as much as possible. It’s helpful to write down the schedule and refer to it regularly if your student gets sidetracked.
  • Establish which child has which piece of equipment and when.
  • Put clear breaks in the school schedule, even while at home. Give your children time to decompress and get some energy out during scheduled meal times, virtual play dates and computer games.
  • Set aside alone time for children, even from the other sibling.

Interestingly, both the McAllisters and the Harts say they are thankful to have multiple kids in the household because their children have built-in playmates in a time where many only children are separated from their peers.

“We’ve got some friends with single kids and they’re having a hard time through all of this,” said McAllister. “They set up little bubbles and play dates with other people who are like-minded as far as what they’re doing and not going to parties and all that.”

In the end, Dr. Stewart encourages parents to allow themselves and their children some grace as they navigate the unorthodox learning landscape together. Her message to parents:

“Giving yourself a break and not putting too much pressure on yourself is going to be the most important thing. You’re not going to be perfect; it’s not going to go well a hundred percent of the time. And accept and understand that that’s okay.”

For more tips on establishing healthy home learning environments, you can visit Novant Health’s website for more.

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