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'Grades aren't everything about a child': Expert advice on what parents can do to help children struggling with remote learning

With more failing grades reported this year, it can be alarming for parents. We talked to an expert about how you can effectively help your children.

CLEVELAND — Just days ago, the first report cards of the school year started to arrive with a lot more failing grades than usual. It’s a problem across the U.S. during a time when life is full of unknowns due to COVID-19.

Some students who were learning in-person are now back at home for several weeks as the number of cases of the coronavirus soar.

While more Fs on report cards can be alarming to both parents and students, we talked to Dr. Vanessa Jensen, a pediatric psychologist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s about what should happen next.

The main point she wanted to drive home: Grades aren't everything about a child, especially right now.

“If a child's grades are not normal for that child, number one, don't panic. Don't blame the child. Let's think of this as like the rest of the world right now. We don't have all the answers. So let's start by saying, 'OK, what's happening? What's different and what can we do?' rather than panicking.”

There are several things parents can do to help their children work through this. 

Dr. Jensen says, it starts with compassion.

“I think one of the things parents can do a lot, is just say, ‘You know what, we understand this is hard.’ Or again, ask questions. ‘How are you feeling about this? This is different, I think it's different, too.’ So empathize, acknowledge that it's different for all of us.”

Dr. Jensen says it’s OK for parents to let their kids know that they also feel stressed right now.

“I think as parents, we’re afraid to admit to our kids that we're not perfect.”

If children are having a hard time with grades learning from home right now, another thing that can help is adding more structure to their day.

“It's important for parents to keep in mind that school is structure,” says Dr. Jensen. “They know what the plan is and most kids do better with that.”

She also said she understands that everyone has a different scenario happening at home, from kids learning remotely to parents working from home, so adding structure may be difficult.

That's why it’s also important for parents to allow themselves some grace.

“It's not possible in every family to have structure like that at home. You have other kids, you have a baby, you have a dog and two cats and you have your own job sometimes. So, if you can, be easy on yourself as a parent and set up some reasonable schedules. We're going to try these two things, then we'll take a break. Or then you can play. Again, small steps, small successes, keep things easy and short.”

While some students are learning from home right now, many of them will eventually head back to the classroom in the coming weeks or months.

Dr. Jensen says with so many unknowns due to the pandemic, it’s still important to allow children to spend time with friends, even if it means doing it virtually.

“Build in some time for your child to at least have some play dates, interaction with peers. Whether it's a regular Zoom call, if you have somebody else in your family bubble that you're allowed to get together with, even playing outside at a distance. Or for teens, being able to get together, go to a park and go for a walk."

"The kids really do need that social contact beyond just mom and dad.”

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