being forced into starting distance learning with my kids a few weeks ago, I’ve found one thing that has helped bring a lot of happiness to our days, and has helped avoid a lot of meltdowns.
You know the ones I’m talking about.
“This math is too haaaaaard”
“This word was spelled differently yesterdaaaaaay”
“I’ve been reading for hourssssss”
Working from home full time is not new to me. BUT trying to balance the education of my children, download and decipher about a dozen “distance learning apps” and come up with new activities when the 2nd grader finshes before noon… all while I work from home is definitely new.
I know I’m not the only one struggling – there’s a reason working parents aren’t also typically homeschool parents too. I’ve seen lots of people sharing about tearful days of quarantine school and talking about just how hard it is to get everything done. There is one thing that helps us avoid 3-5 meltdowns every day and that is brain breaks.
Here’s how it works. When you see that your child is on the verge of tears about something – DO NOT muscle through. Do not force them to keep going, even if there’s a fun reward at the end. It’s not worth the struggle, and honestly if they’re upset, in that moment they’re not really learning anything anyway.
Instead, allow them to pause what they’re doing and take a brain break.
For us, brain breaks are drawing tutorials I’ve found on YouTube. See our favorite drawing lessons here.
These tutorials are usually about 10 minutes long, and allow the kids to stretch their creative muscles. Then, they get back to work on whatever they were struggling with. Nine times out of ten the works is magically “so easy” after they’ve had a brain break.
One day this week my son had been struggling with an online math test for 45 minutes before he reached out for help (on the verge of tears). This math test was on multiplication which is usually fun for him, so it made zero sense that he was struggling. Honestly, I didn’t have time to stop and walk him through multiplication facts and he didn’t need that from me either. He needed to walk away and come back.
So he drew, and he learned something new and fun that he felt proud of, and then we circled back and he completed the test in 10 minutes flat with zero help from me. And zero tears.
We aren’t really having the most creative, funtastic distance learning time. It is really difficult and I feel like I’m falling into bed each night. But, this is the one thing that has been keeping us from shouting at each other, sobbing, and generally having an awful time.
I also love that this concept is teaching my kids a lot about managing their own mental health. I’ve struggled with anxiety for over a decade, and this concept is a kid-version of coping skills I have for myself.
When you’ve struggled with anxiety for a long time, you learn that the time to address it is not when you’re already in the middle of a panic attack. It’s too late at that point. Learning to identify signs that anxiety is building up in yourself, and addressing it immediately is vital to managing anxiety well.
The first sign of shortness of breath I start clearing my mind and intentionally breathing slowly. If I don’t notice in time and already feel like there’s an elephant sitting on my chest and my mind is racing, I will stop work and go for a walk before it escalates any more. That 20 minute walk means I can be productive for the rest of the day vs. trying to ‘tough it out’ and only mentally engaging with my work at 50%.
Can I muscle through? Sure. But it would be at the expense of my mental health and my productivity both. So I walk, or shower, or do something to walk away for a few minutes until I can mentally re-engage.
And while my kids aren’t struggling with big things like long-term anxiety, their mental health is still important. I want to be sure that I’m teaching them how to manage their big emotions in the middle of a global pandemic or in the middle of a stressful school day.
Yesterday, we talked about how it’s important when we feel his way to do something creative, or get outside. Brain breaks are not spending a few minutes watching TV or playing a video game. They’re creative, they’re fun and they’re even a bit challenging sometimes.
What are your family’s favorite brain break activities? I’d love to hear more ideas.