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January 12, 2021

Ask Lisa Podcast - Episode 22

My Kid Hates Remote Learning. What Do I Do?

Episode 22

Parents are finding it hard to get their children to feel motivated about school, especially when they are learning remotely. Dr. Lisa explains strategies that might help and how parents can help kids keep the academic train on its tracks. Lisa and Reena talk about supporting children for whom school is an uphill battle, even under normal conditions, and what parents should do if they are the ones who feel like they are drowning. Reena talks about the emotional experience she had selling an old sofa and how it put into perspective the struggle many parents are going through. For Children Everywhere – UNICEF works in 180 different countries and territories to save children’s lives and protect their rights. https://www.unicef.org/

January 12, 2021 | 28 min

Transcript | My Kid Hates Remote Learning. What Do I Do?

Ask Lisa Podcast, Ep. 22: My Kid Hates Remote Learning. What do I do?


The Ask Lisa Podcast does not constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for professional

mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being,

consult a physician or mental health professional.


REENA: There’s a chance you might hear one of my kids. We’re remote learning this week after the holidays. The district decided we’ve got to stay home because too many people traveled over the holidays. It has been crazy. I’ve cooked like four times and you know if it’s only two o’clock at this point.


LISA: Ugh, Reena, man I feel you here. I have an 11th grader who has yet to set foot in her school building all year and a fourth grader who had nine days the building this fall and they’re home, and I cannot tell you how grumpy they both were about starting school again after the winter break.


REENA: I mean you can’t blame them.




REENA: Everyone was dreading it. There was a sense of dread and in our inbox, we got this letter. It says: ‘Dear Lisa and Reena, my 8th grade daughter spent the winter break dreading her return to remote schooling. She hates online school. She refuses to do some of her work and now has failing grades in two classes. There’s still time for her to salvage her grades but January is already off to a really bad start. Normally we come up with some sort of punishment, like taking away her technology until the work gets done, but we just can’t bring ourselves to do that now, both because she needs her computer to actually attend school and because it feels cruel to cut her off from digital communication with her friends when that’s her only option. How do we keep her from tanking this year and what leverage do we have? Thank you for being there.’


LISA: This breaks my heart and I’m hearing it everywhere. Everywhere, where kids are just like, I don’t do it anymore. Like I don’t want to do it anymore.


REENA: And you can’t blame them.


LISA: Absolutely not. I mean they are sitting in Zoom meetings all day, and it doesn’t matter, I mean the teachers are trying so hard and it’s so much work on the teachers part to try to do an incredible job, and it still is so tedious for the kids.


REENA: Why do you think now, like it’s just, do you think we’re so far into the pandemic? Why do you think you’re hearing this now from so many different places?


LISA: I think there this the sense of like, yay it’s 2021, and then I think for kids it’s like, um meet the new boss, just like the old boss.


REENA: Right. Right.


LISA: I mean it’s the same thing, and it’s winter, you know, and certainly where I am, you know that’s a tough time anyway. It just gets a little dark, a little gray, and I think it’s just the longer you’re in this tunnel, the harder it gets to be in the tunnel, and yes there is a light at the end of the tunnel but man kids are feeling it. Parents are feeling it.


REENA: Yeah, I mean you say there’s a light and I keep saying I’m so excited by the vaccines but then this with my folks in Tampa, the website crashed three times three days in a row they can’t get an appointment. So, while we say there’s a light, it’s hard to sometimes see that light.

How do you get out of the tunnel?


LISA: I know. I know. And how do you get out of a tunnel without a kid failing out of 8th grade, which is I think what this essential question is.


REENA: Right.


LISA: So, let’s get to work on this. First thing I would say, and I think this is true for any parent who’s worried about their kids not doing the work anymore, check for depression, right? Really make sure that it’s not a mood disorder that’s taken hold that is stopping motivation In some you know big, broad way.


REENA: What are the quick signs? Like what are three things like you would say?


LISA: You know loss of pleasure in things, you know, nothing makes them happy, mood is low, they’re irritable they’re down all the time you know, eating and sleeping is changed, like look for that. Okay now saying that, I had a family reach out to me about a girl that I used to care for, and they basically describe something fairly similar to this letter. You know basically what I would call a work stoppage. The kid was just like, I’m not doing it anymore, and the parent said she’s sleeping all day, she’s not doing her work, she won’t go to class, and by their description I was like, oh no this poor kiddo’s depressed, like we’re going to have to, you know, let’s get this depression treated. So, I connect with the girl, she’s not the least bit depressed. She’s like I’m fine. I stay up all night talking to my friends because that is the one thing that makes me happy. I just cannot tolerate the idea of another minute of online school. And it was so interesting because I was like, okay this kid is totally not depressed. She just hits the work conditions and has gone on strike, which is a different thing.


REENA: Yeah.


LISA: So first, let’s rule out depression because of its depression then you’re going to work with your care provider and get your kid treated. So setting that to the side. Okay then you have the kid who’s just like, I hate it. I don’t want to do it anymore and then we have to figure out what to do to get the train back on the tracks.


REENA: So, at that point when you got to figure out what to do, how do you snap out of it because, come on, as an adult there are days where I can’t finish one thing on my to do list, you know, you’re just kind of paralyzed, right? And you know that you’re kind of stuck in this rut. So, how do you snap out of it? How do you get them to re-engage?


LISA: Okay so you actually said something really, like, right on the mark there, which is you’ve got a to do list and sometimes you can’t even get yourself to do one thing on the to do list. So, one of the first questions I would have a parent ask in this situation is how far behind is the kid? Like what do they actually owe? Because sometimes what happens, and it sounds like it could be happening in this situation, is that a kid falls down on the job for a little while and they start to accrue assignments that are due and then they might be inclined to re-engage but they can’t even face the backlog. So, they actually now have two problems, one is they’re not really in the mood to school but then the other problem is they can’t even face re-engaging because re-engaging means this mountain of work that they don’t want to deal with, and so then the avoidance deepens. So, the next question I would be asking, once we rule out depression is, how much worked as a kid owe and was the kid’s attitude toward that? Because if there’s a mountain of work, that is often enough to keep kids from re-engaging even if they are otherwise inclined to re-engage.


REENA: So, when there is a mountain of work and you feel so overwhelmed, how do you how chip away at it when you feel like it’s so far gone, it’s not even worth re-engaging at this point?


LISA: Okay well, first of all, that is exactly how kids feel. Like, it’s so far gone. There’s nothing I can do.


REENA: I feel that way. There are things that I feel that way about, right?


LISA: Okay, so, what you do is you say to the kiddo, honey let’s just talk, like tell me what really that owe. Like what are we talking here? For you to re-engage what are people going to want to have you turn in? And ask in a way that is not judgy or makes a kid feel like, oh my gosh if I tell you you’re going to lose it, right? Say like, I won’t get mad. Just like give me a sense of what we’re looking at here, and then really if you start to get a sense that they just, the issue is they can’t even face how much they owe, then I would say either you yourself or in collaboration with a good person at your school, and different schools have different levels of support for this kind of thing, one thing you can do is you say to the kiddo, all right I’m going to dole this out to you in pieces. You don’t have to look at the whole pile. Don’t worry about the whole pile, I will mind the pile, this is what you need to do today. Just sit down and do this piece, and you said, Reena, chipping away at it, that’s what it is. They just have to start shipping away at it, and the phrases that I have found myself using with kids who get themselves in these holes, which they do, I’m like look, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. And so, we sometimes blow past that barrier for kids, like we don’t know what their problem is and when we really look square on at the sometimes enormous backlog and we really offer kids empathy and support around these monster backlogs, and especially sometimes if schools, I mean they’re being pretty forgiving right now, it might be worth saying to the school, okay my kid is in such a hole. She’s ready to try to dig yourself out of the hole. Can any of this be forgiven? You know that can be a fair question, but don’t underestimate the drag on a kid of work they haven’t done as a reason why they are now refusing to re-engage. So, assess that and work with your school or you know your kiddo to tackle that, even if it’s one little bit at a time.


REENA: And you might not even be as far gone as failing, right? As this parent who sent in this letter is dealing with, just re-engaging in daily things, like we were remote learning this week, just getting them to focus and be in their workspace, be ready, you know what works when they don’t follow through as punishment? The things that I normally take away, the Xbox the iPad, I can’t do that necessarily because they’re on their computers, right? Just like this parent said. What do you find works in the situation? Because one of the worst things as right as a parent if you don’t follow through on their threats, then what you have left, right?


LISA:  Exactly. Exactly.


REENA: Is that right? Am I parenting right?


LISA: Well, I mean, the principle there is you need to be predictable. So if you say you’re going to do something, you’ve got to do it. That’s an important thing for kids, but a really interesting principle here, and this comes into your situation and this fantastic letter writer’s situation, is we have it very, very well established in psychology, that rewards work better than punishment. So I am not against punishment, and we do right now have the problem that like you say and like our letter writer says, we actually don’t have normal punishments on hand, so why don’t we actually pivot and think about rewards. So, to this scenario, this parent who wrote, I think I would say, don’t worry about punishment right now. Pour on the empathy, rule out depression, check to see if there’s a monster backlog that’s dragging your kid down, and then start to talk about what your kid needs by way of reward to get her butt in the chair, as I would say, and get started, and the rewards, they can be a variety of things. It doesn’t have to be a new Xbox, It doesn’t have to be something that feels weird to give a kid for doing what they’re supposed to do. It can be, you can choose or having for dinner. You want $5 lip gloss that you’ve been eyeing? We can totally get it for you. I mean it can be small things, It can be, you know, praise. It can be, you know, they get to choose the move night. You know what this reminds me of? It reminds me of reminds me when you have a 3-year-old, and they won’t put their shoes on as you’re trying to leave the house, and then you get so frustrated, like if you don’t put on the shoes were not going to the zoo, and then they’re like oh crap, I really wanted to go to the zoo.


REENA: I needed to get out.


LISA: Needed to get you, so you back yourself in a corner. So, I think that the energy we have to give with 3-year-olds, where like, okay if I put on your shoes, I’m choosing the music in the car. If you put on your shoes, you choose the music in the car. Like those are always the better ways to go because essentially what you’re doing is are offering a reward and I always found it super exhausting as a parent of toddlers to come up with rewards that I could do and make work like music things, but that’s where we are in moments like this. We have to come up with rewards we can feel good about and give and not back out on and have some meaning to the kid.


REENA: Yeah. I always get sad when you talk about those early years because we weren’t friends then when I was parenting those early years and I wish to God I had known you then because I did everything wrong and I am praying for you parents of kids under five because those are hard ages and nobody publicly says that to anybody.


LISA: They’re so hard.


REENA: We set parents up for failure and it makes me so angry. So I am thinking of parents who have kids under five, especially in this pandemic.


LISA: Okay, well you want to know what I always feel bad about?


REENA: Tell me.


LISA: I always feel bad about, oh my, you know the four or five or six solid years of practicing I did with parents before I was a parent myself.


REENA: That’s really funny.


LISA: Because I was trained in this very kind of, you know, this traditional and rigid way and you know, no, no, no, children should not be in bed with the parents. No, no, no they should learn to sleep autonomously. Okay so I of course ruled out that kind of shaming, you know, instructional stuff to parents, and then, you know, you become a parent and 2:30 in the morning and your kid comes in, you’re like hop in, like there’s no other place for you to be, like I need to sleep, you need to sleep, we’ll deal with this in the morning. So we both have our regrets.


REENA: Yeah. Yeah, you’re totally right. You know when you talk about positive parenting, it’s funny, because you know my family, as you guys know, is from India and with this whole concept of positive parenting, I think for many immigrant families, is just not a thing, like you know you rule by the iron fist. So what do you say to people who kind of look at this positive parenting and reward system as like a, huh? Why do you think that works?


LISA: Right because I can see where parent are like, why should I be giving them carrots and prizes and treats for just doing school?


REENA: Right? You’ve got to do what I say.


LISA: And there is truth to that. I mean I think there’s a lot to be said for the idea of, and here’s the key words under normal conditions,


REENA: Yeah.


LISA: Saying to kids, yep it’s boring and no one’s paying you and you have to do it, go. Right? I think I have a really strong belief in the, yep, it stinks, too bad, go for it, view on parenting. We are not under normal conditions, and especially around school one of the things that has been really top of mind for me as I’m watching kids really struggle through school this year is to think about the glue for kids around school. Like what makes them feel connected to school, attached to school? And there’s a lot of different kinds of glue the kids who are still managing pretty effectively right now, the school glue for them is that they like the work or they are really fond of their teachers and so they want to perform well for their teachers or they’re those kids who are very aware of adult approval and so that’s very powerful for them. Those kids are managing. They don’t love online school but they’re managing. For many, many kids the glue of school is getting to be there with your friends, getting to see them at recess, getting to enjoy their company in class, getting to have the mix and the variety and the humans that are there, and you take that away and they have no reason to want to do the work. That is what a lot of kids are up against right now.


REENA: So, what do you think works in that situation?


LISA: Empathy. Empathy. Empathy. I know I keep coming back to that. Here’s what is so hard about school. This is the thing I really don’t like about school. School is really, really well-designed for only a subset of kids. It really works well for kids who dig it and who love every minute of it and like the teachers, I mean not every kid loves every minute, but you know like who are you know interested in the academics and the academics are really interesting for them and they do a good job with it. School works well for those kids, but everybody has to do school and there are a lot of kids who just kind of grit their teeth through it or only get by because of all the ancillary stuff. They were never supposed to be robbed the ancillary stuff. Okay so, if you have a kiddo at home whose, one, who’s like, okay the glue is gone. The glue is gone.


REENA: Yeah.


LISA: Actually, my daughter, when she was a sophomore last year when the pandemic began, she said to me when they were sent home, she said, oh man they took away all the stuff that makes school fun and they just left us school.


REENA: Oh, that’s so well said. So well said.


LISA: I know. And I was like, isn’t that right? And she happens to be a kid who’s like really in some ways very much a school kid, and even she was like, this is this is baloney. So if you have a kid for whom the glue of school is the showing up, the being together, I think that you really, really have to empathize with that and just say, look, I get it this work does not float your boat, you know the teachers being unhappy with you doesn’t mean that much to you, or doesn’t bother you enough to that for this to be an issue. I can get it. That’s OK. But the work needs to get done. What would help you? How can I help you?


REENA: Just asking them out right?


LISA: Straight out. Like what ideas do you have? Is there anything we can be doing on our and that would make it easier to face this. And then I would say talking to the school. Say, my kid is drowning. Is there anything you guys can give me by way of suggestions that would make it easier for him or her to face this, but to really, really not lose sight of the order bizarre-ness of these conditions.


REENA: Yeah. Yeah. You know, you keep coming back to empathy and I’m wondering is it because when you are empathetic you’re validating how they feel and they acknowledge that you get the place that they’re at? Is that why that’s important?


LISA: I think it does that job, you know, of okay, I’m not alone with this and also, I’m not in trouble, right? I mean it’s so easy to roll up on a kid like this to be like, what is wrong with you? You know and especially, when were so tired as parents and we need this all go away as fast as possible, to have a kid is essentially making everything harder is not really all that great right now. You know and so I think we can just get mad. So, first of all, it’s the absence of anger, which is useful here, it’s the presence of understanding, but there’s something else, too, which is we want our kid to hear us. We want our kid to take our advice. We want them to be open to our guidance, and it’s very hard to take guidance or support or advice from somebody who you feel like doesn’t get what you’re going through.


REENA: Yeah. Yeah.


LISA: And that’s something I think we can skip the step of making it clear, help me understand what you’re really going through. Oh, okay I’m going to build my advice on that.


REENA: What if it’s the parent that’s drowning? What do you do in that situation?


LISA: When you say that what do you mean? Like what do you picture?


REENA: Can I tell you something that really broke my heart last night?


LISA: Yeah.


REENA: I have had this couch, my very first couch I bought in my apartment in D.C. since 2003. Disgusting yellow couch that needed to be thrown away. I put on Facebook for $200. A couple came, picked it up. They were not well off. I mean they just really were struggling and I could tell this person couldn’t even give me the $200 right? And it broke my heart. The lady turned to me and said, is there anything else you want to sell? I had a bag of clothes, like just all this TV stuff that I’m just not wearing anymore, anchor women clothes that I gave it all to her and they drove away. They were very appreciative because the couch has a mattress and I heard the husband say to the wife he can sleep on this, it’s good, it’s a good mattress. So they put in the car. My husband comes back and helped it in, you’re okay with giving back the $200? And it broke my heart. I said absolutely. He just knew for the rest of my life like that $200 taking from this family would have crushed them.


LISA: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.


REENA: But, Lisa, I think about how many parents like that are out there that are just struggling to survive. Whether it’s providing for their family, whether it is, you know, trying to keep morale up, trying to push their kids to stay on track when their kids just, school is not their thing. What do you say to those parents who are struggling to stay afloat and there’s nobody to empathize with them, right?


LISA: Right. Oh, Reena, man that’s a really hard question. One of the things I’ve been saying to my kids, which is very weird to have come out of my mouth as they have been persistently grumpy about the return to remote schooling, is I’ve been saying to them, guys, one day at a time. Okay they do not happen to know that this is a mantra from Alcoholics Anonymous. They’ll figure that out later and then they’ll be like, it’s so weird that my mom kept saying that to me in the pandemic, but that seems to help, which is, can you get through the morning? Can you get through the afternoon? Do you have what you need to make it through today? And just to focus on that. Honestly, I think that may be the place to start when everything feels so dark.


REENA: I loved in an earlier episode, you were talking about kids and how sometimes kids only really need one good friend, and I wonder if that applies for adults, too? Like having one person who you have who can talk to because our normal communities just don’t exist, right? Commiserating on the soccer side lines as we talked about doesn’t exist, right? So as a parent, if you don’t have the support systems you need, what do you do? How do you pick yourself up>


LISA: I think in those moments what we want to remember is that our kids are watching us and they’re watching how we cope. So, the fact that we’re struggling is not in and out of itself a problem, at this point for many families it’s probably unavoidable. It’s what we do in the struggle. So, a parent who feels like they need more support than they’ve got could either start drinking, go get in their bed and not get out of their bed, be cranky and difficult. Or get on the phone, call someone haven’t talked to for a while, maybe connect with their church either temple or their place of worship and ask what resources are available, could start that process of seeking help to get themselves out of that hole and that goes right back to the piece with the kid who has gone on strike at school, which is it’s not the fact that you’ve got yourself in this bad spot that is the big problem. What we’re really up against here is what you do next. So, either you throw up your hands and you just assume that you’re failing what you’re failing and you’ll just deal with the aftermath when you do, or you say this is not the way I want it. I need it to be different and you start to rally and take help and seek help and look outward for support. So, we need to do it for ourselves, we need our kids to see us do it, and we need to help them do it.


REENA: It’s a lot but I think so many people are struggling right now and we know the next three months are going to be super tough and Lisa, I know you and I have been talking about what other segments, what else can we offer parents that might be helpful, so we would love for you guys listening to send us any thoughts that you think of segments or questions or guests at asklisa(at)drlisadamour(dot)(com). We’d love to hear our listener feedback on how else we can be supportive. There is, there’s so much to think about, but I do feel like we’re going turn a corner soo. A lot of things seem more optimistic than they did maybe nine months ago.


LISA: We’ll get there. We’ll get there, and I think that’s back to the one day at a time. One day at a time, which is, you know, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. When things feel really rough, focus on what’s right in front of you and just try to tackle it.


REENA: Terrific. So, Lisa, what do you have for us for For Children Everywhere?


LISA: So, Reena, I had this really, it feels like an honor, actually. I’ve started to do some collaborations with UNICEF.


REENA: I love that organization.


LISA: The agency of the UN, I know, right? That does humanitarian aid and developmental support for families, and I had worked with them earlier in the pandemic on some articles around parenting under COVID, and then, I’ve made a couple of videos with them and they’ve started to release them, and these are actually videos about how parents can support themselves, in the context of parenting under COVID-19, we’ll put them up with the show notes, but I thought we shouldn’t have UNICEF be our For Children Everywhere because they do work literally for children everywhere. They’re in over 190 countries around the world and they do incredible, incredible work. So they’re at unicef(dot)(org).


REENA: I love it. That’s a great organization. So great that you’re part of it. I can’t wait to see it.


LISA: I was really honored that they asked me to help.


REENA: I can’t wait to watch. And for parenting to go, what have you got for us?


LISA: Here’s what I’ve got for parenting to go: if your kid is into school, don’t underestimate how lucky you and your kid are. If your kid is not that into school, school’s not their thing, never forget that school tends to focus on and reward an unbelievably narrow band of skills, and there are so many kids who really like tough it out for the duration of their education and then go on to be incredibly good and amazing careers that are well-represented by the things we ask kids to do in school. So never forget that just because your kid isn’t that into school, doesn’t mean they’re not going to be amazing at something and deeply devoted to something and make major contributions. School rewards a very narrow band.


REENA: We don’t hear that enough and you feel like a failure as a parent when your child isn’t the one who’s interested or engaged in school enough.


LISA: Yeah.


REENA: That’s great. That’s great to hear. Lisa, thank you very much.


LISA: You’re welcome. See you next week.


The advice provided by Dr. Damour here will not and does not constitute - or serve as a substitute for - professional psychological treatment, therapy, or other types of professional advice or intervention. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being, consult a physician or mental health professional.

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