As homeschool parents, we spend hours and hours researching and choosing just the right curricula or programs to make sure our kids learn reading, writing, math, science, history, and as many other things as we can feed/cram into their growing brains.
What we often forget, however, is that none of that academic learning matters if there are mental or emotional health concerns that have not been addressed.
Extra Mental Health Stress for Families in the Pandemic
Mental health has come to the forefront of many parents’ minds throughout the pandemic. Kids’ lives have changed drastically-even if they were already homeschooling. Many have found themselves experiencing feelings that they don’t quite know how to handle. Parents are in the same boat.
As families struggle to navigate these rough waters, tensions can run high. Relationships can be strained, causing family members to withdraw from each other. This makes it even tougher to recognize when someone needs help.
Teaching Mental Health Awareness in Our Homeschools
Even under normal circumstances, mental health should be a priority in our homeschools. People are not born with the innate ability to nurture their mental health or recognize a mental health crisis and take steps to address it. Just like anything else, it’s a skill that must be learned.
It’s our job to teach our kids how to respond to their thoughts, feelings, and life experiences in a healthy way. Sadly, many of us may not have learned those skills ourselves when we were children. We may have even developed some unhealthy habits that hinder our ability to take care of our own or our children’s mental health needs.
And, yes, our mental health needs are important, too! When we take time to nurture our own mental health, we teach our kids healthy habits that will benefit them for a lifetime.
Whether we want to start learning to make mental health a priority along with our children, or we’ve just let it take a backseat to academics and busy days, these helpful tools will get us on track to make sure mental health checks are part of our normal homeschool routine.
A Lifestyle of Mental Health Awareness
So, how do we create a homeschool environment where mental health is a priority?
Change Our Mindset
First and foremost, it takes a shift in mindset, mostly on the part of the parents. We have to decide that we’re not going to let things fly under the radar undetected. Sometimes, in the moment, it’s a lot easier to ignore signs of a problem than to deal with them. But that just creates bigger problems down the road.
Take the time and energy to get to the root of the issue. Now, that doesn’t mean that we stop our whole day and have an intervention every time our kid has a bad attitude. What it does mean is that we have enough awareness to notice uncommon behavior, and we follow through with addressing it in a manner that is appropriate to that behavior.
Create Open Lines of Communication
Open communication with our kids is essential. Start teaching them when they are very young to talk to you about their feelings. We want it to be very natural for them to talk openly about what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling.
If your kids are older and you don’t have these open lines of communication, it’s not too late! It might take a little more effort to establish this type of connection, but it is possible. Sit down with your kids (as a group and one-on-one) and let them know you want them to talk to you about anything.
Sometimes, just letting them know we’re available to listen will give our kids the reassurance they need to open up. The key, though, is to listen without judgment. If they feel like we’re just going to give them a lecture or dismiss their feelings, good luck getting them to talk to us. Give them a safe space to fall apart when they need to. Then, work together to help them learn how to put the pieces back together in a healthy way.
Weave Mental Health Activities into Normal Routines
As homeschool parents, we have a perfect opportunity to help our kids create habits that will have a positive impact on their mental health for the rest of their lives. We can show our kids how important their mental health is by taking time each day to step away from the academics and busyness and focus on taking care of their souls.
Ideas for mental health habits to work into your daily routine:
Prayer or Meditation Time
There are lots of apps that offer guided prayer or meditation. Check out Headspace (affiliate link) for guided meditation for both kids and adults. Abide and Soultime Christian Meditation are popular guided prayer/meditation apps, although I haven’t found one that is geared towards kids.
Quiet Your Soul Moments
These can be used in a variety of ways, such as quick moments of silence throughout the day (between activities) or longer sit still and chill times after high-stress situations, big emotions, or rigorous activity.
This should not be a graded homeschool assignment. It should be an opportunity for each person to write down their private thoughts. We shouldn’t intrude into our kids’ personal journals. Rather, we let them learn to express their thoughts and feelings on paper as a safe therapeutic process.
For some people, it’s easier to write their feelings down than to speak them out loud. My daughter and I have shared a journal over the years to make communication a little easier. One of us will write a note in our special book, and the other will respond, moving the conversation forward as we go. We also just use it for encouragement sometimes.
Build connection time into your day. Whether it’s the first thing every morning, a conversation over lunch, or a round-up at the end of the day…make a point to talk to your child about how he’s feeling (about school, about family, about life).
Ask him what he’s struggling with and how you can help him. Open those lines of communication and validate his feelings. Don’t ever let this connection time turn into a fight or a debate over some conflict that you’re having with each other. Protect it as a sacred time of love and understanding.
Appropriate Social Interaction and Extra-Curricular Activities
Some people need lots of social interaction. Others are exhausted by it. Providing our kids with social opportunities that match their individual needs will help ensure that too much or too little engagement with people is not causing unnecessary mental or emotional stress.
Similarly, with extra-curricular activities, we have to find a balance. We must allow our kids to have a creative outlet for doing something that they love. But we also have to make sure that it doesn’t become an emotional burden due to our expectations of them or their own perfectionism.
Family time will look different for each family, but it should be preserved as a priority to nourish relationships and give kids the solid connections they need. Your family time might be dinner around the table every night, a weekly game night or movie night, or monthly one-on-one time with each kid. It doesn’t matter so much how we do it, it’s just important that we do it.
Make time for these things every day–even if the lessons don’t get finished and the chores don’t get done. That’s how we make mental health a priority in our homeschools and our homes.
However, we have to remember that even when we make a point to prioritize mental health, it doesn’t mean that there will never be a mental health crisis in our family. If we’re paying attention, though, we can hopefully notice the signs and take the steps necessary to help the family member in crisis right away.
Signs of Mental Health Concerns
Being with our kids all day long every day as we homeschool them might give us more insight into their mental health, but it’s also possible that it could have the opposite effect. You know when someone hasn’t seen your kids in a while, and they’re shocked at how much they’ve grown up? The difference wasn’t as obvious to you because you’re with them every day and the gradual changes didn’t make as much of an impact.
Just as we don’t realize how much our kids’ physical appearances change when we’re with them every day, we might not realize when there is a mental health concern that needs to be addressed. Maybe we’re so focused on getting through the daily checklist that we just don’t notice those subtle cues that would alert us to a mental health issue. Or, maybe, we chalk it up to laziness or a behavior problem.
It’s important to know what to look for, so we can help our child right away if a mental health challenge arises. There are many different types of mental health concerns with a variety of symptoms. But there are some key behaviors that should prompt us to take action.
Key Behaviors to Prompt Action:
- A sudden change in behavior
- Withdrawal from family or friends
- Lack of interest in things they used to enjoy
- A change in appetite or sleeping patterns
- Low self-esteem
- Excessive fear or anxiety
- Inability to cope with problems or manage daily life
- Explosive behavior
- Extreme moodiness or negativity
- Inability to control emotions or behavior
- Hurting oneself or talking about hurting oneself, death, suicide, etc. (Seek immediate help-Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline!)
You can find more information on common mental health illnesses and learn how to get help through Mental Health America.
Mental Health and Learning
Sometimes, when we see signs of a mental health concern, there may be an underlying condition that is causing those symptoms. There are many types of neurodiversity that could cause big emotional responses when a child is expected to behave and learn like a neurotypical person.
Common Types of Neurodiversity That May Affect Learning:
- Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Sensory Processing Disorder
- Auditory Processing Disorder
- Asperger’s Syndrome
If you notice a lot of resistance to academics, it would be a good idea to consider whether something like this might be the root cause.
What to do if You Suspect a Learning Difference
If you suspect your child might have a learning difference, start by keeping a log of behaviors and concerns that you have during both school and non-school activities. This will help identify trends and will be tremendously helpful if you need to seek out a diagnosis.
Talk to your kids about how they like to learn. Many times, we can make small changes in the way we approach school that will totally change the experience for a kid with a learning difference. We just have to pay attention to what they are telling us they need.
In my ADHD Homeschooling Support Group, parents often come to us wanting to figure out how they can get their kids to sit still and pay attention to lessons. I offer them my free ADHD Homeschooling Starter Course to teach them to learn how to set up realistic expectations and create a learning experience based on structured flexibility.
I always love it when a parent realizes how much more fulfilling the homeschool experience can be for both themselves and their child when they change their expectations to match what is realistic for their child’s individual needs!
When we address these types of underlying conditions that might be causing extra stress in our homeschool days and wearing on everyone’s mental and emotional health, we can create a much more positive learning environment. That doesn’t mean that there won’t still be difficult days…there will be.
But every step that we take to meet our kids’ individual needs brings progress towards a healthy homeschool experience, a peaceful family life, and happy kids.
The Benefits of Prioritizing Mental Health
It’s hard to fit everything into our homeschool days that we’d like to. Things don’t always go as planned, we run out of time, and some things just get moved down on the to-do list.
I want to encourage you, though, to make mental health check-ins a non-negotiable in your homeschool. It’s more important than finishing that worksheet. It’s more important than practicing scales on the piano. It’s more important than folding a pile of laundry or picking up toys.
Yes, all of those things have their place. But taking time to notice whether each family member is in a good place mentally and emotionally before pushing through with other daily duties can have a massive positive effect.
Positive Effects of Mental Health Awareness in Your Homeschool
When both kids and parents have their mental health needs met, homeschool days can be more pleasant and productive. Attention to these needs as a first priority saves time in the long run. We won’t be dragging through school days because of an underlying mental health challenge that hasn’t been addressed.
Family relationships will be stronger when we know that we can depend on each other for support when we’re struggling emotionally. We have the power to create generational change by the way we handle mental health needs in our homes!
Giving our kids the gift of mental health awareness and support will have both immediate and lifelong benefits. None of us are perfect parents, and we’re all going to mess up sometimes. But putting a priority on mental health is something that I don’t think we could ever regret.
As Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
That is just as true for our kids in our own homes as it is for anyone else…maybe even more so. So, take the time. Make the effort. And create a learning environment and a home where everyone feels safe and supported.
Professional Disclaimer: No advice or opinions given in this post should be substituted for personal medical or psychological care. Please seek care from a local professional who can fully support your individual needs.