A Psychology project aimed at finding out about parents' and carers' experiences with homeschooling, and providing practical, evidence-based support.

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About the project

Since the first lockdown in 2020, which began on 23 March, most parents of school-age children have been responsible for homeschooling them. But without any teaching experience or time to prepare, and alongside keeping Covid at bay and juggling jobs and other caring responsibilities, how are parents coping with the realities of ensuring their children carry on learning while schools are closed?

In the spring of 2020, a team of researchers from the Psychology Department's Childhood and Youth Research Group launched a study aiming to understand how parents are managing the demands of homeschooling and parenting during the coronavirus lockdown. The aim was to find out how parents' experiences of home schooling their children during lockdown are affected by differences in parenting styles, stress and coping behaviours, and creativity. While the British Psychological Society issued some brief advice to parents and carers just before schools closed, home schooling will have been a first for the majority of those parents and each of them will have had a different perspective, impacting how they rose to the challenge.

The researchers recruited a large sample of parents in the UK who are currently teaching their children at home. The information was gathered via a short online survey; parents were eligible to take part if they reside in the UK with at least one child attending primary or secondary school before the schools closed, and if they were solely or jointly responsible for managing homeschooling, with the help of school resources. The team also collected responses from parents in Spain, which went into lockdown earlier than the UK.

Background image by August de Richelieu on Pexels.

Find out more

Findings

In general, parents reported feeling very stressed during lockdown. This is a cause for concern because highly stressed parents reported:

  • Feeling insecure about homeschooling their children
  • Not enjoying hom-schooling their children
  • Feeling dissatisfied with their role as a parent
  • Perceiving their children as behaving worse during lockdown than before
  • Disciplining their children more frequently
  • Being unsure about how to support their children’s wellbeing during lockdown

Parents who considered their living arrangements as inadequate and who used coping mechanisms such as catastrophizing (e.g. “What is happening is terrible and there is no end to it”) or self-blaming (e.g. “It is my fault that this is happening”, “I am not doing enough”), reported feeling more stress, disciplining their children more often, and not enjoying homeschooling them.

Parents who used high levels of behavioural control towards their children (e.g. removing privileges, setting strict rules), reported feeling very stressed, and not being able to home school their children effectively.

However, some parents were able to deal with stress more effectively than others. Specifically, parents who reported using positive coping mechanisms reported feeling less stress. Some of the positive coping mechanisms that parents reported using when feeling stressed are: planning ahead, focussing on what can be learnt from a situation, focussing on pleasant thoughts that have nothing to do with the situation, and focussing on how to become stronger when facing difficulties.

Parents who reported using these positive coping mechanisms also reported feeling more confident about how to support their children’s emotional wellbeing, and having a better relationship with their children during lockdown.

Parents who perceived themselves to be creative in everyday life were also better able to deal with stress during lockdown and felt better able to support their children’s homeschooling. Stronger feelings of everyday creative competence helped compensate for sources of stress such as inadequate space at home. This may reflect that everyday creativity can help support problem-solving and generate a sense of wellbeing.

Read the full project publication

Practical suggestions for parents/carers

Based on the above findings, we offer some some practical suggestions to support parents during the current lockdown.

Coping strategies to manage stress

Planning ahead

An example of ‘planning ahead’ might be that on Sundays parents plan the upcoming week, making sure that they have all the resources and materials needed. These activities should be discussed with the children to make sure that the whole family is aware of what is happening when.

Learning through reflection

An example of focussing on ‘what can be learnt from the situation’ might be for parents to discuss with their children at the end of each day or week ‘the best and worst things’ that have happened, and discuss their feelings around them. Doing so will help the family know how everyone is doing, and reflect on the fact that there are good things that can be learnt from every situation, even when they are negative.

Creativity: not just about art

Creativity helped parents to cope with stress during lockdown. People think of creativity as about artistic accomplishment and then view themselves as uncreative if they don’t see themselves as good at ‘arts’. But we can think of creativity as being about having a range of approaches to whatever life throws at us such that we can respond effectively. Viewed in this way, creativity is a resource that everybody possesses and can be used to respond to everyday challenges such as 'How do I keep my children occupied during lockdown?'.

Creativity is also a skill that improves with practice. For instance, practising taking more time to understand and define a challenge and outcomes can result in more effective approaches. In the example above, possible outcomes might include focussing on building our relationship with our children or on deliberately leaving their time unstructured so that they find things for themselves that they are motivated to do.

Different outcomes will suggest different approaches to the challenge. Asking additional questions, such as 'what is in my control', 'what resources do I have', 'would the resources required to achieve a given outcome be worth it', can all help to build a fuller representation of a challenge and a more effective course of action. This is the kind of everyday creativity that parents found beneficial during lockdown.

The importance of empathy

Parenting during lockdown is not easy. However, accepting that your children’s behaviour may suffer as they struggle to cope with the pandemic, reassuring them that they are loved no matter what their behaviour, and empathising with their anger and frustration can be beneficial to the parent-child relationship.

Considerations regarding disciplining

Parents may want to reflect on the type of discipline they are using with their children. When children misbehave, it can be more effective to explain to them why their behaviour was wrong rather than punishing them without explanation.

Look after yourself

Whenever possible we would like to encourage parents to look after their own wellbeing so that they are able to respond to their children with warmth and use positive coping strategies. Keeping your anxiety under control will help your children to control theirs. Scheduling some time to do something you enjoy, some 'me time', even if only for 30 minutes a day, will enable you to cope better.

Don't look back, look ahead

Stay focussed on the future; reminding yourselves and your children that the pandemic will end is a powerful motivator.

Advice for schools

Given the high levels of stress reported by parents when homeschooling their children, schools should aim to support parents during this time. For example, schools could provide a weekly plan for parents establishing the different tasks that children need to complete so that parents can organise their week. Setting open communication channels between schools and parents will also make parents feel more supported and better equipped to homeschool their children.

With you all the way

We continue to support families during the COVID-19 pandemic and we would love to hear from you.

Email the University of Winchester Childhood and Youth Psychology Research Group

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