Your Child Struggles with Distance Learning


Learning online is challenging for most children. Here’s what you can do when your child struggles with distance learning.

So your child hated online learning last spring.

You are not alone. Almost every parent I’ve talked to said learning online was not a good fit for their child.

When tips and tricks aren’t working, here’s what to do when your child struggles with distance learning.

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Don’t Focus on the Behavior

First, here’s what you shouldn’t do.  Don’t focus on the troubling behaviors.

Focusing on the tantrums, the meltdowns, the refusal, and the arguments isn’t going to solve anything.

The behavior has already served it’s purpose: it’s communicated to you that there is a problem.

From now on, start saying, “Distance learning was tricky for you.”  Don’t say, “You threw tantrums.”

Why is this helpful? Shouldn’t we want our children to behave better?

Of course we want our children to have more adaptive behavior, but the behavior is showing you they are having a hard time. Your child doesn’t  have the skills to manage the problem yet.

When parents focus on the behavior, it obscures our ability to see the underlying issues.  To solve the problems that are causing your child to struggle with distance learning, you need to look beyond.

And don’t worry: I’ll help you figure put the underlying issues.

Don’t Assume You Know What the Problem Was

Here’s another thing you don’t want to do: don’t assume you know what part of distance learning was hard for your child.

I’m totally guilty of this because we have to make judgements when our children can’t communicate.  But definitely by the time our children are school-aged, they have some tools for communicating,

(Note: if you’re a a parent with a non-verbal autistic child – I see you and hear your challenges.  While my child is verbal, please contact me directly if you want help troubleshooting).

Your child is the expert in identifying the problem since they are the one experiencing it.  They will likely need some help articulating it.

Don’t Decide on Solutions without Your Child

It’s okay to troubleshoot with some quick tips and tricks to make distance learning better for your child. Do you already have solid school day routines for your child?

It’s also really important to review your expectations to make sure your child really understands them.

After that, if distance learning continues to be problematic, it’s not helpful to choose solutions without your child.

You might waste a lot of your precious precious time and energy with a solution to something that seemed like a problem, but wasn’t really the main challenge for your child.

Don’t Speak Negatively about Online Learning

Here’s the last thing you don’t want to do:

Please don’t speak negatively about online learning.  If you convey to your child that this is hard and awful, they are more likely to think it’s hard and awful.

So parents everywhere: don’t speak negatively about it.  Be honest and empathetic (“yeah this is tough”) but watch yourself for negativity (“this is a disaster!”).

Our attitudes about the challenge are more helpful than we realize.  They will take cues from us.

Do Decide to Believe this is a Solvable Problem

Now, we’re going to switch to the things you want to do.

First, your mindset is the most important factor in this.

You need to believe this is a solvable problem. 

You’re probably yelling at your screen, “Yeah, right Anne. The only solution is the end of the pandemic and our kids being back in school.”

The truth is that you have the power to make some of the problems better for your child through what I’ll describe below.

It’s not a magic wand and won’t fix everything, but it will improve the experience for your child and you.

Do Talk to Your Child about why Distance Learning was Hard

See what I did there? You’re going to want to watch your language during these conversations.  Instead of focusing on the behaviors during distance learning, you’ll say neutral things like “why was this hard?”

This method I’m going to describe is loosely based on the parenting technique CPS (Collaborative Problem Solving or Collaborative and Proactive Solutions depending on which source you’re reading).  This method detailed more thoroughly in Ross Greene’s books The Explosive Child and Raising Human Beings.

If the first title resonates with, or if your child has an ADHD, ODD, OCD, SPD, ASD, or a mental health diagnosis, you might want to consider that book. If not, the book Raising Human Beings is for every parent.

Do Use Empathy and Curiosity to Discuss the Challenges of Distance Learning

You’re going to want to start like this: “Hey when you had school online in the spring, that was really tough. Why?”  You need a curious and empathetic tone.

Now if you’re new to this method, it’s 90% likely your kid is going to say either, “I don’t know,” or “All of it.”

Refrain from any judgment or frustration.  Instead, believe this is solvable with time and practice.

Do Ask a lot of Questions

To find out why your child dislikes distance learning, you’re gong to use a method called, “Drilling.” This means to you’re going to draw out your child with neutral and curious questions.

If they gave you a more specific response, like “My brother bugs me” then that’s even more helpful.

Here’s an example:

  • Parent: “Hey when you had school online in the spring, that was really tough. Why?”
  • Child: “My brother bugs me.”
  • Parent: “Oh I can see how that’s frustrating (empathy). Can you tell me more (curiosity)?”

Don’t jump to solutions.  Plan to get as much information as you possibly can to understand exactly how the child’s brother is disruptive.

But what about when your child  responds with “I don’t know” or “Everything,” it’s just fine and a good place to start.

Here’s an example:

  • Parent: “Hey when you had school online in the spring, that was really tough. Why?”
  • Child: “All of it.”
  • Parent: Oh I see, it was a tough experience (empathy).  Well, it might have been something about the environment, something about the lessons, or something about the assignments (curiosity).  Was it one of the those?”
  • Child: “I don’t know.”
  • Parent: “Good to know. Well, let’s start with the environment. Was it your pencils?”
  • Child: “No they were okay.”
  • Parent: “Okay thanks. Was it where you were sitting?”
  • And so on…

What to Troubleshoot When Distance Learning is Hard

I made a comprehensive list of things to start with when you discuss why your child struggles with distance learning.  I’ve made it into a printable for you.

You can begin with these topics as a starting place.

  • Environment
  • Lessons
  • Assignments
  • Something else

Is your child struggling with their emotions?
Check out the Social-Emotional Learning at Home Pack.

Where to go from here

This is a quick overview of the first step in the CPS model. I wholeheartedly recommend the Collaborative Problem Solving method.  But first you need to believe that improvements and solutions are possible.

If you continue to struggle, reach out the teacher first.  Your child’s teacher needs to be in the loop and appreciates the communication.

Last, remember, this too shall pass. Dial down the pressure for yourself too.

No one is excelling in the COVID life. As the saying goes, “Cs get degrees.”

Just focus on getting through with the minimum. It will be okay.

Recapping When Your Child Struggles with Distance Learning

Here’s the summary for busy parents:

  • Don’t focus on the bad behavior. It’s not the actual problem to be solved.
  • Don’t assume you know what part of distance learning was hard for your child.
  • It’s likely counterproductive to choose solutions without your child.
  • Don’t speak negatively about online learning.
  • Believe this is a solvable problem.
  • Talk openly with your child.
  • Use neutral language: “it is tricky for you.”
  • Use empathy and curiosity: “Yes I can see this is tough for you.”
  • Ask a lot of questions.
  • Use the comprehensive printable with topics you might need to discuss.
  • Reach out to the teacher.
  • Lower the bar for yourself.  “Passing” during this season is success.


When your child struggles with distance learning, it feels like its impossible to find a solution.  But the truth is, your child and you can work together to find improvements.

It won’t be perfect or replicate the classroom experience. However, working to find some solutions for distance learning will allow your child and you the chance to leverage a hard situation with resilience.

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