One of the most common concerns of adult e-learners is how to be a successful student and parent. With estimates ranging as high as 75% of all part and full-time postsecondary learners trying to balance education and family, and the increasing popularity of virtual education, thriving at child-rearing and learning is of increasing concern.
What further exacerbates the situation is that the most often suggested form of help—get childcare—is not always an easy or practical solution. For example, the e-learner/parent may not have family in the area or may not be able to afford the added expense. Some of us also value the time with our children and prefer not to be apart from them if at all possible.
If any of this sounds like you, here are three tips to help you balance e-learning and parenting.
The first step toward merging your roles as student and parent is to fully engage your children in what you’re doing. Even young children can understand that mommy or daddy is doing something important that will benefit the family in the long run. Although they may not understand the logistics involved with e-learning or the benefits of adding to your credentials to bolster your career, kids will grasp the idea that what you’re doing is something good that they need to support if you present it that way.
In fact, a recent joint study by Jacksonville University and the University of California, published in Child Development, explained that children between five and ten-years-old can understand the benefits of an optimistic approach to an action or situation (22 December 2011). As Dr. Christi Bamford, assistant professor of psychology at JU stated based on the findings: “The strongest predictor of children’s knowledge about the benefits of positive thinking—besides age—was not the child’s own level of hope and optimism, but their parents’.”
Therefore, explaining the “why” about what you are trying to accomplish by going to school and that your children should be as excited about your edventure as you are, should help engage them in seeing the time you spend at the computer and completing your class activities in a positive light. As Bamford concluded, modeling such a positive attitude for our children can become a skill they carry forward throughout their lives. I would add, why not share this positive feeling with your children about education?
Taking the positive engagement of your children a step further, consider specific ways learning can become a shared activity that benefits and involves the entire family. Here are some suggestions that worked well with my own children as their student/telecommuter, single dad worked from home:
• Share office space: Get your children excited about setting up their own activity or homework table so that they can work while you do. Small children will enjoy activities such as drawing or playing on a tablet while mom or dad works on the computer.
• Do homework together: Designate “homework time” during which your children can complete learning activities that you assign or work for their own classes as you complete your own assignments.
• Collaborate: Find ways your children can assist you with your school work. Young children can help you sort papers and assist with scanning documents. Ask for their opinions on different topics that come up in class discussions. Let them click the “send” button when you submit an assignment and share in the anticipation of a response to a discussion post.
• Discuss your progress: Consider showing your children the feedback from your professors, the grades you earn, and other successes. Don’t be afraid to process your frustrations and failures in a positive way with your children, too.
Whatever ways you find to engage and involve your children in your edventure, keep in mind that you’re modeling something positive that will influence them well into the future. The toddler who once colored pictures of the Powerpuff Girls at her playschool desk next to mine ended up pursuing dual credit college courses online as a high school senior; this May, she’ll also finish her associate’s degree.
Clearly, success as a parent and e-learner involves engagement and involvement of your children balanced with clear boundaries about work versus play time. However, it’s also important to reward your children for their cooperation and assistance. Frequent positive reinforcement will keep your children from feeling like everything is about you and your education. It will keep them ever mindful that they are the most important part of your life and that what you do is for their benefit, too.
One easy and enjoyable way to reward your children (and yourself) is to designate regular one-on-one time with them during which you give them your undivided attention. This may be something as simple as eating meals together or time at the park. With both of my children, I found that at least one extended time each week that became known as “Daddy/Alexandra” or “Daddy/Christian” Day helped. I used to let them pick the activity to balance out the other times when I had to direct us to do school work.
For some additional information on the importance of this time and ways to reward your children for their engagement and involvement, see “Importance of Family Time on Kids Mental Health and Adjustment to Life,” by Dr. Gail Fernandez of the Child Development Institute (4 January 2012).
Although it’s certainly not easy balancing two demanding roles, such as parent and student, it is possible to lessen the difficulty by merging them into a positive family focus that engages, involves, and rewards children for their assistance, understanding, and cooperation in the process. The joint pursuit of shared goals may also become lifelong habits for your kids.
Do you have any tips on how to balance being an online student with parenting? Please share them with the rest of us in the “Comments” area below.
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