When Schooling Comes Home – Mental Fitness Part 2

by Collett Smart

When Schooling Comes Home

There is a staggered start to online learning all over the country this month – as school holidays officially end. Like many of you, I am picking up this next plate to add to those already spinning in the air. I am actually a teacher as well as a psychologist and let me reassure you, this is not homeschooling. This is not even normal schooling for schools!

Listen to the podcast here, watch my video at the end or read along below:



When schooling comes home, it will look quite different for each household and even each child at your dining table. It will look different for tweens and teens, compared to younger primary aged children who are less able to work independently.

I don’t want any of this to become a guilt trip or something burdensome. I don’t want you to look at this post title and think about what you are not doing. Things will happen according to your child’s abilities, interests and even your own available time. What you need is to feel supported.

There are fantastic tips and pieces of advice online right now, so I don’t claim to have come up with every idea below. Teachers work well as a village and I have gathered some great ideas from that village, for you (Spoiler alert – it’s not all about worksheets).

As a start…


Some have said, “This is not home schooling – a better term is crisis schooling.”

Many tweens and teens are grieving right now. Grieving the loss of face-to-face socials with friends, their sports, arts, parties, events, part-time jobs, independence…

The best thing we can do to support struggling kids, is to honour that grief process, by doing a lot of listening.

Expect our kids to act out. Expect some back chat. Expect some withdrawal. Expect them to not want to get out of bed. Expect them to not have words to express their inner frustration.

Give yourself a lot of grace too! Some of you have lost jobs, or your partners have lost their jobs. Some parents who are working outside of the home might be afraid of going out right now. This whole way of living has parents feeling frayed and frazzled too.

It is okay to NOT be amazing at everything. Especially at supporting your tween with their learning. Don’t try to be a Pinterest parent. This is not Pinterest School. This is not a competition! 

Principals and teachers have been at pains to say that they do not expect you to be your child’s teacher. Your job is to be your child’s parent, and then just do the best you can.

What are the Most Important things you can do?

Your child will likely need two things from you. You already have all the tools within you, as a loving parent, to do them. You are probably doing them already.

They need to feel that their home is a safe place and that you believe in them.


The Safe Place

We can create a sense of safety in our homes by establishing routines (see below and in my last post here). But also by ensuring our children feel heard. Let them name and express their feelings, without providing uninvited solutions. 

“If core emotions are continually suppressed, they put stress on the mind and body. Too many emotions, coupled with too much aloneness, in persistently triggering environments, make it difficult, if not impossible, for a child to feel safe and calm.” (Hilary Jacobs Hendel, Psychotherapist.)

Touch your teens in ways that feel loving to them, because touch is known to help soothe a stressed nervous system.

The Cheer Squad (using the 3 E’s)

Find an opportunity every day to Engage, Encourage or Express belief in your teen’s abilities.

You don’t need to use shallow praise (which they will see right through anyway). Rather, catch them doing something good/ fulfilling/ helpful/ worthwhile/ caring…

For example; Thank them for helping with a chore after their online learning time, Praise them for their effort at sitting down to do online work, Ask them to show you what they learned that day (and give your undivided attention if they do), Tell them you believe that they can get through this time, Reassure them that this will end and, Make your face light up when you see them enter the room.

Where Online Learning Comes In

Set up a Learning Space

Help your child set up a learning space which is separate from a chill or leisure space. i.e. At the corner of the dining table, in a study or at a desk.

Not on their beds or on the couch. This helps their minds to mentally prepare for and get into a learning zone for a period of time.

Help your Teen to Maintain a Routine

Routines help anchor us. They reduce stress by providing some predictability (something we all need currently) and give us a sense of control over our day.

We know that routine and connection are important for our young people‘s mental and social health at this time. Having to get up, dressed, connect with teachers, classmates, and yes, even do some routine schoolwork can be good for them. It can help minimise the daily blur.

Teachers also understand the importance of routine and accountability. My own children’s school, like many others, has scheduled an early morning online check in. Students need to log in to the school’s chosen online portal and send a thumbs up or comment that they are ready to start the day.

Teachers immediately become concerned about the students who regularly miss check-ins. The ones they feel might watch Netflix until 3am (as an attempt to drown out the Covid noise) and then sleep until lunchtime each day. Teachers worry about how to keep these kids engaged and connected.

During their ‘school’ week, help teens to stick to regular routines like; wake up times, morning rituals, scheduled breaks, meal times, leisure, exercise and bed times.

If your child’s school doesn’t send a suggested routine, set up a visual schedule with your child. Having them be part of creating their schedule helps young people take some ownership of their own day.


Things will move More Quickly than in a Regular School Day

Parents will be surprised at how fast things get done, compared to a regular school day. It is important that we don’t put pressure on our teens (or ourselves) to artificially create work to fill some sort of 6 hour ‘school’ day.  The bulk of the day’s lessons might be done within 2-3 hours for some tweens and younger teens.

Former chair of NESA, Tom Alegounarias, reminds us that it isn’t appropriate to be in concentrated and engaged learning all day, while at home, because that isn’t actually what happens at school. Students don’t remain in a focused state for prolonged periods.

I know from my teaching time that a chunk of my lesson included getting Joe to take out his pen, reminding Sera to turn to page 6, giving Mel ‘the look’ to stop nudging Ben, or calling extroverted Liam back to his seat to do his writing – for the 6th time.

The school day also consists of line up times, year meetings, assemblies, break times and all sorts of other great socialising. All part of the stuff that makes up the social fabric of school life. That which is not part of an ‘at home’ or online learning day.


What is essential to cover?

Apart from our Year 12 students (another blog post entirely!) who need to remain engaged, parents keep asking what their children ‘should’ cover.

This is not easy for me to answer, because I know that every family and child will be different. While some students will happily engage in all of the tasks set by their teachers, others will find this really difficult.

For working parents or those with tweens and teens who need more supervision at home, stick to the basics. Take advantage of the mornings, when young people’s minds are fresher. (Unless of course you have a teen with sleep issues, then chat to the school and adjust their schedule as needed.)

The Basics – Literacy and Maths

I’m not going to spend a lot of space giving you links to online educational content. Your child’s school will provide what works best for them. Besides, there are so many blog posts and websites with fabulous recommendations already.

Try for some:

Reading: Schedule in 20 minutes of free reading time every day. There are some amazing authors who have recommended books for tweens and teens. (Side Note: Authors need all the support they can get at this time too!).
If you have a child who doesn’t enjoy reading, let them listen to audiobooks. This absolutely counts as literacy. (Audible recently announced their launch of Audible Stories.  This is a new service, providing free audiobooks for small children and teens, for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Writing: My son loves writing – so I will be approaching his teacher to ask if he can rather develop his own short book or story series, in place of writing topics set for him each week. Jo Ong, a teacher friend of mine, developed the Super Toilet Paper comic series, which I think some creative tweens and teens would enjoy. Jo’s own kids are writing Super TP adventures to contribute to their comic each day.

Maths: Get your teens to do at least some of the Maths exercises that their teacher sets. Alternatively, both Khan Academy and Eddie Woo’s Woo Tube provide great content during this time.

However, if it all feels overwhelming or as if there is too much content to get through, contact your child’s school. This is new territory for teachers too. They are also trying to figure out the what and how much. They really want to support your child.


Learning does not end in a worksheet

It has been said that children can develop their broader knowledge by watching historical movies, discussing ideas over dinner, or listening to and then talking about podcasts. My nephew’s High School set the students a Minecraft building exercise for History. How amazing is that?

Teach practical skills like building a fire, changing a light bulb, changing a tyre, getting kids to read a recipe and cook once a week.

But don’t force it – some things will happen organically.

In our case, we don’t make elaborate crafts, work on old cars or bake as a family (my daughter does the baking). We do what fits for us. As an example, my husband has been extending our deck for some time. My 12 year-old son has been fascinated and asked to use the power tools recently. He now drills the screws into the demarcated spots, on his own, a little bit every day. He is meticulous. And he loves it.

Don’t forget either, that delivering care packages to a neighbour’s doorstep teaches empathy and Emotional Intelligence.

Alternatively, ask your children what they are interested in and then encourage them to learn about that.

These all count.


Also Part of Mental Health

Plan some Fun 

Down time and chill time need to also be part of your child’s daily routine. Getting some exercise and socialising are usually very much a part of a young person’s week.

As I mentioned in Part 1 – Housebound Families, “This is not the time to overly restrict screen-time.” (Although, I don’t mean all boundaries or age restrictions go out of the window). A large chunk of their screen time will be for socialising too. Gaming or social media are great sources of connection with friends that your teens are missing dearly.

My youngest doesn’t usually get game time during the week, in term time. But currently, he needs to connect with and chat with his friends after ‘school’. He doesn’t own a phone, so his Xbox (in the lounge room) is a wonderful way for him to do that right now.


Look after YOUR Mental Health

Be real with yourself about what’s actually happening. Perhaps journal or mentally list all the things you and your child accomplished in a week – no matter how small it seems to you – to remind yourself that they are learning. That you are doing a great job.

But, Some Days…

Some days I know that none of the above is going to go as planned. Maybe the best thing, some days, will be that our children simply feel safe and loved.

Some days, we will lay down the plates and hug and chill and go for walks. To just be together. The plates aren’t going anywhere. We will pick them up again tomorrow.

Our lives will never be the same after this. One thing I can promise you – your child will learn something new things during this time. This is life and we learn from all experiences in life!


You’ve got this parents!!


If you prefer to listen along, here is the link to my podcast on this topic. It is part of a 4 part series called, ‘The Mental Fitness podcast’. Available on Spotify, Apple podcasts and more.

You might also like –  Mental Fitness Part 1 – Housebound Families & Staying Sane.





‘Wellbeing with Collett’: Quarantine Homeschool Help.



Housebound Families & Staying Sane – Mental Fitness Part 1

by Collett Smart
Housebound Families & Staying Sane

Image: cottonbro

Many around the world have been housebound for some time now. We’re not even sure when this way of living will come to an end. How might we navigate everyone being at home, in a confined space, for most of the day, for an unknown period of time… and still maintain mental fitness?

Listen to the podcast here, watch the video at the end, or read on below.


The Ever Twirling Plates in the Air

I realise that we will all face different challenges and joys in the dynamics of couples, housemates or parents and children living together so constantly. I am navigating this terrain too. My husband is at home, as are my children. I have a 19 year old doing uni, a 17 year old doing her Year 12 and a primary aged son.

I feel like I am constantly keeping plates in the air. Ever between daily household stuff, trying to find toilet paper, being a support to my older two, a teacher to my youngest, delivering live uni lectures via Zoom and consulting online as a psychologist. You will be twirling your own plates too. Some days can feel overwhelming.

Julie Gottman of the Gotmann Institute said,

“With coronavirus shutting off our normal escape valves, how do we release the lid and turn off the heat before our relationship has all but melted down?”

I would add, “How might we also contribute to each others’ mental fitness this week?


Start with the Foundations and then Build what You need from there


1.   Household Routine

Have your own agreed upon family or household routine (Wake up, sleep, rest, chill, exercise and meal times – see No 6). Try to keep these as stable as possible. Routines provide a sense of stability (in an unstable environment) and mental clarity.

And then… expect it to go pear shaped some days!

Adults, you don’t need to serve your children all day long. This is a time when everyone needs to pitch in. You might need to now set or adjust the chore schedule. If teens haven’t learned to cook yet, this is the perfect time for them to pick a day of the week to help with cooking (with you at first and then on their own).


2.    Be Gracious with Space

As we are spending more time with one another, it is important to reasonably give family members as much space as they need.

If you can, establish boundaries for ‘my’ space and ‘our’ space

  • Having siblings spending too much time together is often a recipe for conflict. Especially when one child needs more downtime than the other/s. Assign, in fact schedule, separate times and family times if you need to.
  • As an introvert (like me) you may need to find a quiet place where you can gather your thoughts and sit in stillness for a time. Sitting in your car, alone, on the driveway, might be such a place.
  • Adults may even consider developing a signal, or sign on your door, which indicates to the family that you are having some alone time.


3.   Keep Relationships Healthy

Expect difficult days and then move on. Try not to dwell on them. You are not a bad parent if people (including the adults) have days that are less than ideal. Difficult days are part of being human.

We’re in constant close quarters and things that irritate us about out partners or children are going to be much easier to spot. They will grate up on us like rough sandpaper.

  • It is vital therefore that we actively look for what family members are doing right. More often than what they’re doing wrong.
  • Healthy families ban criticism and work hard to keep meanness from their vocabulary. As adults we can try to model this and discourage our children from calling each other unkind names.
  • Saying “thank you”, more times than growling about what others aren’t doing, builds relationships. Even for something as simple as making a cup of tea or washing some plates. As parents we are modelling gratitude in this time.
  • Practice expressing what you do need, more often than what frustrates you.
  • Teach ‘I’ statements when expressing something family members are frustrated about, “I feel that I could really do with more support in…”


4. The Power of Stress Reducing Conversations

Julie Gottmann encourages couples to spend time in the evenings in stress reducing conversations. I advise this for families too. i.e. Just listening to the highs and lows of each person’s day. Not trying to solve anything, give advice or tell our teens what they should be grateful for. (Yes gratitude is important. But insisting that someone express gratitude when they need to express pain is not the right time).

Allow everyone to simply have a chance to vent and to feel heard.


5. The Screen-time question

“How much is too much?”

The answer – “It depends…”

Of course, if a child or adult is spending hours and hours in solitude, watching Netflix, they won’t be; connecting with others, stimulating their minds, moving their bodies or getting fresh air.

With younger children, teens and adults in one house, someone is likely to be Zooming, Skyping or House-partying at any given moment.

This is not the time to overly restrict screen-time. I don’t mean all boundaries go out of the window, because young people are more vulnerable than ever at this time.

“Higher use of the internet during the COVID-19 crisis has been accompanied by a 40 per cent spike in reports to eSafety across its reporting areas.” eSafety Commissioner

It is still vital for our tweens and younger teens to have:

  • their technology in public spaces, (i.e online schooling at the dining table and phones out of bedrooms).
  • us keep an eye on content being accessed (i.e.social media is for over 13s, any movies or games downloaded)
  • boundaries for bedtimes
  • screen-free down times


Yet,  although our young people use devices to do school work, refine a skill and connect to exercise gurus (thanks P.E with Joe!). A big part of their screen time will be to socialise. They will need to continue to do this over the next few weeks. Gaming or social media are great sources of connection with friends they are missing dearly.


6. The Daily Essentials

To maintain Mental Fitness, make times in your day where you focus on a few rituals that communicate warmth, affection and safety. Rough and tumble play, touch or hugs are such a vital part of connection. There are both psychological and physiological benefits to healthy touch.

Find ways to touch family members and children that speak their love language. Particularly at this time, when young people have to maintain the physical distancing  boundaries from friends who form such an important part of their lives.

Ensure teens and adults are getting some sunshine, drinking water, eating nutritious meals, exercising, reading books.

Have a few fun times planned – play a board game, eat a meal on the balcony, camp in the backyard, sleep in a blanket fort or light a fire and toast marshmallows in the middle of the week.

I keep saying this, but find some humour. Humour is such a healthy outlet for stress and it normalises anxieties shared by all of us.


Last thoughts

To finish where I started, Julie Gottman says, “We need each other more than ever — especially those we live with.  Let’s cultivate a little more kindness between us.”


If you prefer to listen along, here is the link to my podcast on this topic. It is part of a 4 part series called, ‘The Mental Fitness podcast’. Available on Spotify, Apple podcasts and more.

Go to, ‘Mental Fitness Part 2 – When Schooling Comes Home.’

Please take care!



‘Wellbeing with Collett’ video: Surviving Family Quarantine.





Ideas to Manage T(w)een Anxiety About COVID-19

by Collett Smart

Ideas to Manage Teen Anxiety About COVID-19

Like many reading this, I am a parent (I have 3 children, one already an adult) – and the talk of COVID-19 has been part of our daily conversation in the last weeks. Especially since the flow of information (and misinformation) has picked up. It’s difficult to ignore isn’t it? Reports are everywhere. On every screen, in every feed, every board meeting, work site and school staff meeting. I think many of us have vacillated between the ‘what nows?’ and the ‘what ifs?


We know that we can’t shield our tweens and teens, because they will hear about it anyway, from peers, siblings, online… But how much is too much information? And what is age appropriate? How do we help our teens and tweens manage their anxiety about COVID-19? How do we steer away from the fear?


As a Start


Even teenagers look to the adults in their lives for behavioural cues. They learn from us about how concerned they should be about anything unknown or new. Even without words, our behaviour can inadvertently create a climate of distress in our homes. So it is important that we have support people to turn to, if we are feeling anxious ourselves.

Normalise Anxiety

Concern for the unknown or some new disease is a perfectly normal reaction. Encourage your children that not all anxiety is bad. It is our brain’s brilliant way of keeping us safe from and alert to danger. Anxiety works like an alarm system, which prompts us to think of ways to look after ourselves.

It’s just that an oversensitive alarm system can lead us to irrational thoughts and fears, which affect our healthy daily functioning. So how do we keep this alarm system in check, during this time? (I’ll get to that soon…)

Monitor your child

Even within developmental stages, children will display differences in how they respond to certain pieces of news or information. Just because your tween does not verbalise that they feel anxious (they may not even recognise anxiety in themselves), does not mean they are not struggling with something they have heard.

You know your child best, so looks for signs that they are not doing well. I.e. regression, sleep issues (struggling to fall asleep, waking up in the night and worrying, nightmares), changes in appetite, changes in behaviour (acting out, withdrawal, bouts of crying for seemingly small things), separation anxiety (not wanting to go to school, usual activities or to be left alone), sudden headaches or tummy aches and drop in school performance.


What to Say

Be proactive

At this time, it is a good idea to be proactive. Start by finding out what your child has heard and what they know, before launching into too many details.

This can be done by asking open ended questions like, “Can you tell me what you heard about that?”

You can also ask specifically if they have any fears or concerns. Keep in mind that your t(w)een’s primary response to ‘scary’ or unknown news can often be emotional, rather than intellectual.

The real question behind their question is usually, “Am I safe?”


This is the most important bit – Listen well!

When your kids come home with stories from a classmate who said that you or grandma might die, this could be the underlying fear of the COVID-19 stories, for them.

Rather than simply saying, “Oh, I’ll be fine.” or “That’s a silly thing to say.”  or, “Just forget about it.” – acknowledge the emotion with something like, “That must have felt scary to hear.” or  “That must have worried you.” Do lots of listening. Ask more open ended questions and then listen some more. Even if your teens’s question or fear seems ‘silly’ to you – don’t minimise.

If it is important to them it should be important to you. This helps your child feel heard and develops a sense that you care about them.


How Much to Say

Tailor your approach to each child’s age, maturity level, ability to process information and exposure to reports about the virus. Molly Gardner, a paediatric psychologist told TIME magazine, “Being informed and being anxious are two different things… The more we beat around the bush with kids, the more they might get confused.”

Preteens and teens

With most very young children, we know that shielding is the best option, but older children and teens have more exposure to current events. I have written before, that adults can sometimes assume their teens are coping with the overload of media reported trauma – while quietly – they are imploding. For many teens, their imaginations (fuelled by sometimes unreliable social media reported trauma and a constant stream of graphic images) can magnify the events to even greater levels of terror.

Our tweens and teens can usually cope with frank discussions. Again, stick to the facts. However, highlighting the misinformation and hype, represented in some media reports, can teach young people to become more critical media users themselves. Find realistic and trusted news sources that your family can follow. Brainstorm with teens, some practical steps to follow.


What to Do

A study about empowering families during a healthcare crisis recommends the CARE approach:

Emotional Support


Engaging the CARE principles (not necessarily in this order) helps young people and families feel empowered. It reduces, and may even improve the risk of anxiety and trauma responses.

(1) CHOICES – Offer power in a powerless environment

This might look like:

  • Channelling their anxiety into useful action. i.e. everyone can do something to help slow the spread of disease, using hand sanitiser, by coughing into your elbow, washing your hands regularly.
  • Distraction – because when we fixate on negative information our anxiety grows. Yet, if we turn our attention to healthy activities, it shrinks. Ask your child to choose some healthy distraction activities, e.g. Doing their homework, remaining physically active, cuddling a pet, playing a board game or watching a favourite show.
  • Encouraging teens to take a break from, or at least limit exposure to, news and social media reports on the virus.

(2) AGENDA – Let children and families know what to expect and what is expected of them.
  • This could be by explaining the school’s plan for learning, if the school were to close for a few weeks. (Final year students might be especially anxious about this).
  • Think about what activities they could do during this time (both academic and for relaxation).
  • If your child is disappointed that a scheduled event has been cancelled, just listen. Let them vent.
  • Explain what ‘physical distancing’ (social distancing) means, and why ‘flattening the curve‘ is an important part of government decisions.
  • Then talk about what steps you would take if a family member did contract the virus (because kids are wondering about this!) What is your family plan?

(3) RESILIENCE – Highlight strengths and reframe negatives
  • Research suggests that teenagers feel better when they turn their attention to supporting others during difficulty. There is great power in volunteering.
  • Talk about what ‘love in action’ looks like in a time like this. Think about what you would do to support grandparents, family members or neighbours who are vulnerable or have a disability. E.g. Collect and drop off food parcels, toiletries and medicines.
  • Model mindfulness and gratitude (without minimising teens’ concerns)
  • Find current examples of ‘helpers’. Like the one about 19-year-old NBL star Zion Williamson’s incredible act of kindness.

My favourite quote on reframing negatives is by Fred Rogers,

Ideas to Manage Tween Anxiety About COVID-19


(4) EMOTIONAL SUPPORT – Recognise and normalise common fears and responses
  • Keep providing daily emotional first aid. Check in on how your children are feeling.
  • Remind them you are there to listen to any questions or concerns.
  • Some young people find that their faith brings them great comfort, in times of crisis. Support them in this.
  • You might like to help your t(w)een begin a daily (short term) journal or worry box, where they can write down their fears. Then be sure to balance these with something from principles 1, 2 and 3.


One last thought – Find Some Humour

Humour can often highlight the craziness of humanity, but also normalise our response to the unknown. There are so many toilet paper memes going around. See who can find the best one.







My Interview on Channel 7





? ‘Bad News’ Media & Talking with our Children.

Today, for ‘Wellbeing Wednesday’ I chat with Fiona about media consumption and talking with our children.


We know that we can’t shield our children, because they will hear ‘bad news’… from peers, siblings, online… But how much is too much information? And what is age appropriate? (I cover both younger children and teens in this video).


This is one of the latest videos on our new set! On Channel 7 every Sunday morning at 9:30 am.



I have written about talking with anxious tweens and teens, about COVID-19 here. And other ‘bad news’ media here.




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