Q: My eighth-grade daughter has been struggling immensely since the pandemic hit. She hasn't set foot in school since last March, and she hates distance learning. She suffers from anxiety, and this year has been the worst for her and the family. She's now refusing to go to Zoom school, and I don't blame her. She's not learning much, hates being on camera and feels as if no one cares about her well-being at school. She recently asked if I could home-school her instead. Is this a legitimate option? Should I consider an alternative? I'm not sure I could do this, because I have to work. What options are there?

A: Thank you for this question; you are not alone. More parents have considered home schooling and unschooling than I have seen in all my years of teaching, parenting and coaching. Some parents have been considering it for a while, and the pandemic has offered the obvious push toward the home-schooling path. Some parents feel as if their kids were doing “okay” before, but have realized their children are flourishing at home. Then, there are some children who were doing well before, but are now falling apart because of the lack of routine and connections. The screens, lack of friends, lack of movement and the “Groundhog Day” feeling have left many middle-schoolers feeling adrift, anxious and depressed. What are your options? Well, home schooling is one, and it’s completely legitimate.

From what you have told me, this anxiety is directly related to the pandemic, so you have some choices. You can hope that in-person school will happen again soon and that she will improve by simply being there, so you can create plans to make it to that point. Or, an in-school option may not be arriving anytime soon. If we’re looking at virtual school for the rest of spring, home schooling could be a real option. Either way, you may want her to see a counselor to assess how debilitating the anxiety (and possible depression) has become. I would not want you to jump out of the spring of eighth grade to home-school her, only to learn that your daughter’s mental health needs more care. If her anxiety is off the charts, home schooling may not be a solution.

To start, you need to reach out to your daughter’s teachers and school counselor to let them know how your daughter is faring, and you can try to create a plan together. As much as possible, your child should be involved in the plan, so there is a feeling of safety, support and structure.

What do you need to know to begin home schooling? Author and home-schooling mentor Camille Kirksey of the Intuitive Homeschooler says that “the key to making it work will be not if you can, but if you’re willing to find ways to do so. If the answer is yes, then you’re already halfway there.”

And backing up what Kirksey said: Home-schooling websites suggest a dedication to the decision to home-school your child. Flip-flopping around on the choice is a way to hurt your relationship with your child as you bring about more power struggles in an already fraught time.

If you decide that you’re going to give home schooling a legitimate try, I would strongly suggest finding a mentor. Because you’re working, your daughter will be starting high school and we’re in a pandemic, you deserve all the support you can get. People like Kirksey are ready to help you and your daughter find the right program. And, like all big decisions, it will take both time and patience for this transition to take hold. “First, breathe,” Kirksey says. “Next, know that it’s all trial and error, so don’t be too hard on yourself if something doesn’t work out in your child’s favor. Just stay open to trying new things to find what works. Eventually, you’ll find the right pieces to the puzzle. Confidence comes from trying different things and learning to trust the home-schooling process.”

And because the Internet is both a gift and our nemesis, you can find every kind of curriculum, support group, grading system and community imaginable. Try not to fall down a rabbit hole (which anxiety loves), make common-sense decisions and move forward.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the mental well-being of ourselves and our children is more important than Zoom school and completing tasks. We want your daughter to emerge with her sense of safety and hope intact. And I want this for you, too. Good luck.

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