The dual role of parenting in the COVID-19 era and how schools can help

March 2020 felt like a game board was suddenly tipped over and all the pieces went flying around. As we began picking them up, stunned and scared, we realized that one of the biggest challenges families with school-aged children were facing was the rapid shift to online learning, and the role parents had to assume in this new format. Even as things begin to improve and the hope for a return to normal is in America, the pandemic continues to ravage Latin American countries and many around the world, and the challenges of serving multiple roles for children at home have not dissipated.

Shifting to distance learning has been a major adjustment for children and teachers, and even harder for parents. Teachers had to use everything in their toolbox and go into overdrive curating content and sharpening their technology skills.

The new world of distance learning has been difficult for us as educators because, no matter how tech savvy we are, learning sometimes requires a different approach that isn’t easily adaptable to an online setting. Now imagine how hard it can be for parents.

Parents were expected to step in as learning support and facilitators. Every day families would have to tackle Google Classroom pages, assignments to be completed, new online platforms, emails, and Zoom meetings. This challenge also represented an added responsibility for parents since they had to juggle a whole new world themselves, managing their personal work from home, the health risks of the pandemic, and growing household chores. Not only is it an added responsibility but a significantly harder one for them as well, one that does not come with a handbook or past experiences to inform their plans.

The learning curve was steep and had to be climbed as quickly as possible. For the most part, all stakeholders have risen to the challenge and, although the road has been bumpy and we are more aware than ever of the importance of the classroom experience for children and the whole education community, it has allowed us all to expand our horizons towards the value of life-long learning out of the classroom walls. Being in the classroom physically has been proven important, but it is also true that a new frontier has been crossed and distance learning is here to stay.

For this to really work in the long run, we need committed parental support wherever it’s available.

One of the biggest concerns in schools all over the world right now is how to prepare parents for this new role and the challenges it brings. This means that educators have to support parents and teach them how to deliver their support effectively.

And parents will first need to understand the fine line between coaching their children, supporting them, and interfering with their education.

Research and our experience suggest schools consider the following tips to share with parents and guide them through the next phase of distance learning:

  1. Although children and their parents are at home, it’s important to set boundaries between work and play. Children should have a designated workspace and a daily school routine. A clear schedule for the day is helpful. This includes getting up at the same time, getting dressed, eating a healthy breakfast, and showing up to online meetings on time. Once school time and assignments are completed, children should have time for physical activity, even if it’s inside the house, and play. Evening downtime before bed is also important.
  2. Parents should be aware of emails and other communications from school. Periodic check-ins with teachers are also beneficial. Knowing how their child is doing academically is always crucial, but now, it’s important to also be aware if children are having difficulty managing distance learning.
  3. Positive attitudes towards school and learning should be modeled and encouraged. Children learn more from what parents do than what they say. If there are concerns or doubts about how the child’s school is handling distance learning, parents should try to minimize criticism towards the teacher or institution and contact the teacher directly for clarification. Children should be motivated to attend classes and participate with the same attitude as if they were inside the classroom.
  4. Monitoring of online activities is fundamental. Children are way more technologically advanced than adults think they are. They navigate cyberspace very skillfully, but due to their age and brain development, lack the skills to protect themselves from the dangers the online world presents. Cybersecurity must be taught to children and be verified by parents.
  5. Parents should be involved continually but assuming the role of facilitator or learning coach. Supporting children in school is necessary for their success but that doesn’t mean overstepping the line and doing the work for them. Children learn through trial and error and constant iterations and their teachers need to know what they can and can’t do to guide their process effectively. If parents only focus on making sure children get a good grade regardless of how, they might inadvertently end up sabotaging their natural learning process with negative consequences for their future. Facilitating children’s learning, besides everything said above, requires being at their side but not hovering over or swooping in.
  6. Make learning at home as joyful as possible. Learning from home will be more successful if the experience brings joy and is celebrated within the family circle. Expanding classroom goals into family projects can make the learning experience a happy and enduring one. For ex: Use pizza night to apply the concept of fractions or bake a cake to make measuring come alive.


We don’t know for sure how far the pandemic will take us but, for now, it is important for all of us to come together and pull through as a team.

As teachers and parents, we have a shared responsibility to communicate a message of resilience, growth, hope, confidence, and commitment which will allow us to emerge from this crisis stronger than ever.

Pilar Castro, M.Ed.
Pilar Castro, M.Ed. is the Optimal Resource Center Coordinator at Colegio Karl C. Parrish (KCP) in Barranquilla, Colombia. The Optimal Resource Center (ORC) offers support, guidance, and instruction to eligible students with diverse learning needs to allow them to reach their highest potential. Castro has worked at KCP for the past 30 years and has held various positions along the way, including ESL Assistant, ESL Specialist, Learning Specialist, and School Psychometrician. She also worked as an ESL Teacher at Nightingale School, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Pilar has an undergraduate degree in Communications from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, in Bogotá, Colombia; a Master of Education with an Emphasis on Cognition from Universidad del Norte, in Barranquilla, Colombia, and a Master’s in Clinical Psychopedagogy from Universidad de León, in León, Spain. Castro also received training at the Optimal Match Network Institute, a program offered, at Johns Hopkins University, by the U.S. State Department to train professionals in the areas of assessment and intervention for students with special needs.