When kids can’t sit still and work

by Kathy Kuhl    Part 3 of the Coronavirus Homeschool Survival Guide

“Focus!” “Pay attention!” “Why don’t you sit down and get to work?”  Your children and teens can have trouble settling down to their schoolwork for lots of reasons.

Today I’ll look at what can keep them from sitting still. We’ll see how we can lessen those problems. Tomorrow we’ll look at tools to make sitting and working easier.

So why can’t they sit still?

Are your expectations realistic?

We’re stressed by the news and the fast-changing situation. Maybe you are worried about how long you’re going to be teaching them at home. When I’m stressed, I can be more demanding of my kids.

If your child is inattentive, distractible, hyperactive, impulsive, some combination, or just a bouncy child, it’s harder for both of you. Maybe as a child, you liked school, completing school assignments neatly and carefully.

You may know your child’s a wiggler, but it’s one thing to get a wiggler off to school and another to try to get that child to work.

When my son was in third grader, I did not want to homeschool him. It was hard enough getting him out the door–with his homework. So I know how you may feel.

Your child may need to move, bounce, and wiggle more than you did as a child. (Tomorrow I’ll talk about how to work that into school. We’ll look at other ways to help distractible students.)

Schools are designed to instruct larger groups of people. There are rows of seats, very limited recess, and other structures to manage hundreds of little people in a relatively small space.

But now you’re at home. you have more freedom to flex the schedule, environment. Enjoy it.

Like any new homeschooler, while you’re supervising homebound kids, you’ll have times when you think, “I can’t do this.” So first, take a deep breath. Then remember what’s important:


Your relationship with your child is more important than finishing any worksheet or textbook.

We all may be stuck at home for a while. So it’s even more important to guard relationships. It’s a good time to be thoughtful and teach relational skills.

Read John Gottman’s book Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, which I reviewed here. It will help you and them relate and cope better with the stresses we face.

Also, I recommend Ken Sande’s newer website, Relational Wisdom 360 , RW360.org Some of his posts cleverly use movie clips to illustrate points. My favorite is the “Really Nice Pants” clip from Will Smith’s movie, The Pursuit of Happyness.


This is important for veteran homeschoolers, too. Being homebound is hard on everyone. Many of homeschoolers are used to taking our children and exploring the community, region, and world. The world makes an interesting classroom. So we’re also adjusting.

Reducing stress

Naturally, with taking on homeschooling–even if you always did kind of want to try it–you feel some concerns. And now, suddenly, we all have to do it. And work from home, find toilet paper, food, hand sanitizer, and keep up with the news without watching screens all day, and get exercise so you don’t go crazy….

Your kids are stressed, too. Their schedules are upended. They’re missing friends. They’re cooped up. They pick up on our stress. They hear our tone of voice.

Older students (and young kids who are gifted) can pick up enough news to be really worried. We need to be honest, reassuring, and not overburden them. Hal and Melanie Young posted wisely on this, with a Christian perspective I share.

Plus, unless you were already homeschooling, you probably don’t know the curriculum that well. It’s hard for kids to wait patiently while parents try to remember how to do something they haven’t done in years. It’s worse when parents were taught a different procedure–or weren’t taught this subject at all. “What on earth do ‘box and whiskers’ have to do with math?”

Because are in extraordinary times, consider your goals. We want our kids to be happy and to learn, to play and to grow resilient. We also want them to grow in good character.

Don’t obsess about finishing a textbook. Instead:

Nurture their love of learning

Because you’re teaching your child at home, you have a rare opportunity to help them learn about what’s outside the school curriculum. You can help them explore what they’d like to learn about. You can share what you liked to learn about. For instance:

  • Go on a nature-journaling walk. Even if you’re in the city, there are plants to observe, draw, and learn about. Can’t get out? Grow seedlings on a windowsill or balcony. Catch a bug and draw it.
  • Show them some of your favorite art works. Let them consider: ask them what they see. Play good music for them of many kinds. Let the little ones bounce and dance and color to the music. What does it remind them of? What do they like?
  • When they ask questions, don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Help grow lifelong learners by encouraging curiosity.
    Don’t go straight to Google. “How could we find out? What can we deduce?” Maybe that lonely elderly neighbor can explain something for you, from six feet away.
  • Have you got skills they’d like to learn? Teach them to sew, cook, iron, weld, change a car’s oil–whatever seems important to you and is appropriate (and at least somewhat interesting) for them. But make it low-stress projects and teach complex skills only when you have time. My first rule for baking with children is that I have to be in a good mood!

So set realistic standards and reduce stress by considering your goals as a parent for your children. Focus on nurturing and protecting  relationships, and strengthen their love of learning.

I welcome your comments, ideas, and questions, below.

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One Comment

  1. Marianne Guevara says:

    Thank-you, Kathy, for sharing these words of wisdom! Yesterday went much better than our first day, which I spent finding us a printer!!