APRIL 23, 2020

COVID-19 Life Lessons: Homeschooling a Child With a Chronic Health Condition


No matter how many baby books you read, no matter how many parenting classes you may take, no matter how prepared you think you are, nothing can really get you ready for the challenges of raising a child. After all, this little being has been entrusted to your care. It’s your job to make sure they grow up strong and happy. That you present a good human being to this world and give them the skills to have a good life.

But when your child has special needs like a chronic condition, all those challenges that go along with parenting can feel like they’ve been multiplied tenfold. Now you are fighting for your child’s health, their quality of life now and for all the years to come. This fight has taken on a completely different look in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. While children have been largely unaffected by COVID-19, even children with chronic conditions, when you are sheltering in place as well as homeschooling, there are some extra safety measures you can take.

Giving your child the best today and the brightest tomorrow imaginable may well mean making the decision to homeschool. But trying to give your child the best possible education at home while also attending to their special health needs can feel like an impossible feat.

No matter how overwhelming and intimidating it all may seem right now, though, there are strategies and resources to help. Read on to learn more!

Getting Off to a Good Start

Making the decision to homeschool your child isn’t easy. It can be hard to know where to begin, so the first step to making the transition to homeschooling is to do a bit of homework on your own and enlist the resources you need to help you. Organizations like The Homeschool Foundation can help hook you up with equipment, assistive devices, and teaching materials customized to your child’s particular learning needs. Your child’s particular health condition, for example, may mean that alternative learning materials, such as large print or audio textbooks or assisted communication devices, will help to optimize their learning from home.

It’s also a great idea to connect with other homeschooling families, particularly those who are also homeschooling due to a chronic health condition. Reach out to new and experienced homeschoolers both in-person and online. Use message boards to ask questions and get the latest tips and tricks to make your child’s homeschooling experience the best it can be. You will likely become very familiar with video technology like Skype or Zoom, especially if your homeschool student is middle or high school-aged. These technologies are used regularly by members of organizations that need to communicate with remote employees. Just like the rest of the world, if you haven’t already, it’s time to get used to using video conferencing tech to communicate with “the outside world” while isolating your family during the pandemic.

When your child is facing a chronic health challenge, it is easy for her—and you—to feel isolated. Homeschooling can exacerbate this feeling. This makes connecting with other special needs, homeschooling families particularly important. Reaching out to homeschooling organizations, as well as connecting with homeschooling communities, will enable you and your child to build relationships with others in similar situations.

Medical Protections

The COVID-19 outbreak has plunged the world into one of many unknowns. One of the biggest is whether or not children are at great risk for contracting the disease brought on by the coronavirus. In most cases when children have become ill with COVID-19, they have experienced very mild symptoms.

The children who are most vulnerable are obviously those with chronic conditions such as asthma, but as noted earlier, even they are withstanding the disease much better than their adult counterparts. This is likely because their immune systems are accustomed to working overtime in order to keep them safe. Make sure everyone in your household is following handwashing guidelines such as washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Wear protective gloves if need be, especially if you don’t usually.

This doesn’t preclude taking extra precautions than you might normally do while teaching your students at home. The Centers for Disease Control is now saying that wearing homemade masks, especially when going out in public if absolutely necessary, is better than wearing no protection at all. There are plenty of online tutorials for making your own, and this could be a perfect craft project for older students.

Coping with Behavioral Challenges

It’s not only the presence of a physical health challenge that can inspire parents to make the decision to homeschool. Many children struggle in traditional school environments, particularly children who are faced with mental illness or behavioral disorders. For these children, the mainstream classroom may simply be too stimulating, too structured, or too demanding to meet their needs.

With homeschooling, you’ll have the ability to tailor your child’s learning environment to her particular needs, meaning she’s going to be far less likely to hate the whole learning process.   And because of that, there’s going to be less reason for her to act out in the first place.

When children are confronted with a chronic health condition, they will almost inevitably experience a significant number of school absences. This, combined with the effects of dealing with the illness and its treatment, may easily put children behind their healthy peers who are able to attend school every day. And that can lead to frustration, disappointment, and even embarrassment, making them feel disgruntled about school as a whole.

Creating an effective homeschool environment, though, means having a strategy in place before the disruptive behavior occurs. And that involves understanding where the behavior typically comes from in the first place. In most cases, children act out because they are frustrated and they lack the coping and communication skills they need to manage those feelings.

Try to create a learning environment, then, that provides the best conditions for positive behaviors. Allow your child to take frequent breaks. Reward her with frequent, specific praise for positive behaviors, no matter how seemingly small they may be.

Above all, when you sense your child’s frustration is growing, redirect her, or, better still, talk it out, patiently. If your child has trouble communicating verbally, look for nonverbal cues, and consider providing an alternative means to communicate, such as asking her to draw how she feels at the moment.

Addressing Mental Illness

Another important reason parents may choose to homeschool is because their child is battling some form of mental illness. With incidents of bullying skyrocketing in recent years, far too many children have found school to be a site of their worst traumas.

This can trigger extreme, debilitating, and even life-threatening depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Homeschooling, however, enables family members to remove the child from the scene of their suffering and attend to their education in a safe and loving environment. Studies show, in fact, that homeschooling can provide enormous mental health benefits, particularly for children at risk for mental illness due to trauma or family history.

However, as beneficial as homeschooling may be for some children suffering from psychiatric disorders, home-based learning will likely not be enough to ensure the care they need. So it will be important to incorporate mental health care from a trained healthcare provider into your homeschooling routine. Your family nurse practitioner, for example, can be a wonderful resource if your child is suffering from depression or anxiety.

For more help with this topic, listen to our Homeschooling & Loving It Podcast on How to Deal with Anxiety in Children.

Make It Awesome

Let’s face it. Not all kids like school. In fact, a lot of them downright hate it. Then you have the reality that your child is also battling a chronic illness. That means your kid is facing a lot that other kids don’t have to deal with. He’s probably anxious, mad, and scared all at once and pretty much all the time. But homeschooling doesn’t have to be a battle and it doesn’t have to be a drag.

Try mixing things up a little. Let your kid take the lead once in a while. Let him tell you what he wants to study and do that day. Better still, switch roles and let him play the teacher for the day! After all, one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to somebody else. Children who are battling chronic health issues often feel powerless and helpless. Giving them the chance to take charge can inject a much-needed sense of self-confidence and self-determination for a child facing a lot of uncertainty. Use current events to create lessons, such as ones on how viruses work or how governments create public health policies.

If all else fails, give it up and get out of the house if you can. Take a field trip or go see a movie and talk about it after. You can still use that parental craftiness to sneak in a bit of history or English as you talk about the latest animated flick or superhero movie!

The Takeaway

Homeschooling is not always an easy transition to make, but it can be far and away the best thing for your child. This is especially true if your child also happens to be battling a chronic health condition. What matters is to be strategic, patient, and confident–and to reach out for help when you need it!

More about the author…

Sam Bowman is a writer who enjoys getting to utilize the internet for community without actually having to leave his house. In his spare time, he likes running, reading, and combining the two in a run to his local bookstore.