According to the 2023 UNICEF South Africa U-Report poll released this World Mental Health Month, 60% of children and youth in South Africa felt they needed mental health support over the past year.
Of this group, 63% actively sought help — those who didn’t say they didn’t know where to go. Only 36% have ever spoken to their caregivers about their mental health.
In today's fast-paced and high-pressure educational landscape, more parents are considering home-schooling as a means of providing their children with a supportive and stress-free learning environment.
Contrary to popular belief, transitioning from traditional school settings to home or online learning spaces can have a positive impact on children's mental health, helping to alleviate issues such as anxiety and depression.
Louise Schoonwinkel, MD of Optimi Home helps us explore how home-schooling can empower children to thrive mentally and emotionally.
There is a common misconception that shifting children from in-school to home or online learning environments is a stressful experience that makes children feel even more anxious.
The reality, however, is often quite different. While the change may be disruptive at first, home-schooling often decreases children’s stress levels in the long term, according to the Global Student Network.
If you are the parent or guardian of a child or teenager, you might be experiencing these challenges first-hand.
Sudden mood swings, trouble sleeping, unexplained weight loss or gain, social withdrawal, poor academic performance and self-harming are signs that your child might be struggling, said Schoonwinkel.
“This doesn’t exist in isolation, of course, and we still need to ensure that they have loving and nurturing homes, supportive mentors, and access to therapeutic interventions, if necessary. But their education shouldn’t be ignored,” explained Schoonwinkel.
“In many instances, home and online learning spaces can help children cope with their mental health challenges”
5 ways home-schooling and online schooling can improve your child’s mental health:
Decreases stress and encourages Individual growth and self-acceptance
Home-schooling provides an environment that is conducive to mental well-being.
By allowing students to learn in the comfort of their own homes, away from the pressures and stressors often found in traditional school settings, home-schooling offers a sense of safety and security.
This safe space fosters a positive mindset and reduces anxiety levels, enabling students to thrive academically and emotionally.
One of the primary contributors to anxiety in traditional schools is the pressure to fit in and meet societal expectations. Home-schooling eliminates this social pressure, allowing students to focus on their personal growth and development without the fear of judgement or comparison.
They have the freedom to explore their interests, pursue their passions, and develop a strong sense of self-confidence, all of which are essential for maintaining good mental health.
Allows flexibility and freedom
Traditional school settings often impose rigid schedules that disregard the individual needs of children, particularly adolescents whose sleep patterns naturally shift.
According to the Sleep Foundation, teenagers require eight to ten hours of sleep, but early school starts and long days can disrupt their circadian rhythms.
Home-schooling offers the flexibility to create a unique schedule that prioritises sleep, productivity, and personal well-being.
By allowing children to determine their optimal learning times and providing breaks when needed, home-schooling recognises their individual pace and preferences.
As a result, children can focus better, feel more in control of their time and maintain healthier sleep patterns.
Away from triggers
Pupils are away from many of the triggers that can cause children to feel anxious and unhappy — such as class bullies and the expectations and pressures of schools — home and remote learners often start to feel more relaxed and secure.
Over time, this can help to build their confidence and even alleviate symptoms of depression.
Allows them to invest in the physical activities they most enjoy
“Both deliberately and unwittingly, schools often place enormous pressure on children to participate in particular sports. All too often, this is gendered, and boys, girls and non-binary children who go against the grain can find it difficult to play the sports they most enjoy.
“In worst-case scenarios, these learners can be bullied or excluded for their preferences,” explained Scoonwikel.
Home surroundings provide greater freedom. Pupils may also feel free to engage in home-based activities that are not available elsewhere, such as gardening and DIY projects.
Finding physical activities that your child enjoys enhances their emotional and mental well-being and increases their likelihood of participating in these activities in the long run.
She added: “Mental health — and their specific experience of mental health — can even form part of their lesson plan. This can help children to be conscious of their internal battles and teach them valuable tools to communicate and address these thoughts and emotions.”
Permits room for special needs
Out of necessity, teachers in brick-and-mortar schools tend to cater to the median abilities of their learners.
This means that children who struggle to keep up with the pace of classroom environments or who need more time to understand a particular concept risk being left behind.
Home-schooling, according to Schoonwinkel, provides numerous benefits in adapting to children's academic and emotional needs. Its flexibility allows for repeated lessons, deep exploration of complex subjects, and fast progress in easier topics.
This personalised approach helps children overcome anxiety about fitting in and encourages them to express themselves. It also fosters a lifelong love for learning.
“Although there is no cure-all solution for addressing mental health in children and teenagers. It requires deep attention and commitment from parents, guardians, teachers, and others.
“As we seek to address these issues and get all children the support they need, we must ensure that they learn in an environment that best suits their needs. With the immense benefits they afford, home and online learning should always be an option.”