It’s happening. Schools are closing, teachers are planning online lessons, and professionals are teleworking.
As working parents, balancing all these changes is easier said than done. How are we supposed to continue our work, report to our supervisors about deadlines and projects, and answer phone calls while our children are underfoot, and support their online learning? Plus, not many of us have decked out home offices, Wi-Fi to support the entire family, or even the bandwidth to tackle parenting and keeping the house germ-free and calm.
This is our new reality, at least for the time being. It’s time to figure out how we are going to keep ourselves going and support our kids. Remember these three things: 1) Don't Panic. 2) Establish a New Routine. 3) Find the Joy.
1. Don’t Panic
It seems like every day we wake up and there is new information and new worries about COVID-19. As parents, we have to remember that our children hear, see, and feel everything. As parents, our job is to keep them safe and healthy, both physically and emotionally. They are hearing a lot about COVID-19 and, depending on the age of your child, it’s important to think about how to speak with them about what they’re hearing and how your family is responding.
Here are some great resources for talking with your children about the coronavirus:
- Child Mind: Talking to Kids about the Coronavirus
- Kids Health: Coronavirus (COVID-19): How to Talk to Your Child
- Harvard Health: How to talk to Children about the Coronavirus
- Psychology Today: How to talk with Kids and Teens about the Coronavirus
- Unicef: How to talk to your child about coronavirus 2019: COVID-19
2. Establish a New Routine
Setting a routine for this new life is essential. Your routine will be critical for your work productivity, and it will even be more important to ensure your child feels safe and taken care of during this time of uncertainty. Research shows time and again that routines and structure help reduce stress, improve immune systems, and have a myriad of additional benefits.
Create a structure for your day that allows you to have some work time as well as some downtime. Teleworking with kids at home means you might have to consider a “longer” workday so that you can be an available parent and also keep your work progressing. It will be helpful to chunk out your day so there are clear times for work and play.
It might help to come together as a family to discuss your telework and distance learning plans. Involve your child in developing the schedule for the day. Get out the poster board and markers and post the schedule where all can see. For older students, develop a list of mutually agreed upon interruptions that are allowed. That said, be flexible—you may need to adjust over time.
Below are some of our other suggestions as you work out your plan.
Get Up and Go
Without your daily commute to the office, it might feel tempting to short-change your morning routine. It's important that you keep your routine, but maybe add a few more tweaks to prepare for the workday (and full day of parenting) at home. Be sure you change out of your pajamas, brush teeth, shower, etc.
- A daily routine begins the night before. Set out your telework clothes and have your child do the same the night before. With younger children, set the clothes out together. For some children, you might want to ensure that it’s clear once the clothes have been selected, there is no turning back in the morning.
- Set your alarm and get up! Resist the urge to hit the snooze button (or not even set the alarm). Even if you aren’t going into the office for the time being, getting up at the same time every day will maintain your daily rhythms and will help keep you feeling more centered. When the alarm goes off, you should literally count 5-4-3-2-1 and stand up. When we hit the snooze button for 10-30 minutes, our bodies begin to go into sleep inertia for up to 4 hours! Have you ever wondered why you can feel so tired all day long, even though you got extra sleep that morning?
- You may want to add in some self-care elements to your morning before the kids wake up, including a morning walk, listening to music, exercising, or journaling.
- Eat breakfast together. Take advantage of this time you might not always have in the rush of weekday mornings when you’re all trying to get out of the door. Be sure to turn the TV, phone, iPad or any other distracting devices off (or at least silenced) so you are fully present. Making breakfast together can be a good learning experience for children—you can weave in some of the skills your child has been working on in school by having them write menus for your breakfast (literacy) and set the table (math)! You can give older children the responsibility of finding a healthy recipe and measuring out each ingredient.
Structuring the Morning
- Determine work “start time” and “end time.”
- Create a list of the tasks to accomplish and to focus your time. Pick one personal and one professional project to tackle.
- Take a mid-morning break as a family (go for a walk, play a game, or set up the expectation that each family member is in charge of “teaching” the rest of the family a skill or activity).
- Carve out time to help your child with schoolwork (or whatever your school has set in place for this time away from the classroom).
- Before lunch make progress on your priority task list, check emails and respond.
Take a Lunch Break
Put on some music, set up a picnic in the living room, whatever it takes to power up for the afternoon!
Structuring the Afternoon
- Quiet time for the kids—a great time for some screen time, reading a book (or listening to an audio book), nap time, or quiet activities that the kids can do independently. You will want to consider the age appropriateness for your child. For younger children, think felt games, window or wall gel stickers, board books, and puffy stickers with foam shapes. For older children, notebooks, special pens, chapter books, geoboards, and puzzles are great options. Get creative!
- Revisit your child’s distance learning plan and check in on next steps (or whatever your school has set in place for this time away from the classroom).
- Mid-afternoon check: respond to emails and review your priority task list.
- Take an afternoon break as a family (a quick jaunt to the playground, a walk with the dog around the block, a scooter ride down the street, plant some flowers in the backyard, or have the next family member take a turn “teaching” the rest of the family something).
- Transition out of your work for at least a few hours. Devote the next part of the day to supporting any more online learning, playtime, preparing dinner, etc.
- Spend some extra snuggle time with your child. It has likely been a long day but treasure these moments when you can reflect on the day together, and think about new activities for tomorrow.
- At the end of the workday assess your progress. Review the goals you identified and celebrate! And/or recalibrate for tomorrow’s plan.
3. Find the Joy
Let’s be real. This is a lot. We are worried about catching coronavirus. And now we are working remotely with our kids at home. In order for us to cope, we have to also find the joy and some silver linings. Look for opportunities during the day to just soak up your child. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Consider all the amazing things you’ve done during the day and be proud of yourself for juggling it all. Take some time to reflect, re-energize and take care of yourself.