As many parents are now quarantined with their children, some may find themselves in a difficult predicament: balancing family, work and schooling in an entirely new way. While having to juggle so many tasks simultaneously can feel overwhelming, there are a few things that can help make navigating this new reality a bit easier. Read on for a few of them.
1. Remain calm.
Now more than ever before, children need as much stability as possible. They look to adults to model how they should respond during uncertain times, and words and actions are impactful ways to provide the reassurance that they need.
To maintain a sense of calm, adults should be aware of their own anxieties and fears, as well as their behaviors that may act as a barrier to inner peace. One way to do so is to create a mantra: “This to shall pass,” or “This is temporary.” When you or your family feels stressed, repeat the mantra as you together practice deep breathing.
It can be helpful to think of the things that have helped reduce stress in the past. Perhaps it’s calling a friend, praying or turning off the news and refraining from using social media every once in a while. Modeling these behaviors and sharing these solutions with your kids can be helpful in promoting tranquility within the home. Also, model talking about the good things that are happening and the highlights of the day. Modeling a positive attitude will help your children cope and teach them perspective-taking skills that will benefit them as they grow and face other challenges in life.
2. Create a schedule.
Design a schedule for your child that replicates their typical school week, maintaining similar wake and sleep schedules as well as including a specific start and end time to academic activities. Include snack, play and lunch breaks into the schedule. Map out their learning plan. This will help maintain a sense of normalcy, which will allow your child to feel safer, too.
When creating the daily timetable, discuss it with your children and invite them to create a visual schedule with you. This way they feel invested in the schedule. Allow a “free-choice” activity and give them some options for said activity. Place the schedule in a visible spot.
Younger children may need more of your attention. If this is the case, and your work allows, consider spreading out your working hours throughout the day. Consider working a few hours in the morning, some in the afternoon and then in the evening, while taking care of the needs of your children in between.
3. Create a sense of consistency.
Even though a lot has changed, a lot has stayed the same. Point out to your children some of the consistencies. For example, we still eat breakfast together, we still brush our teeth and wash our face before we start the day, we are still expected to learn and work, we still watch our favorite TV shows and we still live as a family.
4. Set expectations.
Setting expectations with your children about sticking to a school, work and play routine as early as possible is key to maintaining balance. By doing so, you’re ensuring that your child is having their needs met while not compromising your own career, should you be working from home.
You can even discuss rewards that your children can earn for engaging in and completing their assigned activities and following the schedule. You can use a reward chest with small trinkets or a privilege list that also includes treats, like ice cream. Create the reward list with your children and place it next to the schedule. This way your children understand they can earn prizes, treats or privileges for following through on the expected routine, which will hopefully allow you to tend to some of your other obligations and decrease stress.
5. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
While maintaining a schedule is helpful, don’t beat yourself up if you’re not able to stick to it entirely. Simply do the best you can, which can sometimes mean ensuring your child is fed for the day and dedicating a little time to school assignments.
Also, remember that you aren’t a teacher – and even if you are, you’re likely not responsible for your own child’s full-time schooling – so don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re unsure of an answer or confused by a mathematical theorem. These are unusual and unprecedented circumstances, after all.
6. Encourage literacy.
Experts have observed a slight decline in children’s literacy abilities following long summer breaks. To prevent this from happening while their usual academic routine is on pause, have your child read daily, or read with them. Check out these free e-books from “Sesame Street” or this complimentary e-book collection from Amazon.
7. Exercise together.
Get your kids involved with your own activities. If you tend to exercise in the afternoon, let them work out with you. Yoga is a great form of exercise that also teaches mindfulness and reduces stress. Also consider exploring different relaxation techniques together such as deep breathing, mindfulness or meditation; these practices can help relieve anxiety in adults and children alike.
8. Be intentional with family time.
Quality time is even more valuable when it’s intentional. Here are a few ways you can sprinkle in some fun, while adding a bit of variety to the day.
9. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If you have a partner or an older child at home, don’t be afraid to ask them to pitch in or delegate certain tasks such as cleaning or cooking. This isn’t something you should feel guilty about. In fact, it can help promote teamwork among family members and create boundaries at home.
Use Facetime or other video chatting apps to reach out to friends and family. Create virtual social events with friends in order to vent and receive validation. Talking with those who are experiencing similar situations can help you feel less isolated.
10. Take care of yourself.
During stressful times such as these, parents should pay extra attention to their own needs, as caregiving can be a risk factor for anxiety and depression. Make sure to set aside a little alone time for yourself – whether it’s spent reading, pampering yourself or even vegging out in front of the TV – and build this time into your schedule.
And remember: your family can’t be cared for properly unless you’re also caring for yourself.
Ochsner: To Your Health; By LEE ANN ANNOTTI, PHD