It’s difficult enough having a full-time job. Parental responsibilities come on top of all that is required, and children don’t take days off. During the recent shelter in place orders, things have gotten much more complicated. Not only are we still expected to work full time and transition our homes into our new work space, but we are expected to manage our children’s educational needs. The most important thing to remember is that no one is expecting you to give 200%. The most any of us can do is “the best we can” and allow for compassion and understanding to assist us in finding ways to keep trying when working from home with children.
Just like when we went into the office each day, we had a schedule. From meetings to deadlines and everything in between we planned our day accordingly. So did your children. They knew when to ask questions, eat, play and work independently. Most of time we thrive in a routine dense environment. It provides comfort knowing what is expected and reduces anxiety in what can occur in downtime. This means we need to recreate this in our new work from home environment. Consider these tips:
Start with a reasonable wake time. Allow for similar “typical” times in the morning to awaken, eat, and be in “sloth mode” for a bit. Try to maintain this time daily to allow for the remainder of the day to transpire on schedule.
Plan for activity and consider age appropriate attention spans. Most agree that 2-5 minutes per age is the average amount of time a child can be expected to focus on a task.
Plan for a physical or downtime activity after a larger focusing period. Allow your children to go outside for 15-30 minutes of unstructured time. Let them be creative. Put out some sidewalk chalk and encourage the inner artist. Create an obstacle course from some of their toys and the space in your back/front yard. Click here for some great ideas.
Remember to pause for snacking. Most children and teens need to eat every three to four hours throughout the day to fuel their growing, active bodies. This translates into the following:
→ Younger kids need to eat three meals and at least two snacks a day.
→ Older kids need to eat three meals and at least one snack a day (they may need two snacks if they’re going through a growth spurt or if they are very physically active).
Provide pre-constructed snack options for your child to allow for independence. This would be like sending them with a lunch box each day. Children are quite capable of feeding themselves and this provides another way you can remove yourself from having to intervene.
Allow for set times of instruction time through the day. Repeat the previous steps through out the day to complete the learning objectives designated by your child’s teacher. Your child should be able to perform most of these independently. If there are questions, suggest your child either write them down to go over with you later or move on to another task they are more confident completing. Children should be encouraged to problem solve on their own but we want to reduce the frustration they can feel when “stuck”. Based on your work demands, there are going to be certain periods of the day when you are unavailable and our children will need to work on adhering to this. Keep in mind the reasonable expectations for their age, and understand they will not be able to put in an 8-10-hour day like an adult.
Create a defined work space for your child where they can focus with minimal interruption. Make sure they have all the supplies they might need. Their space should be independent of siblings as they can be an unwanted distraction.
When their instruction is done (even if yours is not) allow them to decompress in ways that you may have restricted prior to the current “normal”. Consider allowing them screen time, chatting with friends, napping, etc. to recoup and feel grounded. Certainly have limits, but recognize that their days are not going to be as fully structured and long and they will need time to themselves.
Make meals a time of day to reconnect. Don’t invite the electronics. Make sure everyone is present and participating in whatever ways they can. Younger children can set the table, while older ones can assist with food prep and cooking. Everyone can help with clean up. Make the most of your time together to talk about your day. A good starting prompt is to ask “what was the best thing about your day…and what was the worst thing about your day?” Allow everyone the opportunity to talk and you will find insight into how each is doing .
Make sure everyone is going to bed near the same time of day they would normally. It is important to get a good night’s sleep and allow your natural circadian rhythm to function properly. Remember routines. If you typically read a story, keep doing this. If you put a limit on electronics, keep doing this.
Encourage a weekly family meeting time to discuss upcoming events, changes to schedules, and to hear comments from all about how to run things more smoothly. Don’t just do this when something is not working. Regular communication can help to anticipate problems and solve them before they create a breakdown and frustration.
Remember your children are children. Think about fun ways to keep everyone motivated while they work. Suggestions are to have a spirit week where each day has a theme (i.e. Pajama day, team sport day, etc). Having everyone participate allows for family connection and encourages little ones to look forward to each day. Create family time each day. Simple ways can be taking a walk in your neighborhood and noticing things you may not have before, family movie night complete with popcorn, etc.
Finally, be compassionate with yourself and your children as you work through these difficult times. Remember its everyone’s first time going through a global pandemic.
Stephanie Phillips, LCMHC, NCC, CCTP
Psychotherapist & Owner
The Mindly Group, PLLC