Coronavirus’ exponential spread is affecting everyone. The business world seemed to understand the implications first by announcing work-from-home mandates. Schools across the country are now following suit, leaving working parents in quite a pickle.
We are being asked to be a professional, parent, and teacher all at once and all at home. That’s a pretty tall order; especially with young children who require more supervision.
So, what can we do? How can we increase the odds of delivering on this order?
Here are my Top 7 Tactics for surviving school closures:
1. Give up on playing all roles (professional, parent, teacher) perfectly. Does this seem like a no-brainer? I hope so. Now, more than ever, “good enough” has got to be good enough. You can only do what you can do. Let that be enough.
2. Establish new “school-at-home” routines. An unstructured day will ensure chaos for both you and your children. Involve your children in creating a new daily routine. Let them give input — about the order of events, when snack happens, how long for breaks, etc but be sure to allocate uninterrupted work time for you, too. Ask them to help write it up or create/color pictures for each step. Post it on the wall so that they can see it and help keep themselves on track. More on how to create routine charts here. Here’s an example of the daily routine from one parent who has done home schooling for years:
Breakfast to 10 am: Play inside
10 am to noon: Group project
Art, cooking, jigsaw puzzle, work assigned by the school
Depending on how self-sufficient the children are, this may be an opportunity to work part of the time, or it could be some designated face time with your kids so you can disappear behind your office door later in the day.
Noon to 12:30 pm: Lunch
12:30 to 2:30 pm: Alone time for everyone
Books, educational tablet time, coloring, crafts, infuriating Zoom call with Steve from accounting
2:30 to 4:30 pm: Outside play
Depending on the age of your kids, you can keep an eye on what’s happening but only get involved as needed
4:30 pm until dinner: Regroup time
TV, video games, books
3. Create “parenting shifts” with your co-parent if you have one. Together, decide who’s on point for parenting/teaching during certain times of day. In my home, my husband takes morning duty on Mondays and Tuesdays. I take it on Wednesdays and Thursdays. We share it on Fridays. We have a similar division of labor around evening and “tuck in” duties. When my husband is “on duty,” I’m off, and can fully engage in my own priorities.
If you don’t have a co-parent, consider taking paid time off, short-term disability, or a leave of absence. Another option might be to get someone else to take some shifts. While we have all been advised about “social distancing,” having one other trusted (and healthy) person in your home may be the only other option.
4. Build in time for connection. Anxiety fills the air all around us and children can feel it. Your attention, love, and playful presence helps your child feel secure and calm. Now more than ever, Special Time could make a big difference in your home. Got some favorite board games? A family project that you could do together? Some fun, family activities could also be perfect for this moment in time. Finally, just listening without fixing will allow your child’s concerns and worries to rise to the surface — a much healthier place than trapped inside.
5. Clarify expectations around screen time. As a family, create boundaries around TV, YouTube, social media, gaming, and even news about COVID-19 during “home school” days. When children are around 5 years old and under, you can decide the rules. But if your child is older than 6, you will likely get better compliance if you involve your children in coming up with agreements. Of course, there will be some non-negotiables and you can decide what they are. This Family Media Plan can help with the conversation.
6. Limit your own media consumption time. Last week, I found myself glued to the news channels at every opportunity. I don’t think this is healthy for me. Today, I haven’t turned it on yet (it’s noon) and I feel much better. I’m not recommending that you put your head in the sand; it is important to stay informed. But I do think limiting your media consumption will create more headspace and time for joy, creativity, and love. Get outside and play!
7. Set up a working space for each family member. Decide who’s going to be stationed where, and do your best to create a clean working surface and quiet-ish space so that every person can focus. Our rule has always been “No devices (including phones, laptops, iPads, etc.) in bedrooms” but for the present circumstance, we may need to bend that rule for daytime schooling.
Being home together will be challenging, but at the same time it is an opportunity to slow down and strengthen relationships with the people we love most.