For many parents in the COVID-19 era, home has become the office, the classroom, and even the gym. Many parents are struggling not only to keep their children entertained, but also to supervise schooling, while also teleworking, grocery shopping, and performing all of the other daily necessities of family life. At the same time, children may be reacting to stress by acting out or reverting to long-outgrown behaviors.
Psychologists offer the following advice to help parents cope:
Recognize your feelings.
It’s normal to be scared, anxious, or stressed right now. Discuss your feelings with family and friends, or simply laugh about it. If your problems persist, consider a telehealth consultation with a mental health professional.
Boundaries blur when work and home life coexist, making it more difficult to complete tasks or disconnect from work. To assist, set aside a specific area to work in preferably a room with a door. Make a separate area for schoolwork and homework. If you don’t have a home office, consider setting up a homework area for your children alongside your workspace. You can then demonstrate how to work productively.
Set a kitchen timer for 90 minutes and tell the kids that when the buzzer goes off, you’ll spend 15 minutes doing something fun with them. When your children are aware of the plan, they are less likely to disrupt your work. Thank your child for allowing you to complete your assignment. Threats like losing screen time are far less effective.
Create a routine.
It’s unrealistic to expect you and your children to work normal hours during this stressful period. However, even if children are getting or staying up later than usual, it is critical to maintain a routine. Routines assist family members in coping with stress and becoming more resilient. Post a written schedule of when you expect your children to wake up, do their schoolwork, eat their meals, play, and go to bed. Include time for your own work as well. Remember that not every hour must be scheduled. Allow for flexibility, play, and unstructured time.
Relax the restrictions on screen time.
Don’t feel bad about allowing yourself more screen time than usual. You could, for example, let your child watch a movie or play a video game while you finish a work task. Help your child stay in touch with friends by using videoconferencing or multi-player video games.
Don’t completely disregard the rules. Younger children should use computers or tablets in public areas rather than their bedrooms so that parents can monitor content. Discuss appropriate content and screen time limits with your teen.
Communicate with coworkers and supervisors.
Explain your situation to your boss and coworkers. They may be unaware that you are working and homeschooling.
Discuss schedules and expectations with your boss. Collaborate to create a plan that benefits both you and your employer. Maybe you can agree to focus on homeschooling in the morning but be available for calls in the afternoon.
Negotiate child-care shifts with another parent or caregiver in your home. You could supervise schoolwork in the morning while your partner works, and then switch roles in the afternoon. Get assistance from people outside your home as well. For example, ask a grandparent or a friend to video-chat with your child while you make an important work call. Alternatively, trade off organizing virtual play dates with a neighbor, which can keep your children occupied while you work while also allowing them to maintain friendships.
Self-care is essential.
Every day, you and everyone else in your family require alone time. Take a walk, take a long shower, or simply sit in your car. If you can’t get away physically, plug in your earbuds and use your phone to practice mindfulness meditation. And cultivate self-compassion. Don’t be concerned if you can’t concentrate or if you let housekeeping standards slip. It’s critical to be gentle with your children and yourself during this stressful time.
Talk at an appropriate level for your age.
Don’t give your child too much information if they are young, as this may cause their imagination to run wild. Instead, try to respond to any questions they may have. It’s okay not to know everything; if your child is older, assist them in locating accurate information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States or the World Health Organization (WHO).
Answer questions simply and truthfully.
If your child has concerns about the pandemic, remember that honesty is the best policy. While you don’t want to scare young children, there’s nothing wrong with discussing the importance of safety precautions like social distancing and hand washing.
If your family is forced to quarantine, your child will be disappointed because he or she will be unable to see friends or family members. Please be open to this. Explain that you understand their disappointment, and that you, too, are missing out on friendships and special occasions.
Make virtual playdates.
Provide an online alternative to in-person playdates. Set up video conferencing services for your children, such as Skype or Zoom, so they can communicate with close friends and grandparents, for example.
Create new healthy routines.
As you adjust to your new normal, you may need to create new daily routines for your children. Even if things like bedtimes have changed because there is no school every day, try to be consistent and stick to the same schedule every day. Make time for activities like exercise, family dinners, and housework, as well as time for your child to socialize with friends, whether in person or online.
Instill the value of hygiene and handwashing.
Hand washing may have been a tedious, mundane task in 2019, but it is now a potentially life-saving measure. Get your child into the habit of washing their hands after going outside or coming into contact with other people. Make up a song to the tune of one of your child’s favorite songs and sing it together while they wash their hands to encourage the habit in young children.
Discussing COVID-19 with your adolescent.
While young children may be terrified of the pandemic, older children and teenagers are more likely to be irritated by the restrictions it imposes. Teenagers value spending time with their peers so much that they may defy social distancing guidelines. Don’t give up if it’s difficult to enforce the rules or if your interactions always feel like a power struggle. There are alternatives to becoming a drill sergeant or turning your home into a war zone.
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