As a previous at-home Mom of 2 boys, who then matriculated into medical school and residency with children, and found it was easier than being at home full time, I am beyond impressed with all of the parents who work full or part time and are an at-home parent and teacher, simultaneously. At least super hero’s don’t have to do laundry, housekeeping, grocery shopping, cooking, or feeding other people. They usually get some extra superpowers to support their activities and they often have cool ways to get around and they can travel freely. So if you are working from home with school aged children, you can be awed by how absolutely amazing you are and remind yourself constantly, that you are even more incredible than a super hero.
Let me share with you some tips and tricks that may be helpful in these times.
- Structured routines help everyone. Routines will be different depending on the developmental age of the child(ren) at home. The younger the child, the more structured routines are better. For example,a regular wake up time, followed by a morning routine that may include looking at the calendar and seeing what everyone will be doing, what can be expected and when all the “break” or “recess” or “free” times will be. Some physical activities or play time like a 15 minute walk/run, jumping jacks, dancing and singing along to a favorite song, or youtube kids yoga session followed by 5 minutes of meditation can help set the mindset for a focused day. For an older child or adolescent, it may be easier to sit together and help understand the goals for the day and find ways to check in with lots of smiles and eye contact intermittently throughout the day with some regularity, whatever that is.
- Integrate physical activity spurts throughout the day to burn off energy and stress and also, to optimize brain function. Studies have shown that exercise or gym class scheduled before the most challenging classes or for students who struggle in school, result in less suspension, better academic achievement and improved overall function. Help your child of any age, integrate physical activity throughout their day. When a young child is losing interest or focus, create a safe physical activity option and have them log it (ie. put a sticker in a calendar for each activity or add a check mark). Using gaming theory, consider “leveling up” after a pre-determined number of successes. For some children and adolescents, setting a plan to walk together daily and decompress together by sharing the day’s events, is a wonderful way to establish healthy routines of staying connected despite trying times.
- Create the environment to allow the best chance for the outcome you want. It’s no mistake that there is a Lego corner, an art corner and an eating space, a library and a science room. The expectations are different in each space, and at various times, they get changed out to create novelty. If you can be creative about setting up your space to promote the behaviors you want and make it clear to your child(ren) what their options are in those spaces, then they can use location as a way to choose to shift their mindset and get “in the zone.” These skills are useful for all of us. One thought, establish that the space you are working in, when the computer is on, it’s like the library and that means it’s quiet in this space. Then every break you get, a quick hug, smile or appreciation or expression of love, will refill your child’s tank, and they will get really good at being mindful and your best work buddy.
- End of day celebration, recap, and reflections. When the school or workday is complete, mark the transition with a celebration. This may be as simple as jumping up with arms in the air and shouting, “I DID IT!” and even add in some fist pumps. At some point of each day, take time to reflect back on the day and openly talk about the experiences and feelings during the day. Help your child learn how to share their experiences and feelings, to learn from their experiences and also how to have self compassion when things didn’t turn out the way they had wanted or they had a rough day. Be open to hearing the strong negative feelings and help them learn safe and health promoting ways to cope. Rather than isolation, being destructive or lashing out to others, how about journaling, drawing, meditating, singing, making music, listening to music, dancing, throwing, hitting or kicking a ball, swimming, working in the yard or going for a run or bike ride.
- While establishing routines and creating structured environments are helpful, remember to include as much opportunity for fun. By maximizing choices and/or novelty wherever possible, children can have fun. By setting clear expectations and an environment for success, children get to experience both fun, a sense of belonging and the pride of accomplishment. Again, think of what makes games popular. They have do-overs, restarts as well as rewards and leveling up. While nobody is perfect, humans can learn quickly. It helps to practice reflecting and being compassionate with yourself. Let children be children. We all make mistakes and we can all learn from them. Let your child level up their skills and be rewarded with the most important thing – your smile, your genuine love, approval and acceptance of them exactly as the wonderful person that they are.
It may be messy, it is not easy and it is also part of this time in our lives. Do the best that you can. Appreciate and celebrate any and all the positives. Stay connected. We evolve together.