As COVID-19 sweeps the planet and country and shelter in place orders and precautions are taken to protect our health, Americans are trying to adjust to a new normal. School and work closures have families staying home except for essential needs. Kids are already feeling stuck and miss their friends, activities and routines. Many parents, however, are learning how to work from home while juggling educating and caring for their kids.
This new family dynamic, coupled with the anxiety and stress of what is happening in the world, may make it seem impossible to get anything done. The following tips can help you develop a routine and environment that works best for you and your family.
Create & Follow Routines
Kids thrive on consistent routines like those they have at school. So make a list of what your family needs to get done throughout the day—work calls, completing tasks, school Zoom meetings, school work, meals, chores and anything else. Be sure to include some time for fun as well!
Now, start filling in a schedule with the activities that occur at set times and work in other responsibilities and activities to create a family schedule. Include your kids in the planning, so they feel involved and more willing to follow the routine. Then post the schedule where the whole family can see it. Also, be sure to adjust the design of the schedule for the age of your kids. Younger children benefit from straightforward visuals using bright colors, precise times and pictures to make the schedule clear.
Set Clear Expectations
Kids and adults tend to do better when there are clear expectations set beforehand. Agree on a set of rules and expectations for the day regarding your work time and their school time. With older kids, sit down and make a written contract. If you have younger kids, work together to create a poster with visuals. To make it clear, talk about what different parts of your schedule, especially your work time, look and sound like, and what everyone should and should not be doing.
This will probably be a difficult adjustment at first. It may help to set up a visual reminder to let your kids know when you cannot be disturbed except for emergencies. Create a sign outside your workspace that clearly states the beginning and ending time of your work hours. This can help kids to be more patient. For younger kids, use a countdown clock so they can anticipate the end time.
Designate a Workspace
Having a particular place in which you work can help set you up for success. If you are not used to working from home, creating a space that feels like going to a workplace can get you into a better routine and improve your focus. Try to create your workplace away from the main areas of your home and, if possible, with a door you can close. These tricks will also help remind your kids not to disturb you when you are in your workspace. Make your workspace as similar to the one at your job as possible. You can also play music or wear noise-canceling headphones to reduce distractions if another adult or older child is there to care for the younger ones. Once you do arrive at your workspace, reset to adjust your mind from home life to work life.
Ask for Help
This is not the time to try to do everything yourself. If you have a partner at home, take turns spending time with the kids so you can each have uninterrupted time to focus on work or time to yourself to recharge. If you are feeling overwhelmed or are struggling to get something done for work, talk to your boss or team about the situation before things become too difficult. Everyone is affected in some way by the COVID-19 outbreak and therefore, will likely understand. If you are struggling to balance work and being home with the kids, try talking to them at their level. Kids are more aware and understanding than we often realize. So an open conversation with them may help.
No one knows how long this is going to last, and everything about sheltering in place is new. So realize it will take time to adjust. Even if a strategy works one day, it may not work the next. This is a difficult time for kids as well, who may not fully understand what is going on or be able to handle it emotionally. Unexpected things will come up in your work, with your kids or any other aspect of your life. So, try to build in some wiggle room because you will likely need to make changes as you go. For example, if the day is going really smoothly, perhaps work a little longer to accomplish a bit more in case things do not go smoothly on another day.
Focus on the positive aspects of being home with your kids, even while trying to work and adapt to this new and unusual situation. Remember, the circumstance is only temporary. Things will eventually get done, and everyone is trying their best to manage right now with their own set of challenges and obstacles. Try to balance work and quality time with your family while you are all stuck at home. The effort you make to do so can help your family bond and turn a tumultuous time into one filled with good memories.
Kimberly Blaker is a freelance parenting writer. She's also founder and director of KB Creative Digital Services, an internet marketing agency, at kbcreativedigital.com