*First published on Medium.com on July 27, 2020
Remote learning and working from home are here to stay for a while. How will your family get through this? Here are some ideas and tips that may help.
Across the US, many schools are deciding whether to allow students to return to campus, distance-learning only, or a combination of the two. While we are doing our best to stay safe from the virus, how does this affect our children’s academic performance and social-emotional development? As a family member or parent, you might also feel like your sense of self is being challenged as well.
We each have different parts of ourselves that get the opportunity to shine in different environments and in different relationships. At this time, we are limited to the environment and the relationships in our homes and small circles. This can lead to stress and anxiety in adults and children alike.
Through my work as a marriage and family therapist, I have compiled a list of the ideas that have worked to help families regain a sense of control over the various aspects of their lives that are being impacted by physical and social distancing.
Here are some suggestions for you to try that I hope will help your family through this time of remote learning and working from home.
Create structure. Routine, predictability, and consistency are more important than ever in times like these. While structure has been found to help provide meaning and purpose, predictability and routine can help reduce stress and anxiety.
Check in on your kids frequently throughout the day. It is very hard for kids to be on their own for long stretches of time during the day. If you are busy working when they come to ask you a question or just say hi, they may be met with irritation since they may be interrupting you. To encourage fewer moments of them popping in, anytime you have a few minutes or a natural break from work, intentionally go to them to show your presence, say hi, comment on what they are doing, and praise them for being independent. Approaching them will not only make them feel safe, seen, and not alone but it also will decrease their urge to pay you a surprise visit during Zoom meetings.
Reclaim agency. Set small goals, focus on the things you can control, maintain as much consistency and predictability in your day as possible, and put limits on yourself. Allow your child to make decisions, they need a sense of agency as well.
Explore different activities. This could also include games, projects, and things for your child to do on their own, or with other family members. Make a list of all the options and gather any necessary materials so your child has what they need to switch to a new activity during the day. Prepare them so they can navigate these pastimes independently.
Help others. Shift focus off of yourself and find a way to help others in your community. Studies show that people experience an uplifting feeling, also known as the helper’s high, after doing a good deed or act of kindness. Make face masks, write letters or draw pictures for friends, family, or even strangers (patients in the hospital, retirement communities, etc.) who are isolated, lonely, or stressed out.
Reach out to someone you haven’t spoken with for a while, just to check-in. Making connections feels good, as does receiving a message from someone unexpectedly. You can really brighten someone’s day with a simple greeting, and maintaining your social connections also improves your state of well-being.
Engage your community. Does anyone in your community or circle have a skill to teach or some time that they could spend with your child over Zoom? Enlist them to read with your child, teach them a new game, do art through Zoom, sing songs together, or anything else they may have to offer. Engaging your community gives your children a chance to connect with and learn from other trusted adults who can offer your child diverse perspectives, activities, and ideas. Plus, it may give you a much-needed break from being “in charge” all day.
Start a gratitude journal. For kids, try gratitude art. Write down or draw a few things you are grateful for each day. According to Harvard Health, “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
Start a mindfulness practice. This will look very different for every individual and every family. Find the practice that works for you. For some ideas, check out this article 10 Fun Mindfulness Activities For Kids To Learn And Practice Together.
Reduce activities that cause stress. Take some time to identify what triggers your stress. Things like watching the news, scrolling through social media, going to the store, etc. Is there anything you can do to prevent unnecessary stress for you or your children?
Notice if you are engaging in self-destructive coping. Drinking, drug use, and isolation are potentially harmful coping mechanisms. Can you shift to healthier strategies like exercise, phone or video calls with loved ones, reading or journaling, or taking up a new hobby or interest?
Take care of yourself. You as a parent need to make sure your own needs are met. Take time for your own self-care, without guilt. Reach out for support, whether that means letting your partner know you need to take a walk alone, asking a trusted adult to take over parenting duties so you can get a break, or connecting with a mental health professional. Many therapists are available for remote sessions online.
Check-in regularly with the entire family. Hold a family meeting to see how everyone is doing with the current situation. Create a space to express feelings, describe what is working and what is not working, listen, validate, and empathize. Make adjustments accordingly. Check out this worksheet you can use as a guideline for these conversations.
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