By Rosanna M. Castro
Everyone’s lives have changed overnight due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Parents, in particular, were suddenly tasked with balancing remote work to make ends meet, parenting their kids and homeschooling them full-time.
Can parents manage it all, especially when these conditions may go on for an indeterminate amount of time?
In the following interview, Bagner answers some of the most pressing questions currently on parents’ minds about the unexpected balancing act of being the best parent/employee/teacher they can be.
Q: It’s a very overwhelming time for everyone. How do we stay grounded?
A: While it’s certainly an overwhelming and scary time, we should remind ourselves to be thankful and appreciative for the things that we have, such as the ability to work from home and care for our children, when many other parents around the globe do not have this flexibility.
Q: What do you think parents should do to maintain order at home during this time?
A: Create a schedule that includes time for work and free time. You can find age-appropriate assignments online, such as worksheets, that children can work on while you try to complete work tasks. Make sure to include incentives, such as more screen time, for appropriate child behavior. It is equally important to schedule time to do things you enjoy, even if only for brief periods.
A good analogy is the instructions on an airplane in the case of an emergency. You are instructed to put the oxygen mask on yourself before putting it on your child. The same applies in this situation. If you don’t take care of yourself and meet your own needs, you will have more difficulty taking care of your child.
Q: How do you follow a schedule when nothing is routine at the moment?
A: It can help to keep a timer on your phone that will prompt everyone to switch tasks. That said, it is important to be flexible. Ask your supervisor if you can flex your hours a bit during this time – for example, working before your kids are active and after they are in bed. Hopefully, most supervisors will be understanding—after all, many people within your organization and around the globe are in a similar situation.
Q: There are tips online telling parents to spend quality time together and do fun activities with their kids, but how can they find the time when they have emails/papers/grants to write, conference calls to take, AND school assignments to track?
A: Prioritizing time spent together with your child is critical and can be simple and efficient, such as eating meals together. These opportunities, even if brief, can help provide children with the attention they need, and they may be less likely to seek it during other times when you’re trying to complete a work task.
Ensure there are times in the schedule for activities for enjoyable activities that they can do on their own, such as coloring or playing with toys. It is also appropriate to provide time for your child to watch television and use interactive media.
Research by our group shows that children can learn from the use of educational apps, especially those focused on math and reading. You can find information about age-appropriate apps and other media at www.commonsensemedia.org.
Q: Parents of children with special needs have an added layer to the challenge – any specific advice for them?
A: Keep expectations clear and simple and provide predictable consequences. For example, use visual cues, such as a pictures, to signal a change in activities for children with delays in language, and use specific praises for appropriate behavior, such as: “Thank you for staying calm and coming to the table for lunch.”
Q: Anything else parents should bear in mind?
A: There are many ways to practice social distancing with your children that can be fun. For example, go for a walk or a bike ride or set up a virtual playdate with your child and a friend. Or consider giving back during this difficult time. For example, CNN reported on two siblings that held a concert on their porch for a neighbor in isolation.