How to manage the school-at-home challenge

“How do I manage the school-at-home challenge?”

I’ve been hearing this question a lot in light of the current events. With parents working from home while also home-schooling, managing the work/family balance is more challenging.

It is also more important.

You may be feeling anxious about what is going on, I can bet your children are feeling anxious, too. Not only will they pick up on your anxiety, but their worlds have been turned up-side down, and that contributes to their anxiety as well.

Feeling anxious is a natural response when we cannot predict what is going to happen in our day, in our environment.

When adults are anxious, they become stressed, worried, feel a loss of control, and have much less patience. Add in that adults need to get their own work done, which increases stress. You may find yourself yelling at your kids more, feeling overwhelmed, and trying to escape through excessive TV watching or phone browsing.

When children are anxious, they become stressed, and the way they show it is in their behavior. Depending on the age and maturity of the child, these behaviors can range from exhibiting irritability, constant demands on your attention, and lack of cooperation.

The more you use escape techniques, the more your children will feel disconnected and do everything possible to reconnect. Feeling disconnected from the adults in charge during a time of high anxiety is very scary.

This creates a vicious cycle, which only adds to the stress and anxiety.

Here are some steps to create a sense of control and help all family members:

If you haven’t already, have a designated area in the house for “school”. Keep all books, supplies, and papers there so it doesn’t get lost or scattered around the house. You may need to rearrange furniture to carve out a spot. I know one mom who emptied a small closet just big enough for a desk (the chair stuck out), that was the “school” area and the child really liked having his own space. Be creative and if possible, have the child help choose and create his/her own space.

Now, do the same for the adults, have your own space to work. It’s best if you can keep the work/school areas separate from the shared living space. For example, if you have a dining room that rarely gets used except for Thanksgiving, that’s a perfect space for classroom business. The family room where you watch TV and interact is not the best space.

What you are creating is a boundary between school/work and home.

Just as if you left the home and returned after work, you and your kids can “leave” work/school and return to the common shared spaces. This will help separate from when they are in school and doing school work, to when they are home and having fun.

Remember, school is also a social activity, so if you can arrange for your child to skype/facetime/zoom with fellow classmates, that will be helpful. They can do their homework together while they chat.

It is so important to follow a schedule so your child will be able to predict his/her day. When kids’ anxiety goes up, they have less control of their behaviors and their emotions.

Structure, schedules, and socializing will bring that anxiety down.

Early elementary school children need many breaks in their school day, so lessons should be scheduled in small increments, 20 minutes to 30 minutes long. Have them get up, stretch their legs, get a snack, and move around form 10 minutes before starting the next scheduled lesson. For the early grades, it’s not so important that they finish everything, remember to do what can be done, and if the child won’t do the work, talk to the teachers about what is the minimum that needs to be done.

For middle and high school students, lessons should run 40-60 minutes. They need breaks, too. Socializing is especially important, so get creative while maintaining personal distancing.

Although these interruptions may sound stressful for you, in the long run they will be very helpful once everyone gets into a routine. Remember, be flexible and schedule in some fun to the day!

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