*This article is one of many new Parenting During COVID-19 resources - we'll continue to make these available on this website
It sounds so simple: “stay at home”. And it’s important. But parenting in a confined space, working or job-seeking from home, and keeping your children occupied and up-to-date with their lessons is a challenging task. So, what’s the best way to handle this situation – especially when nobody can be sure how long it’ll last? As part of a number of COVID-19 resources we’re developing, this article gives some practical tips for parents to combine working from home and parenting. But much of the advice here applies whether or not you’re employed at home or simply making being at home your full-time job, for now at least.
If you’re in self-isolation, or maybe just practicing social distancing, you may find yourself together as a family for all or most of the day. But you still need to things done, especially if you’re trying to educate children at home. So a daily plan can really help. Keep to your usual rising times, mealtimes and bedtimes, so that there’s still a structure to everyone’s day. Plan in the times for children’s schoolwork, play and relaxation time, in combination with your own work-from-home duties. If you have young children, create a plan with others in your household to share the supervision, too. If you have teenagers, help them generate their own plan to keep up with schoolwork including assignments and ask how you can help them to get a good mix of study and leisure.
Togetherness and chores around the house
Even though work and school activities are important, the wellbeing of your family is a priority right now. Find frequent brief opportunities to have fun together. Raid the toy box or cupboard for games, arts and crafts or puzzles you haven’t done in a while. Plan in your daily exercise: in the garden, lounge or hallway, with a family walk or a bike ride, or by making a fun music/dance video to share with family or friends. If commuting and other commitments have made it hard to have family dinners, here’s the chance to get back to the pleasure of cooking and eating together. Remember to share some of the routine household tasks too! Make a game out of tidying up, gain a share sense of achievement by working together in the garden or cleaning out the cupboards or shed. Children can also learn to co-operate and share responsibilities from these kinds of activities.
Learning from good and tough moments
As you may have already discovered, not every day is a good day. Many families have already experienced some difficult times and staying calm in this new situation can be a challenge. No matter how you and your family’s day has gone, take a moment to look back each evening and remind yourself of what’s gone well and how you set that up for success. Where there have been difficulties, consider how you’ll handle things differently tomorrow. You’ll probably find a lot more worked out than you expected. The main thing is to remember each day is a new chance to learn and practice.
Reflecting and planning
Reflecting on the good and tough moments helps you to see what works best for you and your family, and to adjust things as a result. For example, if your children really need a lot of attention and you’re struggling to get something done, try to adjust your working time (for example by getting up earlier or working after they’ve gone to bed). You may also figure out that there are certain times or situations when kids are more likely to misbehave or get upset, such as when children are hungry, tired, bored or switching between activities. If so, try to prepare yourself with a positive plan of action (doing a Triple P program like Triple P Online can help with some of the specifics here).
How do you keep going?
Taking care of yourself may seem like a low priority but finding time to recharge your own batteries can make a big difference to you and your family. Even brief moments of relaxation can help, such as taking a seat and breathing deeply several times, or stepping outside briefly to get some fresh air if you can. A few minutes of exercise on your own may lift your spirits – find a class online to guide you. Forming a team together with your partner, and/or creating a virtual team of family or friends keeps your support and friendship network going and by sharing tips on balancing work and parenting you’ll also help each other out.
And remember, nobody’s perfect, kids or parents. So keep your expectations realistic. Nothing is “normal” about the current situation and although life WILL return to normal one day, it’s okay if things feel difficult sometimes. The main thing is to keep reminding yourself and your kids that we can cope and even thrive, even when things are a little uncertain.