As schools close or prepare to close around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic and people start working from home in droves, working parents are in unchartered territory, without certainty about how they’ll effectively manage work and educate their children.
Many parents are worried, anxious and fearful – about their families' health and about keeping their job. When children’s routines are interrupted as well, it can cause chaos for parents not knowing how to respond and how to remain calm.
Although these enforcements make sense to slow the spread of the virus, it nonetheless has left many parents feeling more than a little concerned as to how exactly this may play out. Parents are already fielding increasingly curious - and perhaps even anxious and fearful - questions from children about COVID-19. When children’s routines are interrupted as well, it can be daunting for many parents on how exactly to handle this.
The good news is that there are ways to make this unique situation work – with a little creativity and a whole lot of flexibility, families can adapt to this new way of working and schooling.
Here are some tips for managing the practicalities of working from home whilst managing the kids.
Explain the situation. When the supermarket shelves are bare and the news is full of COVID-19 updates, it’s inevitable that even young children will grasp that something is wrong. We need to be open and honest with our children about the situation, in an age-appropriate way. There’s no need to overwhelm them with unnecessary information like mortality rates, but discussing what’s happening in a calm manner, emphasizing the positive (like how we can help our neighbours, and what we do have control over, like healthy hygiene) will ensure they feel more secure. This is also a great opportunity to show your children how to be kind to others - check on an elderly neighbours, and show patience in public areas. Children will be looking to you as their reference point and will think “If mum or dad are calm, then I’m okay.”
Have a structured but relaxed routine. Just like adults, children handle change best when it occurs in the context of a routine or familiarity, with explanation and with notice. When an unavoidable change occurs without warning, like schools closing, children will handle this adjustment better if there is a sense of the similar to their everyday. There are already various sample routines available online for parents finding themselves in the sudden role of home-schooler, with different parts of the day devoted to different tasks, mimicking a school day. It is important to note, though, to not let these routines overwhelm you.
Especially for parents still having to fit in work, the routine you set for your kids will have to be a loose one – but simply setting some specific time aside each day for outdoor play, reading or writing, or an online mathematics game will be enough.
Get creative to get the time you need. Although flexibility is definitely needed to manage this arrangement, sometimes there are tasks you just simply have to get done, and need the peace to do it. Setting children up well prior to this is the key to everyone’s success. Creative ideas like boredom boxes (filled with crafts, playdough, etc.) can provide entertainment, or spend a little time each evening printing off activity sheets for older children for the following day. Ensure children have access to food and drink to limit interruptions. Making TV or iPad time a ‘treat’ and saving it until you desperately need a distraction to get work done will help too.
Manage work communication. A major part of staying connected to our workplace will be conducting work meetings via teleconference, Zoom, or the like. This can be particularly tricky with house-bound children in the background, but there are steps you can take to try and eliminate distraction as much as possible. For school-aged kids, explain to them prior to the call that you aren’t to be disturbed, and give them the option of writing a note on some paper for you if there is an emergency. For younger ones, scheduling calls over nap time or screen time can mean you have some quiet. Children do better when they can see you – it can be tempting to close doors, but this can often trigger children and they will naturally seek connection with you – often leading them to call out, bang on the door or complain that they need something urgently. Remember that this unusual situation means we’re all in the same boat – so if you do get interrupted, don’t sweat it, solve the issue, and carry on as before.
Regularly check in with your kids. It can be easy to assume that kids are unaffected by any worry or negative news. Despite the busyness, we need to keep an eye out for tell-tale signs of stress or anxiety in our children. Sudden moodiness or clinginess, trouble going to sleep, withdrawal, decreased appetite, or bedwetting are all indicators that your child is dealing with heavy emotions. Make the time to discuss these issues with your child, and try and make your home a safe, calm environment. Have regular chats about anything they may have heard or seen through media. Encourage healthy habits like exercise and self-care, and show these by your own example. Keep up special play times that are uninterrupted and led by your child, as these make your child feel safe and secure, and most importantly connected.
Ask for support and stay connected. A lot community support services, such as Karitane, are now upscaling what is on offer to their customers and clients to ensure that the public has the assistance and relief we need at this time. Many General Practices and national services similar to Karitane are providing services via telehealth. Please check with your local services or see the sources listed below this article.
“Although we may need to self-isolate, now is still very much the time to stay connected. Don’t isolate yourself in any other way other than physically and seek support as required. It’s very important to focus on our mental health during this time, as well as our children’s mental health - and consider the up side of being together.”
- Sharlene Vlahos, Director of Education and Business Development., Karitane
When it comes to work, your employer knows this is an unfamiliar situation, and they may very well be in the same boat with juggling children at home whilst working. Don’t be afraid to ask for support, or discuss anything that may not be working well. As we all work through this experience together, we can find support in each other.
Written collaboratively by Parents At Work and Karitane
What are the information sources I can trust?
- Department of Health - https://www.health.gov.au/
- National Advice Line Health Direct - https://www.healthdirect.gov.au
- Karitane Careline - 1300 227 464 - www.karitane.com.au
- For other Parent helplines and hotlines, visit the Raising Children helpline page.
Karitane provide support, information and resources for parents and carers around sleep and settling, establishing routines, feeding and nutrition, toddler behaviour and pre- and post-natal anxiety and depression.