This week all sectors of businesses and industries met head-on, as our country was forced to prioritize nationwide personal safety over economic growth. There has never been a pandemic in this lifetime to pull a protocol on handling such an emergency. So as a country, we cautiously wait at home for a sense of normalcy to return. Many businesses have been forced to shut down altogether, while others are trimming down their workforce to skeleton crews. Others are working remotely, while all school systems nationwide have made the unprecedented decision to tell kids to stay home indefinitely, while we transition through this unusual situation.
The news of a month-long Spring Break was like Christmas in March for most children. But, for their parents, it puts a tremendous amount of challenges to balance work-related responsibilities and home life. Some schools have online modules for students to participate in during the break, while others have issued weeks of structured curriculum for students to complete at their leisure. Everyone is figuring out how to navigate through this situation in a hurry and making up the rules as they go.
If you are a parent who is working from home and your child is also home, you are asking yourself, “How is this going to work?” ‘Don’t stress, there are solutions outside of parking your child in front of a screen all day. In fact, the most effective solutions involve removing the non-academic related screentime from the equation altogether for the day and having the child earn access through completion of school-related tasks, positive behavior, and minimal interruptions to your workday.
There is an importance to maintaining the structure to days that are already structured. Your ‘children’s teachers have done most of the heavy lifting already in getting routines in place, but it is up to those at home to support those routines throughout this process to maintain positive behavioral momentum. Children are creatures of habit and are still cognitively developing, which makes upholding structure and routine imperative to their long term academic success.
The answer to getting your work done is not allowing your kids to sleep in and cramming as much work into those early morning time frames as you can. Instead of letting your children stay up late and sleep in, have them go to bed at a normal time and rise when they usually would. This keeps everyone on the same schedule. You ‘don’t have to act as your ‘children’s teacher, but you can implement a daily schedule at home that mirrors the school day. Help your children at the beginning of each block of time if needed, but have them use the rest of the time block to work independently, and teach them to manage themselves.
While children are completing their school work, use this time to work on projects, and correspond with colleagues. Inform your colleagues at the beginning of your meeting if you are multitasking as a teacher and a parent during this health crisis in case you need to step out to attend to another responsibility. Your colleagues should understand under the circumstances. However, try and use this as an opportunity to teach some social skill building for your children on the importance of not interrupting others when they are preoccupied with other tasks. Explain the social cues on how to tell someone is busy, such as someone having a phone to their ear, and how to patiently wait for a conversation to end without injecting themselves into the conversation, or demonstrative body language if they become impatient. This arrangement also allows a golden opportunity to define and explain what constitutes an emergency that requires interruption, and other methods to discreetly inform others when help is needed.
Before you start working, write down clear expectations for what counts as an emergency. Practice role-playing techniques with your children and rehearse several different contingencies on what constitutes interruption and what does not. Develop a system using textual prompts such as a written sign for minor emergencies such as to prevent vocal interruptions on the phone, unless it is absolutely necessary in cases of injury or a house fire.
To get the day started:
Some assignments that the teachers will be sending home require students to access computers for online modules or reading assignments. When it is avoidable to use timers, calculators, or selected reading material for children, it is essential to choose devices other than cell phones and tablets. Most schools limit phone usage to before and after school, and during lunchtime, and at home, it should be no different. For timers, use devices such as the microwave, kitchen timers, or an alarm clock from the bedroom if needed. This may force some people to be resourceful for alternatives, which is normal. Society has become increasingly dependent on phones and tablets for most things; that is not an accident; the manufacturers make them that way for a reason. However, in a learning environment, they become disruptive and distracting. Sacrifice convenience for continuity in your ‘children’s day. Have them hand over the devices until the end of the school day until after responsibilities are complete.
When devising a reward system for completion of school tasks, parents may seize this as an opportunity to reset the way their child accesses their devices. If you currently live in a house where kids have unlimited access to electronics, take this chance to develop a new system to limit access to time that is earned, rather than the time that is given. There are not too many more valuable reinforcers for children than accessing phones, tablets, and video games. Instead of just handing these over at the end of each homeschool day, have the child earn them through completion of tasks, positive behavior, effort on handwriting and answering questions, and minimal to no interruptions to your workday.
If a child does not earn their device for the day, they will be forced to participate in other activities which may not be a bad thing. Playing outside with friends, board games, and engaging family time are not bad things, they have just become a lot less common in the digital age. If your child has a tantrum or a poor attitude about not earning their electronics, use it as a teachable moment. Explain that the device will need to be earned the following day, meeting the criteria they did not meet that day. Failure to do so, and the continuation of negative behavior will result in the continued loss of privileges until the criteria are met, and their behavior is corrected. Be specific in what needs to be accomplished to earn privileges and write it out for the child. If you already have a phone contract in place with your child or have implemented a behavior system at home, incorporate them into this process as an additional layer of the structure.
Children spend more time with their teachers each day than at home. Adults spend that time with their employers and their colleagues. If you are working remotely, use this as an opportunity to reconnect with your children academically and to understand where they are having problems in their learning. If you have a child who cannot sit still, use this to understand why that is. Perhaps you receive regular reports from your teacher that your child cannot sit still at school, but at home, they sit still and focus with no trouble. Perhaps that is because the child next to them at school has a bottomless bag of Jolly Ranchers, while at home with you, there are only consuming scheduled meals and approved snacks all day. Perhaps it is the Algebra that creates the anxiety that keeps your child awake all night, or you realize your child feels they cannot function without access to an electronic device. A ‘child’s life is full of information that is not always accessible because we are creatures of habit, who in these modern times, spend a great deal of our concentration in our respected bubbles.
Use any new information you observe to build in supports for your child when they return to school. Take advantage of the opportunity to teach more social skills. Schedule your lunch breaks together and discuss what each of you is learning during that day. Perhaps you ‘don’t grant your child access to their cell phone during lunch breaks, but you also ‘don’t use yours either. You are modeling disconnection from devices, but you are also modeling conversation techniques for your child, that a great deal of them do not commonly use when they are in a circle at school checking Instagram, or texting their friends.
Use this time to learn the things that are challenging your children and teach proactive strategies to overcome those obstacles. This is an opportunity to teach your children the work ethic you want to instill in them by modeling for them how to perform it. Be mindful your children will not just be seeing you do your work, but you are also filling in for their teacher. Teach them the value of a hard day’s work and demonstrate to them how to perform it. If your child cannot unplug for a school day without experiencing behavioral issues, then you may research the effects of screen exposure and evaluate how much time they are receiving at school and at home. A lot of children gain access to devices because other children are accessing them, but there are not currently other children around to measure against. Use this as a chance to attempt to reconnect the child to their creative side. Encourage coloring, drawing, and other art projects to stimulate their brains in the absence of technology.
No one knows how long this transition will last, so maintaining as much structure as possible benefits everyone involved. Change up rewards, and ‘don’t be afraid to modify schedules based on performance. If your child interrupts you every day at the same time for a snack, and as a result does not earn their reward, then build in snack time, or move your lunch earlier to set you both up for success. If they seem to begin to lose focus as the days go on, schedule their hardest classes first so they can perform to the full potential where it counts the most. Keeping them engaged allows them to be successful, but it also allows more fluent time for you to work on projects, and manage tasks your employer needs you for.
At the end of each day, provide yourself some self-care time such as exercise, a warm bath, or a special meal. Treat yourself for your hard work. You and your children are going to be spending more time together and learning what challenges each of you faces during your workday. Before you go to bed each night, tell each other you love one another. There will be smooth days, and other days will be harder, but if you can both reconnect each night with an act of kindness to one another, then there ‘won’t be a day you ‘won’t be able to make it through together.
Austin Hill M.A MFA
March 18, 2020