Juggling Working From Home & Home-Schooling

The Coronavirus pandemic and resultant lockdown has been difficult for everyone, but particularly for parents with children. Being suddenly thrown into a situation requiring parents and children to adjust to this new normal, with routines out the window, has been a challenge for even the most organized parents. A well-planned day can quickly turn into a disaster, with plans falling apart, the stress of parents having to juggle working from home and sudden work-related situations requiring their attention or concentration, coupled with everyone’s stress and anxiety of not knowing what is going to happen, and when. Emotions such as tension and exhaustion in homes with smaller children in particular, seem to be at an all time high.  

We spoke to Dr Geneveieve Da Silva, an educational psychologist and mom of 3, about what kids need most from their parents during this time, and how parents can split their time effectively between working from home and helping their children with their schoolwork. 

Here are her main tips: 

1. Examine & Adjust Your Expectations

Before you paint a picture of what the perfect homeschooling and working from home environment could look like, take a good look at the reality of the situation, and review your expectations of yourself and your family. Your own work has changed, your children’s schooling has changed, and our expectations can’t be the same as what they were 3 months ago. Be realistic in terms of what you can and can’t do – this will remove pressure from yourself, and your children. Taking on your child’s education is a full time job – and you already have one of those! Decide how much you can manage to fit into your day, without overwhelming yourself. Balance is key here. If you take on too much, you will keep failing, so rather take a step back and set yourself up for success.


2. Create A (Flexible!) Routine

Determine how much time you need to spend working from home, when you need to work, and where within that you can carve out space to tackle schoolwork. If you have a meeting at 8am, can you engage your kids before this? Can you take half an hour at 10, an hour at lunch, an hour after work? Don’t aim for full-on schooling here, rather engage your child in a learning experience, giving them your attention and time. Be flexible with this routine – a structure provides safety, but can become overbearing if it’s inflexible, adding to your (and your child’s) stress. Use a time-block approach by committing to spend half an hour “in the early morning” with your child, rather than “from 08h15-08h45”. This allows you to juggle things taking a little bit longer, starting a little bit late, or unexpected work calls! 


3. Be More Goal-Oriented

Focus on what you need to get done, rather than how much time you need to spend on it. Switch your thinking to being more outcome-driven. For example: “finish this worksheet before you can go play”, instead of “sit and do this worksheet for half an hour on the dot”. Schools and teachers will vary in the level and amount of work they’re sending, and the mechanism they expect it to be completed by. Your child will also have their own abilities, concentration levels, and capacity. Have an honest conversation with your child’s teacher about their expectations of you and your child in this time, and keep communicating with them. If your child struggles to sit and complete 3 pages of Maths worksheets, but can easily recite their multiplication tables to you over the dinner table, speak to their teacher about other ways to prove your child has grasped the concept. 


4. Do One Thing Each Day

Parents are also under pressure when working from home: to ensure that they’re performing, are able to keep their jobs, and justify their salaries. The compulsion is there to give your child a handful of worksheets or activities to keep them occupied so that you can get ahead with your own work!  Communicate with your child to get them on board with your responsibilities, and what they will need to manage on their own. You may not get through the schools task list every day. That’s okay! Rather focus on one aspect of your child’s education each day. We’ve been conditioned to believe education can only happen at school, or in a 6 hour day, in a structured, controlled environment. We’ve forgotten that learning can happen in various ways, and doing one thing, like reading with your child, is enough. Remember that a young child can only concentrate for roughly a minute per their age – meaning a 5 year old can sit still and concentrate for approximately 5 minutes. Don’t try to push past this – rather have your child sit still only for what is really necessary.


5. Re-Look At Your Ideas Of Education

We’re very content-driven, wanting a lot of information NOW. More important than content is the skill of learning. This is a lifelong process, and something we do every day as human beings without realizing. Developing your child’s curiosity, and teaching them how to find answers to their questions is a more important skill than memorizing content. Children are naturally curious, and you can develop this skill by watching them play, and engaging them in conversations around their play. Have your children reflect on stories you’ve read, or connect the dots between cause and effect when a ball rolls off of a table or a cake burns. This will help develop their perception of consequence. Even if you just engage your kids in conversations around their play, and answer any questions that are on their minds, you’re helping them learn. Converting tasks into games, bringing out your own inner child to make learning more fun, and using unusual objects like flowers from the garden or stuffed animals can all help make learning more engaging. 


6. Use Your Resources

Lockdown has parents feeling very alone. Don’t forget to use all the resources you have at your disposal – this includes free educational resources as well as your family and friends. Ask family members or friends to spend some time on a video or voice call with your child, reading them a story or engaging on a particular subject while you work. A Grade 5 teacher’s advice: if nothing else, try to get your child to read. The skills learnt during reading can overflow into so many other aspects of education.


7. Schedule Your Me-Time

Get some time for yourself, even if it’s when everyone is in bed. Make time for 5 minutes, by yourself, to breathe, settle, and think through your day. Don’t beat yourself up for what you didn’t get through, rather celebrate what you did achieve, and take time to focus on the good despite all the crazy. You may be experiencing feelings of guilt around the time you spend with your family versus working. Remember that you need to fill your own emotional tank before you can give to your child. We don’t blame a car for running out of fuel – we understand that we need to fill it in order to get something out. The same principle applies to your emotional, physical and mental energy. You need to keep yourself refreshed and filled, especially in such a strange and stressful situation where so much is being asked of you, and draining you. Taking time out to do things that fill you is not wrong – it’s prudent. It’s the way our bodies, minds and emotions work – try not to feel guilty for doing this. So spend some time figuring out what gives you energy, what fills you up, and how you can do this on a daily basis during lockdown. Block this time into your daily routine. It’s also important to find healthy releases for your frustration and negative emotions. 


This article first appeared on www.brightsparkz.co.za