My social media feeds have seen a lot of people struggling with so many things at the moment. None more so than simply trying to manage the struggle of learning to live, learn and work from home 24/7. How do we manage to teach kids, entertain toddlers, keep tabs on what the teens are doing, help them with their school work, make sure they get exercise too, keep the house in order, prepare meals, do our own work, fetch snacks, manage different schools with different systems, keep tabs on a billion different login details for different apps and learning systems and emails. How do we answer a work call whilst siblings are bickering, or fetch snacks for the bored toddler, or manage the screentime, or facilitate online chats with friends all the whilst providing a safe, secure and sane, happy, healthy home environment?
Well to tell you the truth there may be days when that is somewhat accomplished…..but there will most certainly be many, many days when these challenges get the better of us. Now these are unprecedented times so let’s remember, we are all just winging it. We don’t have the rule book and there’s no right or wrong way to do things right now. But in order to manage our wellbeing during these times, here’s a few tips to help you handle the juggle.
1) Run your own race (or shuffle if you have to)
Please remember this when you scroll through social media and when you start to compare your situation with your work colleagues or to Julie on Facebook, or to your sister or your friend or the parenting expert. Every one of us is dealing with a situation that is unique to us. A 20 something single person living in a sharehouse is vastly different to the mum trying to juggle a toddler, a tween, a teen and a husband also working from home. Or even when there are two families with kids the same age and both parents working from home …..their challenges and their realities are still going to be different to each other. That’s not to say anyone has it better or worse, it’s just different. So remember the focus needs to be on what will work for you, for your children and for the situation in your household right now. So ask yourself, what am I capable of achieving right now and what do I need to make that happen? And then follow up with, how can I be kinder to myself if it all goes pearshaped?
2) Have some flexible structure
Now when I say have some structure it also has to be structure that works for you and your kids and remains flexible. There will be things you want to fit into your day and many things you may want your kids to get out of their day. So having a plan and penciling those those things in can ensure they are much more likely to happen. Of course things may come up that alters the timing of those plans, but if they are written down, it can certainly help with kids expectations of what needs to be achieved. Some families may work better with a daily timetable of what happens every hour. I can see this wouldn’t be so well received in my house where I have many different levels of work and study going on so it would be a full time job for me to get everyone adhering to the timetable. So instead I will choose to look at a few things we want to achieve each day and work out when and how we are going to do those. Look realistically at what you can achieve and when. For example, if I have live webinars, conference calls or writing to do, I am not going to do that when kids are doing something that needs my attention. For me it will likely be a day by day prospect, and for all of us, it may take some trial and error to get it right.
3) Maintain Routines and Rituals
Routines and rituals can be really helpful and give kids a sense of expectation in knowing “this is just what happens now”. Studies repeatedly show that when kids have routines and can recall times in their day that they can rely on something happening, then they are more likely to feel a sense of wellbeing and security. And there’s no reason why we can’t continue some of our previous rituals and routines, or even make new ones for these times. These past few weeks, my family have been going to the park every morning to walk the dog and kick a ball. Sometimes it is at different times of the day, but it is something that we have built in to our routine and has become a ‘no brainer’. It also means there is less whinging if I ask them to get off a screen or drag them away from the TV as they know this is now something that just happens (and thankfully they also enjoy it). We also come together for dinner at the end of the day (in fact most meals now which is a nice new routine). Even grabbing my takeaway coffee each morning and buying one for my son to have whilst he is studying has become a daily ritual. It may be you start your day with quiet reading, it may be that you end your day that way. It may be a boardgame after dinner, a video game in the afternoon or a puzzle before bed. Rituals and little routines can give kids a real sense of stability, especially when there are many things that may not feel so certain right now.
4) Remember all the other ways your kids will learn and grow
Whilst our kids will have certain tasks they may need to complete for school and this will likely require some of our assistance, we may not always be in a position to sit with our kids and walk them through their curriculum. And remember, it is only about two and a half hours a day that kids of primary age actually have to sit and do focused work at school. There’s a lot of time filled in their day doing roll call, talking about the weekend, having fruit break, recess, lunchtime, art class, sport and music and assemblies etc. So don’t think your child needs to sit down from 9am until 3.30pm having every moment filled in with something educational and productive. There are so many ways our kids can learn that doesn’t rely on curriculum but is still going to be so important for their growth and development. Here’s a list of just some of the things kids may be doing on any given day that will result in some form of learning or growth….
- Hanging out with siblings: bonding and connection, conflict negotiation and resolution, resource sharing
- Playing video games: hand eye coordination, spatial awareness and tracking, problem solving, thinking outside the box, working as a team, collaboration and people management.
- Listening to an audiobook, flicking through a book, magazine, lying on the bed reading, being read to: literacy skills, listening and comprehension, critical thinking skills, analysis.
- Listening to podcast, watching a movie, watching a youtube video: media literacy, critical thinking, listening and comprehension skills
- Making their lunch, packing up games/toys, cleaning things, household chores: independent living, life skills and resilience
- Wrestling, shooting hoops, walking the dog, kicking a ball: physical education and mental wellbeing, the release of ‘feel good’ endorphins, dopamine and serotonin to also help with focus and concentration.
- Laughing at funny memes, tik toks or silly videos: decrease of stress hormones, increase ‘immune cell & infection fighting’ antibodies, increase feel good hormones and release of greater oxygen throughout your brain and body for increased wellbeing
- Having a cuddle on the couch, watching a movie, chilling out: security, emotional resilience
- Making something for others, sending a card, helping a family member, sharing a good cause: increase empathy, feeling a sense of purpose that leads to greater self esteem
- Chatting with friends online: social skills, taking turns, listening, communication skills, connection
- Playing lego, blocks, play doh: construction and engineering, problem solving, design and creativity
- Boardgames: maths skills, literacy skills, taking turns, connection & bonding
- Discussing each others day at the dinner table or at bedtime: reflection and evaluation, gratitude and resilience
- Missing their sports matches, their friends, their bday parties, their school formal, their annual holiday or camping trip: adaptability, resilience and gratitude.
So even on those really crappy days when nothing goes to plan, your energy levels are low and it feels like you achieved nothing…..even doing one of these things means your child has learnt, or grown or adapted or even made steps toward developing an important life skill.
This might seem obvious but I am constantly reading and hearing about so many people not coping or feeling overwhelmed with their situation. There are the kids who don’t seem to understand why you need to take that work call. There is the husband that believes his job is more important so he gets the study whilst you get the dining table with the kids interrupting every 10 minutes. There are the kids not understanding why you are turning screens off or making them go to bed when they have nowhere to be tomorrow anyway. Whatever the situation in your household, remember to talk about those with your partner, your kids and with whoever else you are residing with. You can involve your kids in the planning of the day and tell them the things you’d like to get done and how you might need their help and understanding with that. They can also tell you why they are feeling upset or frustrated and come up with ways to involve them in decisions that may affect them. You can speak with your partner about possibly rostering work schedules so that each person gets time during the day for uninterrupted work or just alone time. Just because we are pretty much living on top of each other right now doesn’t mean we are always communicating well. More than ever, it is crucial that we keep connecting, talking, listening and discussing challenges as they arise. When people feel heard, when they feel they have a say in how things are managed, there is a much greater likelihood of compromise and understanding, and hopefully an increased likelihood of harmony and sanity for all.
These are just some of the ways we can help ourselves during these times and I will continue to share more over the coming weeks. Head to this previous blog post for more ideas on managing screens and technology during covid19 . Stay connected via Facebook for regular tips and some live broadcasts and interviews to come.
Martine Oglethorpe is a mother to five boys with a background in secondary education and a Masters in Counselling. Through her personal and professional work with families raising children, she recognises the important role technology plays in the lives of young people today and thus the role we can play in not only their safety but their social and emotional wellbeing.
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