School is canceled, offices are closed and suddenly, you find yourself having to work from home – with a full house due to the Coronavirus outbreak. It’s not an ideal situation – and not knowing when things will return to “normal” can add a whole other layer of stress.
There will be challenges to overcome – but with the right tools, preparation, and practices in place, everyone in your family can find a balance between learning, working and playing under one roof.
Here are some expert tips for how to navigate an extended at-home quarantine – without losing your cool.
Establish a routine
“Children rely on routines to feel safe,” says Katie Lear, a licensed child and family therapist. “In stressful times, it’s important to help children maintain a sense of normalcy by keeping as many routines in place as possible.”This is, of course, easier said than done. Lear suggests focusing on the big ones – bedtime, mealtimes, and some approximation of school hours. “Keeping up with typical day-to-day routines isn’t a bad idea for adults, either,” she says, “We all benefit from some structure.”
That includes getting dressed for the day too – even if you’re not going anywhere. “It’s tempting to let everyone hang out in pajamas all day and stay on the couch, but getting dressed for work or school can help keep people in a more productive mindset,” Lear adds.
Set physical boundaries
“Setting up physical boundaries at home can help families survive to have to spend time working and studying in close quarters,” says Lear. “Identify low-distraction places in your house for children to study while adults work: you might even want to consider a few location changes during the day to mimic changing classes at school, give everyone a sense of variety, and help add some structure.”
Work in blocks of time
Working in short bursts of time has been shown to improve productivity. Child psychologist Jessica Myszak recommends spending break time with kids to keep them occupied. “Young to elementary-aged children crave attention, and providing short periods of full attention during the day interspersed with working will be better than somewhat paying attention while you work on other things for hours,” she says.
Implement a reward system
The quickest way to teach your kids not to interrupt your work calls? Reward them for good behavior. “Implementing a simple reward chart can easily be done at home and is more likely to motivate children than a lecture or yelling,” says Lear. “For example, you could set a goal that if children can keep from interrupting parents on important calls for four out of five work days, they can earn a prize such as extra TV time. Keep these goals realistic, specific, and measurable, and lay on the praise when your child is able to meet a goal. It’s hard for kids to be in close proximity to parents but not have their full attention.”
Incorporate physical activity
Even if you’re short on space, there are plenty of options available to get families moving without having to leave your living room. “This is a great stress reliever as well as a good idea for everyone’s general health,” says Lear. “Adults can find a wide array of exercise videos streaming online, and there are even YouTube channels for children’s yoga (like Cosmic Kids) to get everyone moving together.” Midday dance break, anyone?
Teach your kids to stay occupied – without sticking a screen in front of them. “Breaking out toys that have not been used in a while and setting up play scenarios can be helpful to get them engaged (which then allows you to get some work done!),” says Myszak. “Get out the blocks and challenge the kids to build the biggest castle, or get out art supplies and see who can draw their favorite place." If an hour goes by and you haven’t been interrupted don’t forget to praise them for it. “Let them know how proud you are that they are playing so nicely on their own, and you will likely see more of it,” Myszak says.
Take care of yourself
It can feel selfish to prioritize yourself during these times – but in order to take care of everyone in your home, you need to take care of yourself first. “Try not to overdo it with the media coverage (especially in front of the kids) and engage in some relaxing activity each day — yoga, meditation, sitting on the back porch, reading, etc.,” says Myszak.
Create a space for quality time
“This is a unique time and something that you will all remember for years to come,” says Myszak. “Make the most of it. Playing a game together after dinner or telling stories at bedtime may be the best part of your children’s day.”