Many parents are fortunate to have jobs they can do from home during the coronavirus shutdown. However, they're discovering how challenging it is to work and parent at the same time.
If you are in the middle of this this juggling act, it is important to recognize that your work productivity is probably going to take a hit during this shutdown. Adjust and set more realistic expectations for you and your family.
Here are some age-appropriate suggestions to help avoid frustration and keep your family move forward during the pandemic.
While infants require a lot of direct attention, by planning ahead you can get work done in short spurts of time.
Wear to work. If you can stand up while doing work tasks, carrying your baby in a swaddler or baby backpack can be helpful. Infants like your touch and they like to watch what is going on, so using a carrier may give you an hour or two a day of hands-free time--especially if motion helps baby fall asleep. (Put them on a safe sleep surface if they do doze off.)
Take play breaks. When your baby wants to play, take a break and provide the stimulation she needs. When she falls back asleep, use those precious minutes to get a few things done.
Toddlers and preschoolers also need more direct care than older kids, and typically their attention span is short. Plan a variety of activities for them while you get some work done.
Station master. Think of ways you can set up “stations" that your toddler or preschooler can rotate through. A station is a zone designated for a particular kind of play, such as blocks, dolls, or artwork. The more stations you have, the easier it will be for your child to stay interested and busy.
Side-by-side. When toddlers and preschoolers play together, they play in parallel. In other words, they play similar activities next to each other. Every once in a while they'll take a peek to see what the other child is doing. You can imitate this sort of play with your toddler.
Sit next to her while she plays, but instead of playing with a toy, finish 15 minutes of your own task. Your child will appreciate your presence, and the friendly check-ins--like a smile or a compliment (“I love what you are making")--will extend play time. When you notice your child getting bored, suggest moving to the next station.
Create a schedule. Family routines are important to reduce anxiety and improve behavior. Putting together a flexible master schedule for the week is helpful for all children, but especially for school-aged kids. Fill those routines with a variety of activities such as regular meal times, physical and imaginative play, artwork, building, helping with housework, thinking and learning activities, and free time. You can fit chunks of time in your family's daily schedule for you to do your work, and explain to your child that during these times they get to be a “big kid" and occupy themselves with their own activities.
Give choices. Independence gets more important as children get older, and yet kids this age still need parents to provide structure. One way to give your child more independence is to offer choices within each of their daily activity categories.
Parents can help kids to generate lists ahead of time for each type of activity, such as things that they can do outside, creative play, exercise and chores. As your child moves through the day, from one activity to the next, they can make their own plan or select one from the list of options that they helped create. Older children can help parents make these lists, giving them more control over their options while at the same time helping them learn to plan ahead.
Keep structure. One of the tricky things about teens is that they can entertain themselves for long stretches, but often do not make good time management choices. They tend to stay up late, sleep in, and may spend the day on their phone, gaming, or watching TV. You might be tempted to leave them alone, if that affords you the opportunity to get more work done. However, tweens and teens still need structure and schedules and regular check-ins with parents on their daily work.
Set goals. In addition to the types of routines that are good for school-age children, setting goals is useful for tweens and teens. Teens are capable of forward thinking (like planning, anticipating and estimating), but don't often use those skills unless challenged. Goal setting is a great exercise for their brains. It encourages them not only to think about possibilities, but also to make plans for how to reach them.
Without a doubt, families are in the midst of an incredibly challenging time. Reassess your work-at-home goals each week and set realistic expectations, reaching out for help if you need it.
No matter the age of your child, take a moment each day to be truly present, listen to your child's thoughts and concerns, and then enjoy some playtime. Strengthening your bond will help them feel more secure, giving them the ability to be more independent, which will hopefully buy you some extra free time too!
Be creative, be safe, and be well.
Damon Korb, MD, FAAP, is member of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Section on Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics and author of the AAP book, Raising an Organized Child: Five Steps to Boost Independence, Ease Frustration, and Promote Confidence. Dr. Korb is Director of the Center for Developing Minds in Los Gatos, California.