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Maintaining Structure at Home While Your Kids Are Off School

With the recent suspension of schools, many parents have found themselves in a predicament, trying to balance home and work life while ensuring their kids stay entertained and involved in their schooling. Many parents have become overwhelmed taking on the role of teacher and proctor whilst juggling their other roles of parent, friend, spouse or employee. So what can be done to alleviate some of that stress and build structure at home?

Stick to a daily schedule

It is very easy for kids to fall into the trap of thinking they are on holiday while schools are shut and why wouldn’t they? The suspensions of school came at a transitional period between the end of Chinese New Year holidays and the start of school so it is to no surprise that many kids may just feel like they are on an extended CNY break! Falling into the holiday mood often means staying up late, getting up late and running on your own schedule which will of course make the transition back to school later on a difficult one for many. We all know the difficulties of going back to work after a long break and this will be no different for your kids.

Sticking to a daily routine and schedule is a great way to help your kids maintain their normal schedule not only to make the transition back to school in March a smoother one but to provide them with structure during this period. So the big question is, ‘How do I do this?’.

Enforcing the schedule will be the hardest part and of course there will be slip ups! But the better you can mimic your child's normal daily routine the easier it will be. Many kids will find comfort in their routine and in knowing what they’re expected to do next. Without a schedule, children tend to take things into their own hands and will of course prioritise their own wants first. This is when you may start to see defiant behaviours at home, wanting to do what they want when they want and where they want. Making the schedule clear for your child will help reduce those behaviours and start to bring in structure.

1. Visual schedule

Providing a Visual schedule is a great way to get started. Visual schedules are a great tool, particularly for younger kids. A visual schedule will often be similar to one that they have at school as well as lay out information in a clear manner. Visual schedules are also a great way to get your child involved in the process, there are fantastic resources online that allows you to pick from an array of themed schedules. So if your child is a lover of Superheroes or Ponies, having them pick out their schedule is a great way to get them excited about it.

2. Collaboration

Make sure you get your kids involved! Let them have a say and collaborate with you on their weekly schedule. Of course, as the parent you have first say but in allowing your kids to take part and perhaps have a say in when they want their breaks, lunch or what they want their ‘after school’ schedule to consist of helps them feel valued, involved and motivated. 

Don't skip class

With many schools providing online learning, incorporating your child’s online learning lessons into their schedule will keep them on track with their work and educational experience. It also allows them to stay structured with their day and their responsibilities. But, now you have to take on the role of teacher whilst juggling all your other roles. More often than not, your children are going to struggle to see you as a teacher figure because to them you will always be the parent first. With that, teaching them and getting them to do their work will be harder than normal. The dynamics of going from parent and child to teacher and student is often a difficult one for both parties to assume. So what can you do?

1. Keep them motivated

Unfortunately, it is unlikely your child will be able to keep up the same motivation and dedication as they would in school with a teacher as they would at home. This is okay. The best way to keep your child engaged in their learning is to keep them motivated to do so.

Motivational tools are a great way to not only reward your child for their behaviours, make expectations clear but also helps you help them get things done. Usually, parents already know what motivates their child and of course this will vary from child to child based on age, personality, likes and dislikes. So it's important to find what motivates your child and use that to your advantage. If you know your child is wanting that sleepover this weekend or the hangout session with their friends after school, they’ve already handed you their motivational tools.  Work together to keep your kids motivated and ensure you switch up your motivational tactics to keep things engaging.

2. Make your expectation clear

When it comes to setting work and tasks, it is always best to be clear. If you know your child has a set of questions to complete, a video to watch or an essay to finish, make sure you set your expectations on the completion of those tasks clear. Whether it's completing 250 words everyday until the due date or attempting to answer all 10 questions on their own before they ask you for help, ensuring you sit down with your child to discuss the work and the expectation can make all the difference. Providing clear expectations for them allows for success and provides clear structure which will make your job as the teacher or proctor easier.

3. Don't forget to praise

Yes, working and studying from home can be difficult and for many this is new territory. So it is so important that you don’t forget to praise. Taking on this new role and managing the rest of your daily tasks can be incredibly overwhelming. Don’t forget to praise yourself! Much of the experience will be trial and error and finding out what works best for your family may take some time. Of course, don’t forget to praise your kids too. Not only does praise keep up motivation but it shows your children you are aware of their efforts and keeps them on track.

Keep things balanced

Lastly, it's important to keep things balanced during this time. One way to do this is to ensure that you keep work and play separate. Of course there are great ways to integrate education into games and various play themes. But we have to be careful not to mix things up and end up overcompensating because your child isn’t physically in school. Your child will need a break just the same now as they do on a normal school day. Try not to carry ‘work’ with you into your child’s after school activities or outings.

While you may be tempted to reinforce the previously taught math equation or discuss the themes of recently read stories with your child  over dinner or on the taxi ride back home, this may actually hinder their motivation. It may have a knock on effect whereby your child will probably be less motivated during designated ‘school hours’ because they feel like they haven’t had a clear break between work. If you take a normal school day into consideration, your child goes to school, learns, comes home and is able to take a break away from the schooling environment. Understandably, this will be difficult to mimic now where the schooling environment is the home environment. So what can we do?

1. Setup a clear work and play area

If possible, try and set up a clear work area for your child in your home or perhaps at a local library or work area. Ensure to keep this a clear designated work area so your child knows what's expected of them when in this area. Similarly, don’t forget about a play area! A designated area where your child can go to unwind, relax and play. This will also serve as a great reminder to you as a parent of the roles you assume in the different areas.

2. Try not to bring 'work' home

Once the ‘school day is done’ and your child has completed their daily tasks, shut the doors to school and open the doors to home. It may be difficult to let go of school if you’ve just spent the last 2 hours teaching your child how to write a story and they’ve finally got it! What’s the harm in pushing that extra 20 minutes? Chances are your child will need the break just as much as you do. Remember when you collaborated with your child on their schedules? This is when the rewards and motivational tools come out! With a clear play time to disengage from work, your child will be able to maintain focus, remain motivated and better connect with your new teacher role at home!

Implementing the tips above may be easier said than done and your experience with them will vary depending on your family needs. But don’t forget that this is a learning curve and getting used to this new arrangement will be testing for both you and your child. While you may find yourselves overwhelmed, stressed and confused in this new territory, don’t be afraid to reach out. Your friends, family and even other parents are great sources for help or advice. Chances are you may find yourselves in the same boat and it is always easier to navigate your way through with a little help.

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Topics: COVID-19, Mental Health, Psychoeducation

Rachel Chan Mazariegos

Rachel Chan Mazariegos

Behavioural Therapy & School Neuropsychology