Young business woman working with baby in the kitchen

Well, you may not be seeing any Major League fast balls on live TV, but many of us have been thrown a wicked Coronavirus curve ball as both work and school are requiring many families to convert their home into both a classroom and an office.

With many schools closing, parents are left to figure out how to deal with the fact that two of their primary responsibilities in life are now needing their attention during the same hours of the day. If you have younger children, you’re probably scrambling to figure out whether a babysitter or family member is available to help watch your little ones during the day. If you have school-aged children, you may be having nightmares of being on a conference call with your most important client when your children burst into your room fighting over the last roll of toilet paper!

As you might guess, the best remedy for such nightmares is preparation. So here are some tips for how to help things go well this week as you do your best to handle this two-punch combination of working from home while your kids are out of school.

Help Calm Your Children’s Coronavirus Fears

If your children are stressed and anxious about Coronavirus, it’s going to affect their ability to get a good night’s sleep. Lack of sleep and anxiety will cause them to be more irritable and less patient. This moodiness will result in behavioral problems which will lead to more tension and conflict in the home. This will in turn affect everyone’s quality of sleep. It’s a vicious cycle that can be partially addressed by talking with your children about Coronavirus.

Hold a Family Council

A good family council isn’t about laying down the law followed by threats that start with “So help me, if any of you….” Rather, it’s an opportunity to work together to come up with a plan for how to best navigate these unusual circumstances. The key to a great family council is to involve your children at every step. What are their concerns? What ideas do they have for addressing those concerns? What role can they take in helping implement the solutions that are identified?

As you listen to their ideas, you may be thinking, “There’s no way that will work.” Keep those thoughts to yourself. Vocalizing them will kill the spirit of collaboration. Instead, ask good questions and be open to considering any reasonable solutions. Once the plan is in place, agree to check-in after the first day to see how the plan worked and to make any necessary adjustments. This approach helps alleviate the pressure to “get it right the first time,” allowing you to try some of your children’s ideas…even if you are a little skeptical. You might be surprised just how much of an effort they will make to prove that their solutions work.

Identify Expectations That Need to Be Adapted.

Take time to think through your normal routine as well as your vision for the new routine. As you do so, identify expectations or boundaries that need to be adjusted. For example:

  • Where will your “office” be? If it’s your room, do you already expect them to knock before entering, or do they tend to burst through your door when they need something? Are they used to playing noisily in the hall outside your room?
  • What are the hours you will be working? When will you be available? If they need something during your work hours, what should they do?
  • If they are used to watching TV or playing music in the house, is there a specific volume limit that you want them to respect?
  • If they are used to having friends over, is that still okay during work hours?

Make Use of Visual Reminders

Visual reminders are especially helpful for younger children. For example, you could put a sign on your office door whenever you are on a phone call. Or if you want to limit playing outside your office, you might string a ribbon across the hallway that leads to your office. Using a visual timer such as the “Time Timer” can be super helpful for younger children. For older children, you might consider something as simple as sending a quick text before starting a meeting.

Consider Adapting Your Work Schedule

This may mean getting an early jump on the day by starting at  6 a.m. instead of 8:30 a.m. so that by the time your children are up, you’ve already accomplished some of your most important tasks. It might be breaking up your workday into segments, starting earlier and working longer but with more breaks throughout the day. It may mean working more in the evening when the other parent is home from work.

Create a Schedule or List of Activities

Planning ahead is key. No parent wants to hear “I’m bored” 20 times a day while they are trying to focus on work. Two solutions work well here. The first is to work with your children to create a schedule for the day. They are used to having one at school and will do better if they have one at home. The schedule could even include the times when you are available if they need something.

The second solution is to create an “I’m bored” list, complete with activities they can choose from when they are feeling bored. Be sure to have any necessary supplies ready the night before so they don’t have to interrupt your work. Truth be told, they will still say they’re bored, but all you’ll have to do is point them toward the list.

Use Consequences as Appropriate

This includes both positive and negative consequences. For example, you may discover that after a couple of days, the biggest problem is having to come out of your office a dozen times a day to ask them to be quiet. If so, work with your kids to identify a goal (e.g., only two reminders per day), along with a reward they can earn if they achieve the goal.

On the flip side, a logical consequence for excessive interruptions during the day could involve the kids cleaning up dinner together, giving you another 30 minutes to finish up any work you didn’t get done.

Find Ways to Be Active

Remember, in a typical day, your children are getting their energy out walking to classes, playing at recess, and participating in extracurricular activities. With most of those outlets suspended, they are likely to get quite restless being cooped up in the house. So look for ways to get exercise without putting anyone’s health at risk, such as playing in the backyard, going for a bike ride, walking the dog, or playing Frisbee at the park.

Invite Your Older Children to Step Up

While we don’t want to go back to the days of children having to drop out of school after sixth grade to help out on the farm, there is some value in children feeling “needed.” This is a great opportunity to count on your children to carry more weight than usual. For example, they could help by making dinner twice a week or helping younger siblings with their homework. While they may resist the idea, you can help it become a positive experience by sharing how grateful you are for their help, adding that you couldn’t do this without them. But be careful though. While you may be tempted to indulge them with financial compensation, doing so will overshadow the simple reward of feeling needed and appreciated.

Share the Load with Your Co-Parent

Talk together and determine if what would be most helpful to each of you. Can one of you more easily handle interruptions throughout the workday, while the other typically has back to back meetings? Are certain times of day more critical for one of you than the other? Find ways to make sure neither of you feels unfairly burdened, such as taking turns being the “on-call” parent. Even if you are divorced, check-in with your ex-spouse to see if it would help to make any temporary changes to the typical schedule.

Give Your Clients a Heads Up

With so many companies choosing to have their employees work from home, many of your clients will be understanding of imperfections such as some occasional noise in the background. Giving them a heads up before you start the meeting eliminates the temptation to comment on an unexpected noise during the meeting.

Be Patient and Understanding

No doubt, your children will make mistakes and forget about the new expectations and boundaries. In most cases, this will not be intentional. Remember, it takes time to get used to new routines. So give them the benefit of the doubt, and gently remind them when they slip up.

No doubt, the Coronavirus experience will be one of those stories your children share with your grandchildren. Give them a story they will be proud to share – one that models flexibility, leadership, and rising to the challenge. And above all, take advantage of this unique opportunity to learn, grow, and spend more time as a family.

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