Queensland’s parents are collectively embarking on one of the most challenging times of their lives – educating their children at home while also working either from home or in their place of work.
Mixed with anxiety about the impact of the coronavirus and the effects of social isolation, emotions may run high, conflicts may occur and tempers may fray. The truth is most of us are in unknown territory, and conflicting priorities – work, school, relationships, personalities – will be at the centre of the tension many will be feeling.
The Queensland Government has put together a host of resources to help parents and students get through this period.
For parents who feel they need more support, you can contact your school directly to ask any questions or call the hotlines set up to assist during the coronavirus crisis:
- State schools: 1800 570 793
- Early childhood: 1800 454 639
Parents will feel the pinch, and that’s OK
A recent survey conducted by online parent-child wellbeing platform SchoolTV found most parents were daunted by the prospect of their children doing remote learning at home, and while the majority were confident their children would adapt to remote learning many admitted they were still not fully prepared for the challenge.
Child and adolescent psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg from SchoolTV says parents need to be mindful of their own wellbeing during this time, while accepting not everything will go according to plan.
“The reality is that the coronavirus will turn many caregivers around the world into home schoolers and our young people will take their lead from us and we need to let them know that while we are taking coronavirus seriously, we are not panicking,” Dr Carr-Gregg says.
“While many young people have and will make a seamless transition to remote learning, some may struggle. So, acknowledging it is a stressful time for them and offering reassurance around ‘just doing their best’ is enormously helpful.”
He says parents and carers have a key role to play in ensuring that this is a safe and structured time for kids, many of whom would be used to – and thrive on – far more rigorous schedules.
“Some days will be easier than others,” Dr Carr-Gregg says.
“Students accustomed to the school environment won’t be as focused but we can do things to make them feel more secure and make parents and caregivers feel they are making the most of this incredibly challenging time.
“So, allow for the fact that students will be holding a lot of tension around all these sudden and often stressful changes to their routine and may need time to adjust.”
Working and learning from home without losing it
Brisbane mother Devangi Thakkar knows all too well the challenges of working at home with the kids around.
Having both studied and worked at home while caring for her young child has made her appreciate a strategy that all parents can lean in to: expectations and routine for everyone involved.
And while Devangi is well aware that not all kids and parents will respond the same way, settling into a routine that works for the majority of the time will trump trying to make it perfect.
“We chat through what she would like to do during the day once breakfast and morning routine is out of the way. And then I tell her what I need to do from a work and study perspective so expectations are set at both ends,” she says.
“When we are playing or doing an activity together I do just that without distraction and then when I move on to my work she needs to find something to do on her own. Often I set it up for her, an audio book for example. I put food and water aside for morning tea or afternoon tea and then off I go.
“The rule is you are welcome to come sit next to me, but no talking. If it’s an emergency by all means of course, but I feel with my child it has helped us both to think and plan for the day so we both get our stuff done without her constantly feeling I don’t give her time. And me constantly feeling like I may not get anything done.”
Do what you can and watch for signs of anxiety in your children
This will be a difficult time and no one expects people to perfectly balance home schooling and work.
“We just have to try to do our best,” Dr Carr-Gregg says.
“There is no map for this journey we are on but there will be plenty of opportunity to reflect and spend quality time as a family.”
He says parents or carers should, if possible, set aside a learning space in the family home and provide a daily schedule that includes time for lessons, lunches and even household chores, to ease the transition to a different learning environment.
Distractions should be reduced during lesson times and parents should watch for signs of anxiety and depression.
The key signs of anxiety or depression in young people were:
- They become more irritable
- They have more temper tantrums or meltdowns
- They become very clingy
- They have problems eating or sleeping
- They have trouble with concentration and attention, which could manifest itself in forgetfulness or issues with completing chores or homework
While many of these things can be par for the course in family life, he says to contact your doctor or school counsellor if you see problems arising.
If you feel you need more support, there are helplines services available to assist you:
TOP TIPS FOR MAKING REMOTE LEARNING WORK
- Make a daily schedule and fill in the time for lessons, leisure time and household chores.
- Set up a learning space free of interruptions and preferably not in a bedroom, which should be reserved for sleeping.
- Encourage other interests to supplement lessons.
- Reassure your children. While many will make a seamless tradition to remote learning, some may struggle. Acknowledging it is a stressful time for them and offering reassurances around just doing their best is enormously helpful.
- Prepare nutritional meals, including lunch and recess snacks, so children don’t graze all day.
- Schedule outdoor activities such as walking, running and bike riding, ensuring “social distancing” does not become confused with “social isolation”.