Dear Dr. Michelle:
Our family and other parents in our circle are growing more and more concerned about the ongoing changes with the upcoming school year. Can you provide tips on managing the unknown, like dealing with a lack of set schedules and how to know the right amount of daily structure to provide our children? How do we make up for their lack of social interaction opportunities while keeping their screen time at a minimum?
Aimee (and parenting friends)
Dear Aimee (and friends):
This is such a timely and relevant question. I have not had a single conversation with another parenting adult that has not involved expressed concern about the upcoming school year. I believe that many parents will benefit from your question, so thank you for creating the opportunity for me to help. Below are some small tips to help ease the uncertainty and bring structure in your child’s day-to-day.
- Start with an empowering mindset
When faced with a new hurdle related to the COVID pandemic, start with an empowering mindset. Remind yourself how far you have come since March 2020 and give yourself the credit due. You have inevitably already made so many changes in your family life, your job, with your friends, and in your parenting. This is evidence that you, your family, and your children know how to adapt and change, and that muscle is now stronger and better prepared to confront this next dramatic shift in the upcoming school year.
- Work out the adult stuff
Start with developing a plan for you and the other caregiving adults in your life. This will jumpstart your control over the situation, and when adults are prepared, it brings more calmness and certainty for children. The answers to the following questions will help you develop the plan you need:
- Who will be home while your children are doing online learning? Will it need to change day-to-day?
- Who will take the primary role of ensuring your children are doing their work, checking their homework, making sure they are using technology correctly?
- If your children are attending school in person, who will be there to ensure they get on the bus, and who will be home when they return?
- If you are working from home, how will you adjust your schedule in order to provide appropriate check-ins with your children?
If you cannot answer these questions because you are waiting on instructions from work or school, concentrate on step 3 first (below).
- Adopt a new motto
When trying to develop a weekday schedule for children use the motto “work before play” as your foundational benchmark. Instilling in your children that they must complete their work before they play will help you determine what you need your children to do before you feel comfortable giving them free time. The “work” part of the motto can include chores, exercise, schoolwork, paid jobs, taking care of others/animals, practicing musical instruments or a sport, community service expectations, meditation/spiritual activities, or any other activity that is fundamental to your family. Then add to the schedule daily reading time and working on an important hobby. Once these expectations are completed, then allow your child the appropriate amount of free time, some of which can include screen time. Work should be practical, important, and relevant to growth, and your child should feel like they can accomplish it so that they are assured that they will get to the “play” part of their day. Follow the 50% work to 50% play ratio for elementary age children, 60% work to 40% play ratio for pre- and younger teens, and the 70% work to 30% play for older teens. Once the caregiving adults identify the “must haves” that make up the “work” part of the schedule, get your children involved in finalizing the plan.
- Encourage initiative for social interactions
Given the current environment, there is only so much you can do to ensure face-to-face social interactions for your children. But, now is the time for you and your child to get creative. Social interactions are not just about being around others physically, they are about interacting and learning appropriate social morays. Work with your child to develop one new way per month that they can interact with their friends online or through drive-by opportunities. What games or challenges can they create for each other online, like a scavenger hunt? What about scheduling a music jam party in the parking lot from the car, or how about starting a new club online.
You can also provide social interaction opportunities for your child by having them reach out to others beyond friends. This is a great time to teach your child the art of handwritten letters to family members, writing thank you cards, and researching and writing to state and local representatives about issues that matter to your child. Not only will these ideas help your child socially, but it will help them be trendsetters and teach them other critical skills they are sure to carry into adulthood.
Dear Dr. Michelle blog posts are informational in nature. The posts are not meant to take the place of consulting your physician, mental health professional, or other qualified health providers regarding your well-being or the well-being of others. Submitting a question does not establish a client/therapist relationship.
Submit Your Question on mental health and/or family relations to Dr. Michelle K. Murray.