So no-one planned for this.
If working from home is your usual gig, you’ve probably had some experience working out what to do with school-aged kids over the holidays.
But if you aren’t familiar with working from home, or you’ve never had to contend with a daycare shutdown, these are strange times indeed.
Some of these challenges will depend on the style of living space. The smaller the space, the bigger the problem.
If you don’t have back-up in the form of family members or a partner, there are still ways to get work done when your kids are home for those who are able to do their jobs from home.
As brutal as it may sound, you might need to work when the little ones are asleep. This might mean early mornings, late nights and nap time sprints.
Alternatively, if your partner is also working from home, consider shifts. One person does mornings and you change over around lunchtime.
If you are a single parent, you might want to join forces with another single parent to implement childcare shifts.
This doesn’t apply to babies but for toddlers, you can speak to your daycare provider in order to mimic their usual schedule.
Pack lunches and do morning tea/fruit break, lunch and afternoon tea at the normal times. Set up an outdoor play space, if you don’t already have one. Research activities like experiments, craft and baking and get out the coloured pencils and paper.
Try to stick to normal nap times if you can. Some kids will try to avoid their usual nap time when they are at home but for the sake of everyone’s sanity, try to get them down even if it’s only for half an hour.
It’s not a perfect solution but iPads and TV can be a godsend if you need to get something done urgently. This is a temporary situation so if your kids have more screen time than usual, don’t beat yourself up about it.
While some tasks are compulsory and time-sensitive, you may need to let some things go.
You can do emails and social media on your phone while you’re supervising a toddler but it’s nigh on impossible to focus on anything too intense or detail-oriented.
We all know the dangers of a silent toddler who is out of view. Make sure you deadlock doors and lower your expectations around daily productivity.
Maintaining a normal routine is critical to the smooth running of the household. Kids still need to get up, have breakfast and get dressed in the morning. It can be later than usual (hey, more work time for you!) but it’s not a good idea to let everyone hang around in their pyjamas all day.
The real risk of everyone sitting around at home is pent up energy that can turn into aggression, destruction and erratic emotion.
Get everyone out of the house for a walk, set up your games console with exercise-based games, tell the kids to jump on the trampoline or throw the ball to the dog for 10 minutes. You can even do a Youtube dance class together for laughs.
If the school has sent home work, or there’s a distance education program in play, make sure your kids sit down in an allocated work space every day for a set time period.
According the the Sydney Morning Herald (15 March), ‘The Department of Education has advised teachers to develop digital resources such as Eddie Woo-style videos, draw up timetables for home study and prepare lessons they can post out in hard copy or on USB sticks.’
It is recommended that schools communicate with students via established platforms such as G-Suite and Microsoft applications wherever possible, and that teachers develop digital tools such as slide decks, quizzes, videos and they they record their lessons.
Run out of ideas? You can even take your kids on virtual school excursions to places like The Louvre. Check out this list of virtual excursions.
In order to keep tempers cool, enforce quiet times, work hours and break times. If kids make a mess, it’s their responsibility to clean it up before bed time. Return your house to an orderly state every evening so that you start the next day with a clean slate.
Set up a sticker chart with rewards for good behaviour. The rewards could be in the form of extra pocket money, or it could be special treat food, extra screen time or even the option to buy something they really want if they adhere to the rules for a certain period of time.
This is a temporary measure to enforce the new house rules and create some novelty but you might find it works so well you decide to keep it.
The next couple of weeks could be the perfect time for your teenager to immerse themselves in a special interest project. What is your teen into? Do you have a budding author on your hands? A video producer? Or a future engineer who loves building things with LEGO? Invest in the equipment and tools (within reason) to allow your teen to work on a special interest project that they don’t normally have time for.
If your kids have work to do, make them sit down and work between certain hours, no excuses. Some teachers are setting up communication channels so that they can assist their students so find out what’s happening with your teen’s teachers.
If you have an idle teenager hanging around the house, this is a perfect chance to ask for help. Maybe they can go to the shops for you? Walk the dog? Hang out the washing or mow the lawn? Maybe they can cook dinner one night a week, or make a pancakes on Friday morning as a special COVID-19 isolation treat.
If you have younger children, consider paying your teenager to watch them so you can work.
Beware the dangers of social media during this time of chaos. Teenagers can be very prone to anxiety. With all the chatter using emotive language like ‘cataclysm’ and ‘apocalypse’, your teenagers might be quietly freaking out about the end of the world.
Talk to them, encourage them to stay positive and engage with positive channels and keep them informed about government policies and real statistics versus the madness that is happening in meme-land. Discuss the situation as a family and check in with everyone to find out how they’re feeling.
It’s easy to get sucked into a spiral of negativity but the main thing to focus on is keeping things as normal as possible.
Social distancing, self-isolation, as well as mandatory isolation, is a temporary solution.
There are some massive upsides to spending more time together. Some families spend half their lives driving around to various sporting and social activities.
This period provides an opportunity to pause and enjoy each other’s company.
Read those books that have been gathering dust, build a veggie patch, clear out those cupboards or organise a weekend movie marathon.
A daily gratitude practice where everyone says what their favourite thing about the day was is an uplifting habit to get into at dinner time.
This a rare moment in history. Focus on the positives, manage the negatives and know that normality will return before you know it.
‘If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you got a problem. Everything else is inconvenience.’ - Robert Fulghum