If you’re a parent whose children are suddenly home because of Covid-19 school closures, you are not alone if you feel overwhelmed and stressed. Here are a few tips to help make the best of things during these difficult times.
1. LET ACADEMICS TAKE THE BACK SEAT.
It will not be the end of the world if your kids did not do every algebra or written language activity their teacher recommended. If it’s stressful to either you or your child, put it away for another day (or week.) Don’t feel pressured to teach your child academics for as many hours as they would have been in school. It’s unrealistic and unnecessary, so relax. Everyone will be happier if you do.
2. MAKE A SCHEDULE AND STICK TO IT.
Just because you’re not hammering away at academics all day doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a schedule. Most children, but especially our kids on the spectrum, feel more secure when they know that there’s a plan. It helps them cope with stress when they can see what to expect in their day. Just be sure you make their home school schedule more fun than their normal school schedule.
Plan to get up in the morning, get dressed, brush teeth, and get ready as if it were a “normal” day.
Plan for plenty of outdoor fresh air time (far from other people, of course.)
Plan times for creativity, for singing, dancing, drawing, painting, building.
Plan regularly scheduled handwashing parties. Put on some music and sing while you scrub. When you act silly and use the soap for a microphone while you belt out Baby Shark or Let it Go, you’re creating happy memories of these days, which will go a long way toward counteracting the stress.
Plan for mindless down time to play video games, or get cozy in a blanket fort with some Legos, or watch cartoons with no educational value.
Plan for high energy activities like random dance moments, or running around the yard, or doing jumping jacks, or the chicken dance, or housework, or having a pillow fight to music.
Having a schedule filled with low-stress activities your kids can look forward to will make the days go by more quickly.
3. MAKE FUN A PRIORITY.
If you’re making yourself a home school calendar of events, be sure to schedule silliness. Have a Pajama Day, a Crazy Hair Day, a Backwards Day (wear your clothes backwards), or an Opera Day (dramatically sing everything you say.) Your kids probably have great ideas for more special days. And consider these regular weekly ideas:
Movie Monday (Choose a movie of the day and plan your meals, art, and activities around the theme.)
Tiara Tuesday (Everybody wear a tiara all day, and if you don’t have one, make one.)
Walkabout Wednesday (Go for a family walk taking turns deciding which way to turn at every corner. If you get lost, use your phone’s map for walking directions.)
Thirsty Thursday (Let your kids come up with creative ways to remind everyone to stay hydrated all day, and end the day creating specialty “mocktails” combining unusual juices or sodas.)
Fan Art Friday (Everyone draws pictures of their favorite characters, and shares them on the wall, the refrigerator door, or to faraway family online.)
Super Hero Saturday (Dress up and act like your favorite super hero, and call each other by your super hero names all day.)
Stimmy Sunday (Everybody share your favorite stims, whether hand flapping, toe tapping, spinning , fidgeting, or whatever feels good. Try each other’s stims. Consider making up new verses of the song, “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Flap Your Hands.”)
Of course, not all of these will be right for your family. You and your kids can come up with ideas that are more fun for you, and they don’t have to start with the same letter as the day. (I just happen to enjoy alliteration.)
4. LET THERE BE LENIENCY, WITH LIMITS.
This is not the time to be excessively strict. You might want to permit more screen time, if that helps your children to de-stress and self-regulate. You might want to let them stay up late and sleep in. Maybe you’ll have dessert more often, and let them help plan and cook their favorite meals, even if they aren’t the most nutritious. Maybe you’ll eat lunch picnic style on a blanket on the floor. But leniency doesn’t mean to let chaos reign. Remember what’s most important: kindness, treating each other with respect, gratitude, and helping others. Still, if you can relax the rules a tad and allow everyone to deal with stress in ways that work for them, this time at home will be easier and more fun.
5. STRESS GRATITUDE TO REDUCE STRESS.
Every morning when you wake up, and again at the end of the day when you’re saying good night and tucking them in, let each person think of at least one thing they are thankful for. Being grateful is linked to happiness, and it’s important to remember and declare out loud those things that make our lives more lovely.
Wherever you are during these times, and whatever you’re going through, I wish you strength, and courage. When healthy people shelter at home rather than going out, you are heroes helping protect the most vulnerable of us. Congratulate yourselves, superheroes!
Most of all, I hope you find joy in this unexpected bonus time with your children.