With the lockdown further extended till 31st May, it is obvious that things will take time in returning back to the normal. And then too the normal will be a “new normal.” It is a given that schools will be the last place to open. Given the vulnerability of children, I am comfortable with this. But it also means that I have to learn to work with kids at home for quite some time to come. Basically, a long term proposition rather than makeshift short-term thing everyone wanted to believe it to be.
So, here is this post aimed to help those of you who are working from home and caring for kids at the same time. And let me tell you, it works.
The first day of the new routine at home, my teenaged daughter thanked me for putting it in place. She had been able to complete her school work, painted for 45 minutes and still got time to read and watch TV. I must say I was surprised, because I had been assuming she was doing fine, it was my younger one who needed help.
How kids jeopardize your work/life
I am a freelance writer and work from home. This means that I already have many systems in place to ensure that housework does not encroach into my working time. But I must confess that the lockdown initially had even me, a seasoned work-from-home person, struggling to balance client deadlines and personal responsibilities. And my own writing for my work in progress novel went for a toss. I realised I had to do something about it when one fine day I could write just 50 words in a span of 1 hour because my younger daughter kept interrupting me for help with her school work.
I realised I needed to schedule her day before I could manage to put my own day in some semblance of order. This article tries to put together everything I did to reclaim my life back. And it can help you do so as well.
Step 1: Observe a typical day like a fly on the wall
Behaving like a fly on the wall is a mindfulness concept that can easily be applied here. Before you get down to tackling the problem of scheduling your kids’ day, you need to observe at least one full day dispassionately, the way it is happening. This will help you understand what is working for you and what is not. Remember that here you includes both you and your kids.
The idea behind being the fly on the wall is that you should not be selfish. You should look at things from your kid’s perspective as well. It is the neutral perspective that will make all the difference and point out the areas you need to correct.
Step 2: Make a list of essential to-do list for kids
If you make the kids your priority you will never go wrong. So, start with them. Make a list of essential things that must be done by them through the day. Essential activities need not only mean academic work or learning. It must include everything that a child would have done if not for this lockdown.
The children are already under immense mental pressure due to the drastic change in their routines so let us not aggravate that by imposing what we think is essential for them. The best idea would be to ask them what all they want to include in their day. This could include things like academic work, play, creative activities, exercise, naps, etc.
Step 3: Make your own essential to-do list – and don’t forget slack coffee time
Now it’s your turn. Make a list of things you need to get done every day. Be compassionate to yourself and include things like slack coffee time with your colleagues or face time with family members or whatever is your equivalent of remaining social. Do not get down to micro planning and listing out each task to be completed. Stick to a first level outline where you have things like office work, teaching kids, cooking, cleaning, relaxing, family time, etc. The detailing can come in later, when you have to plan your own day. Here we will stick to getting to a level where you have enough time at hand to plan.
Step 4: Schedule the kids’ day
Now comes the most important part of taking each item from the lists you have prepared and scheduling them into the day. Pencilling in the timelines makes it easier to complete as compared to having just a to do list stuck to the kitchen top. Here are some things to take care of when creating that schedule.
- Do you have a partner? If yes, share and co-ordinate responsibilities with them. Fix up at a time when they should be responsible for supervising the kids and when you would be.
- Some free time, where you allow the kids to do whatever they want, even if it’s just nothing, must be included.
- All of you are operating unnatural, or at least not used to, circumstances, including the kids. Even when you are trying to schedule things, it is necessary to spend some quality family time together.
- Whenever you make a plan, you must be prepared with a plan B to take over if plan A does not succeed. In case of scheduling the kids, this could mean having a list of activities ready that you can fall back upon in case something goes wrong.
- Limit their screen time. Just because these are unprecedented times, it does not follow we should give in to kids’ demands without thought. Many times, getting the kids busy with a game or the Idiot Box or online hobby classes seems the easy way out. Because you have a deadline to meet. Or simply because you are too tired to counter their arguments.
- I know I am lucky to have a garden where weather permitting, the kids can play or just idle away on the swing. Even we sometimes join them for a game of badminton or hopscotch!! If you do not have a garden, a terrace, porch or a balcony would suffice. Or simply throwing open the window to let the sunshine or clean air come in. Getting some morning sun and clean air does wonders to everyone’s moods, and they would be more amenable to following a routine.
- Children are restless by nature. You can’t expect them to sit quietly and do their chores without making their presence felt. Ask them to sit or lie down and close their eyes. Then play some meditation music, or any soothing music they like. Do this for 10 minutes twice a day, to keep them calm and in control of their own behaviour. I have seen this work for kids all ages.
Step 5: Nothing is lost if you miss a schedule
The objective of having a schedule is to make your life easier. Not letting your hair go grey because you could not stick to the schedule. So, if you miss any of the items, do not berate yourself. Or for that matter scold the child. Again, it is important to remember that all of you are operating under unnatural circumstances and allowances must be made. Specially for the child who is having to face the most unnatural of circumstances.
We adults are used to working within the four walls, whether it is at office or at home. Children are used to spending lots of their time having fun or doing fun activities with their friends. So, it is very the new normal of staying indoors is very stressful for them and more often than not they are not even able to express themselves.
Before setting up a schedule, talk to your child why you are doing this. Be honest and tell them that parents need to continue working and they need to keep in touch with whatever they were doing at school. Just so they are prepared when normalcy resumes. And let them know that if they feel uncomfortable with something, it could always be changed. This will encourage them to be more open about the whole thing.
So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and schedule your kids’ day before you plan for yourself. And share with us how it went.
If you are already scheduling your kids’ days partially or fully, please tell us how you do, so that we may also benefit from your experience.