Managing the Mayhem: How Families Can Survive Home Learning With Their Children

These are challenging times – we are being asked to do the impossible – teach, work, and function all at home and simultaneously. Whilst this is a situational necessity, it doesn’t change the fact that is makes for an awfully tricky situation for the vast majority of families. Many parents of primary aged students (and some middle and high school aged too!) are finding that they are an integral part of this home learning experience and their children are needing them to be able to access, comprehend and engage with the tasks provided by their child’s school.

In my job, I see parents experiencing difficulties with the everyday (and sometimes not so everyday) challenges of family life of which there is a plentiful supply without adding a global pandemic to the mix, so we expect to see these problems multiply.

How we approach these challenging times with our children will form the backdrop to an important period in their lives. Feeling safe and secure during this time will be important. The best way to facilitate this is through calm, responsive and warm parenting, though this will feel like a very difficult task to many as they struggle with financial concerns, strained relationships, personal feelings of anxiety, loneliness, isolation, the loss of usual supports such as grandparents, extended family and friends. And this is really just the start for some.

I wanted to share a few ideas with you to help survive this difficult situation and possibly even find opportunities to thrive with our children in these crazy days.

  • Starting the day – hitting the ground running, doing things in the same order, at the same time – automatises tasks that are less palatable/ exciting for your children (and you). Being able to predict what comes next helps children comply with what we need them to do.
  • What are the rules? Every classroom has them… we are the classroom now! Consider what is going to be important to be able to function together and keep it simple. Have an idea of what you need as a parent, then sit down with your child/children and ask them what they think. They will probably come up with a few ideas similar to yours!
  • Write down your plan. Avoid getting buried in the multitude of tasks shouting at you and have a clear idea of what the most important things are that you want to achieve in the rough period in the day that you would like it to be achieved.
  • Change your expectations – the home learning program is a broad instrument. The job of a teacher is to differentiate to all the levels within the classroom – they are trying to do this in a one size fits all package in most cases. What is going to work for your child and for you?
  • Set aside time for your tasks – don’t try to multi task everything. Its ok for school not to run 9-3. If you neglect your tasks (housework, paid work) – this plants the seeds for resentment towards your child and this is where adult frustrations rise to the surface. Find the balance of what is going to work in your house, if it means fewer home learning hours in your house than your neighbours, it is ok, we all have different situations. Remember this is not forever… this too shall pass.
  • Balancing activities: Remember the school day is punctuated by lots of other sorts of activities (breaks, sport, assemblies, performances, listening to the teacher read a book, mindfulness exercises, ethics classes). Obviously we aren’t going to replicate this but go for a walk, do some baking that requires measuring and reading the recipe instead, do an online exercise/dance class together (PE with Joe is a favourite) or a family star jump challenge to improve your previous days score by at least one each day. (Dont forget competing against your own personal best is more inspiring than trying to get siblings to out-do each other!)
  • Don’t forget the fun stuff – teachers like to mix things up, so should we. Video calls with a friend/group of friends – if you’re keen – with the class! Online Art classes like Art Hub for Kids, cooking.

You might even see this as an opportunity to thrive. We can do this by reframing what might be seen as an impossible task as an opportunity to break bad habits, create good ones and experience family life from a different perspective. That is not to say that there won’t be challenges and hardship. You might even find in trying to execute some of the ideas above, you will fall in a heap after things didn’t work out at all as you hoped! Starting something new is hard. Failure is inevitable, we need to embrace it and not feel too deflated because it didn’t work out exactly (or anything like) we hoped. Give yourself a giant pat on the back for giving something a go with the right intentions. You will get there in the end. I am reminded of a quote from an ad that I often show in therapy to teens whose perfectionism is obstructing their path forward… “I have failed over and over and over again in my life… and that is why I succeed” (Michel Jordan). Success is the partner to failure, one can’t occur without the other, as without failure, there would be no learning, and learning is essential to success. So don’t expect to be perfect at it all first (or second or third) go.

‘Good enough’ will be great.

Sophie Smith, Clinic Director, May 2020

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