With an estimated 50% of Americans mandated to work from home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and the majority of public schools closed, many working parents are navigating an unprecedented reality – adjusting to remote working and home-schooling their children.
The majority of school districts have made a valiant effort to rapidly pivot classroom instruction to full-time remote learning, but they need the support and supervision of teleworking parents to ensure that children check in to their virtual schools and continue learning while their campuses are closed.
While social media is flooded with work-from-home memes – #WFH – the harsh reality is that many working parents are fearful of losing their jobs. They feel pressured to remain productive and professional in hastily set up workspaces in a quiet corner of the house, working in shifts while the other parent looks after the children.
A nationwide survey by the American Psychiatric Association on the psychological impact of COVID-19 reported that 36% of Americans believe the outbreak is having a serious impact on their mental health, with 59% reporting a significant impact on their day-to-day lives and 57% being concerned about their finances and job stability.
“In the disruption COVID-19 is causing ... everyone needs to take care of their own physical and mental health ... and that of their families,” said Dr. Saul Levin, the APA’s medical director and CEO.
Flexibility is key
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced April 1 that schools will remain closed for the rest of the school year. In light of the order, how can parents prioritize their health while remote working and still support their children during this period of virtual school?
For parents working from home who are essentially emergency home-schooling, their biggest concern is that their children will fall behind academically if they don’t supervise them. Virtual learning can be very effective, and some kids do even better than in a traditional classroom.
Being realistic and flexible is important. Inevitably, children will spend more time on their screens, and that’s OK. If parents are concerned, additional guidance is available at their local school – especially for children with special needs.
State officials are aware of the stress families, educators and students are under, with Newsom issuing an executive order to waive statewide standardized testing for the 6-plus million children in California’s public schools.
“This is an unprecedented time,” Newsom said, “and our main focus in on supporting the mental and socioemotional health of students.”
Stress levels are running high for parents, and it’s important to make self-care a priority. The Child Mind Institute recommends that parents establish a routine that makes time to decompress and recharge, get enough sleep and participate in physical activity. Parents are encouraged to take breaks throughout the day – a quick online exercise class, a shower or bath or just zone out in front of the TV when the kids are asleep.
Working from home can be isolating, so staying connected with other parents, friends and family and creating a “virtual community” is essential. Prioritizing self-care as a parent models an essential life skill to children.
Rita Hitching is a local researcher and teacher who writes on teen brain development. She aims to help teens understand themselves by using the latest neuroscience data to explain how the teen body and brain develop and publishes those explanations on her website, teenbrain.info.