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Managing Your Kids in the Time of Coronavirus

You and your kids are on the same team.

I suggest that since homeschooling is now pretty much mandatory you think about adopting this as one of your mantras. Some of you might read it and think of course we are and others might think not in this house we’re not, still others might stare blankly at the screen wondering if playing team sports is now part of having your children at home (it’s not).

This statement is fundamental to my beliefs as a teacher and a mother. Not only that, it helps. It helps on the really long difficult days to remember that ultimately we are all working towards the same goals. We all want to feel respected, loved, appreciated, capable and safe. We want an environment where we can live, learn and relax together comfortably. We just might not all always agree about how to get there.

I know sometimes it feels like your children want to be in control. They have days where they argue, talk back, ignore you and test your limits until you feel like your head is going to explode. This is infuriating and disheartening, but it’s also completely normal.

Children test boundaries for a lot of reasons, but ultimately knowing where their limits are makes them feel safe. The more consistent you are able to be with your rules and expectations, the less often your kids will feel like they need to test.

This is a pretty simple idea made much more complicated by the global disaster problem.

If school were still an option, if there were still playdates, birthday parties and extra curricular activities, if there was not a general feeling of fear and confusion in the air and if a mounting death total wasn’t being relayed to us on a daily basis, everything would look and more importantly feel different for both you and your children.

We are all grieving through this time of chaos and uncertainty and although it’s great to stay positive and work towards creating ‘normal’, it’s also ok to acknowledge sadness, frustration and disappointment.

This is part of being on the same team. You can feel sad for each other and recognize what a hard time this is to be going through. Then you need to decide what your team goal is going to be. Building meaningful moments? Finding joy in day to day life? Constructing a place for hope to grow? Learning a new skill?

Goals and rules are both important as they can help to keep you all remembering that you are working together. Calling some kind of family meeting is a good place to start so you can build your team spirit together.

The team rules in the land of school (when such a place exists), are usually called a Respect Agreement. It’s a great tool that helps set the tone of respect and learning for the classroom and it can do the same in your livingroom.

It starts as a brainstorm of all the rules that kids think are important. This is usually an enormous list, but an enormous list doesn’t work well as a Respect Agreement. Your next step is to start to group things together (I also focus on moving everything into positive language that says what should be done, instead of negative language that says what not to do.)

Of course, the end result is different every year, but it usually looks something like:

Be Kind

Be Safe

Listen to Others

Have Fun and Learn

Everyone has to agree on the rules (this is VERY important). It’s then a good idea to make it into a colourful poster, have everyone sign their name and stick it up on the wall where you spend the most time together.

Now, the expectations of your learning space are clear. The Respect Agreement can then be a focal point for many, many, many conversations. When your kids call each other stupid (or even call themselves stupid), you can come to the Respect Agreement and look at how that language stops everyone from feeling safe, from having fun, from learning and it definitely isn’t kind.

The Respect Agreement will not turn your children into perfect angels, but it will give them a space to continually focus on the environment that they would like to have in your home.

Along with the Respect Agreement, you want to make sure that as much as possible you are modeling the behaviour that you want your kids to show. If you expect them to say please when they ask you something, it is great modeling to be sure you are doing the same when you are asking them to do something (yes, even if it is picking up their own toys or clothes).

Dialogue as a family is important, common rules that everyone understands are important, but sometimes it’s not enough.

Especially in this end of world environment, there are times when someone (or everyone) in the family is just not going to be able to hold it together. This is the time to break from the schedule (and I highly recommend having a schedule, see earlier blog here).

If you can get outside, especially into a greenspace, do it. Fresh air and physical exercise helps everyone. If you are confined to the house, see who can do the most jumping jacks (or if competition is a problem, how many jumping jacks can all do together).

When all else fails, don’t underestimate the power of a hug. A really tight squeeze can help some kids regulate, while others will relax because you are there and warm and safe.

If you are giving choices, keep it to two. If your child is overloaded, too many choices is going to make things worse. Options like: You can snuggle with teddy on the couch, or colour a picture for grandpa, offer simple choices that hopefully leave room to salvage the day.

Above all, breathe and give yourself a break. You are the team captain, but you’re still going to have your days when your game is not as good as you’d like it to be. Figure out what you can do to take care of yourself, (while you are also managing everything else), whether it’s a bubble bath and a brownie after the kids are in bed, or a skype visit with your best friend. Your kids are important, but you are important too. The most successful teams take care of all their players.

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