Adjusting to New Realities When Schools Are Closed: 5 Tips for Parents

Twenty years from now, we will remember the moment the Earth stopped moving. This once-in-100-years pandemic has touched nearly every facet of our day-to-day living—from where we shop to where we eat to where our kids go to school. Take a moment to breathe. Really. Do it now.

Beginning at 8 a.m. Monday morning, I was not only doing my typical work-from-home job as a director and author with the International Center for Leadership in Education; I was also a teacher, principal, and parent for my 5-, 10-, and 15-year-olds. Having the position of teacher and principal on my resume, I was sure I could balance all four roles relatively well. Well, what I wasn’t prepared to do was also be a nurse, cook, custodian, and mediator of technological devices. Does this sound familiar to other parents? If it does, give yourself a break.

As parents, all of our realities changed overnight. Consider these five ways to help make the most of your new role(s) at home.

1. Schedule: We all thrive on a routine.

Sit down together and build out a daily schedule. Even if you are still working and your children are at another location, build the schedule for when you are back together. My wife (also a K–12 administrator) and I built our daily schedule Sunday with the help of our three children. They didn’t like everything on it, but it certainly built a structure that we could all reference when we weren’t sure what we should do. Whether it was time for remote learning or a play-outside break, we used this schedule to eliminate arguing and build continuity.

2. Preview tomorrow. 

Each evening, discuss with your family what’s on the agenda for tomorrow. Share any details that can help build a sense of calm for what tomorrow may bring. We don’t have answers to the big questions about the coronavirus (or other world-altering questions, for that matter), but we can talk about what we will eat for dinner or what family game we may play. The more you can preview the next day, the more successful the day will likely be for everyone.

3. Communicate with your child’s teacher.

Look, the large majority of parents are not trained educators. They did not go to school to become teachers. Now, being the primary support at home for learning is a new challenge. Teachers are having to deliver new content to your child, but that doesn’t mean you are expected to teach it.

Communicate with each child’s teacher. Ask for videos to help demonstrate concepts, share challenges you are having as a parent, and offer feedback if something doesn’t seem to make sense. Teachers are working through new processes. Overnight, they went from face-to-face delivery to remote learning. They are craving the feedback too. Work together as a team.

4. Offer grace.

We are all in unchartered territories. We haven’t had to make life work this way before. This means our children are going to push boundaries, test limits, and not get along with the others in your house. Take a deep breath, offer grace, and redirect behaviors. I often will count to 10 in my head before I respond or simply walk out of the room when I am frustrated. Yes, our children see us at our best and at our worst. But if there’s a time to give grace and second chances, it’s now.

5. Be truthful.

Your child is feeling unsure about the future. If we're honest, so are we. My own children are supposed to go back to school April 12. They ask if it’s going to happen, and we tell them we don’t know. We have spent much of the last week living hour by hour as we watch changes in our world. Our children are counting on us to tell them the truth. We don’t need to always go into details about specific items, but it’s okay to be honest with them.

If you don’t know the answer, tell them you don’t know. If you are worried, it’s okay to say you are worried. Then, follow it up with what you do when you are worried. Give them a strategy for each feeling you experience. In an effort to be truthful, be sure you are sharing only facts and avoid opinions.

Look, we are all in this together. Now more than ever is the time for us to rise together as a community. Use technology to maintain relationships, create, and spend time as a family. My hope is that 20 years from now, my children will not remember the scariness of the pandemic or the remote learning they did but the ongoing trilogy movie nights we had and the extra time we had as a family. 

Keep perspective, reach out for help, and be the foundation for your children.

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To help you continue teaching and learning during the current outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19), visit our At-Home Learning Support page for free resources.

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