Jean Pierre De Oliveira
School-Based Mental Health Therapist, Alameda SBS
As a working parent, my life is pretty much a daily whirlwind I try to cram as much into each day as possible, since anything that isn’t completed gets reported to later. As a therapist, I am aware of the importance of having carved-out times for self-care so that I may stay sane during my commute, work, and family time, including all the chores and social time. I am a planner, and I have a schedule which is methodical and practical. I have learned over the years to build-in extra time for delays or surprises. My schedule allows me to feel safe, under-control and at peace.
During this period of shelter-in-place, I had to throw every notion that has guided me over the years in order to rebuild my schedule from scratch, while homeschooling my son and learning to do my work remotely. The new normal is anything but normal.
To maintain my sanity, I had to rethink my day while giving special attention to specific areas of my life.
Most schools in California, including Alameda County, have transitioned their instruction to remote teaching. As a parent, your child needs you to stay grounded and focused. First, I want to send a shout out to fellow parents, as I am aware that having to instruct your children at home can be stressful. According to Donner and Purtill (2020), do your best and don’t beat yourself up if your best right now is not as good as usual. Not all families have access to technology, and there is definitely a digital divide across the country.
My son usually attends a school located in Berkeley, which offers both regular class time and day care. He enjoys going to school because he socializes with his friends and spends his energy learning and playing. Since the start of the confinement period, I have had to reinvent our daily routine including study, play and socialization times to help prevent behavioral issues and maintain peace in my home. Here are some ideas to organize your days and give your children a sense of normalcy. Pick specific times to have your meals, study, play and rest. Children respond best when they know what to anticipate. It is important to establish routines and expectations. Keep normal bedtime routines for younger children and maintain your expectations for your teens.
Define a physical space for your child’s study. Your child may have a regular space for doing homework under normal circumstances, but this space may or may not be suitable for extended periods of time. It is recommended that you establish space/location where your children will learn most of the time. This should be a public/family space, not in a child’s bedroom. It should be a place that can be quiet at times. Above all, it should be a space where parents are present and monitoring their children’s learning. Stay in communication with your child’s teachers. The more involved you are with your child’s school, the easier it will be to transition out of remote and into face-to-face learning. It is perfect for younger students, but in late middle and through high school, students are encouraged to advocate for themselves, and many teachers will not talk to parents without talking to the student as well.
Think also about how your children can pitch in more around the house with chores or other responsibilities. Include them in the day-to-day maintenance of your home; if you don’t know where to start, see this article on independence for children from Sunstone Montessorial School.
Monitor how much time your child is in front of a screen. Spending too much time in front of the television, computer and phone can lead to children having headaches and feeling irritated. Vary their leisure time activities, including games as a family and reading. For learning readers, you can take turns reading to one another.
I don’t know about you, but I struggle to fit exercise into my life even when going outside or to the gym is easy. I particularly enjoy going to the pool, but they are all closed right now. For myself, I am having to come up with an exercise plan from scratch and I have been relying heavily on YouTube videos to stay engaged physically. Exercise is a great way to fight anxiety and depression. The more you move, the better you will feel.
Exercise with your child at regular intervals. Make sure your children remember to move and exercise. This is vitally important to their health, well-being, and learning, and it is important for parents to model and encourage exercise! This can be as simple as a game of tag or hide and seek, or you can get creative with backyard or chalk-outlined obstacle courses like these.
Take a break from the news and the world. We are all under the negative impact of the shelter-in-place, and we can easily become consumed by it. Visualize building a wall around your home and filtering the amount of information coming from the world. At the very beginning of this period of confinement, I replaced my daily commute with watching the news, which impacted me so deeply that I struggled with going to bed and staying asleep. I recommend no more than ten minutes of news per day, because there is a thin line between staying informed and losing sleep. COVID-19 doesn’t have to take center stage in your life. I also encourage you to take daily naps and keep a set schedule for sleep. There are many studies that link sleeplessness with a deficient immune system. As I recommended limiting the amount of screen time for your children, you should do the same for yourself, especially before going to bed.
If you are fortunate enough to be able to work from home, I recommend you keep a daily routine with work hours. Do not stay on all day and extend your work schedule into the evening. I also recommend you try to keep the surrounding activities as similar as possible. For example, continue having your lunch at the same time and perhaps go for a walk around your neighborhood while sporting a mask. You are not only protecting yourself; you are protecting others.
Not every minute of your day has to be filled with an activity. I highly recommend you sit by a window, in your backyard if you have one, or be outside. According to Cashman (2007), your body needs it, and it is a great way to get your fill of vitamin D which supports your nervous and immune systems. Reduce the amounts of bullets on your to-do list and allow yourself the right to just be.
I have been able to reconnect with many relatives and friends over the internet using FaceTime, Zoom and WhatsApp. I don’t recall ever having this much time to check in with loved ones and really making them a priority during my day. Go through your contact list and reach out to people that you miss and haven’t had any connections with. If you feel lonely, chances are many of your loved one are also experiencing the same. FaceTime doesn’t replace physical contact, but it allows us to break the monotony and brings people together. Here are several applications that I find useful to keep in touch with my friends and family: Zoom, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, FaceTime (for Apple users), Duo and Skype. All these applications are free to use, as long as you have access to the internet or have an unlimited data plan on your mobile device.
In closing, we have been caught in a hurricane that has lasted almost 40 days, trying our patience and our resilience. It is okay to feel upset, angry, sad, and lonely, because facing a pandemic is taxing. I still encourage you to try to be thankful in times that are difficult and to seek what makes you happy.
For more information on our work at Fred Finch Youth & Family Services, check out our website www.fredfinch.org
(2020, April) Homeschool Through COVID-19 [Web page] Retrieved from https://responsiblehomeschooling.org/covid/
Ahire, A (2020, March 27th). Virtual Socializing Acting as A Lifeboat in Times of Covid-19 [web Page] Retrieved from https://youthincmag.com/virtual-socializing-acting-as-a-lifeboat-in-times-of-covid-19-lockdowns
Cashman KD. Vitamin D in childhood and adolescence. Postgraduate Medicine. 2007; 83:230–235.
Donner, F. and Purtill, C. (2020) Figuring out Homeschooling in the age of corona virus. New York times Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/28/us/28IHW-coronavirus-school-families-learning.html