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Make it easier to work and learn from home with the following tips.

Photo credit: Erika Layne Photography for mater mea

It’s normal to be fatigued, confused, and stressed as a parent. But these are incredibly difficult and unprecedented times. Trying to work, parent, and learn from home is a lot, and can be a source of stress for both parents and their children.

Being proactive instead of reactive can help reduce the negative impacts stress has on you and your kids. There are three areas you can focus on to help you create a calm and productive learning environment for you and your family—physical comfort, emotional regulation, and communication. This guide aims to support your family’s emotional well-being with practical solutions that address the body and the mind.

There are no easy answers, but these solutions can help. Note: Don’t skip right to implementing the advice focused on supporting your kids. You have to make sure you’re emotionally supported, too.

1. Pay attention to your physical comfort.

What is it: Quite literally, how you feel in your body!

Being physically comfortable may not be possible 100% of the time, but my suggestion is to first check in with your physical body and notice any little aches and pains that may be arising. We tend to ignore small discomfort until it becomes unbearable, but don’t do this! By the time the signals are louder, the road to wellness is longer.

Children are naturally going to find ways to move and support their bodies; honor this!

Lead your child through a body scan during school work to help assess their physical comfort. Unlike adults, kids can’t always communicate “I’m uncomfortable.” They will simply engage in behaviors like acting out or work avoidance, which can distract from the true problem.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that sitting at a desk is optimal for sustained attention and task completion, however we’re all so different: height, weight, distractibility, etc. What better gift to honor our body’s needs and teach our children to do the same?

Why it’s important: There is a significant correlation between our physical comfort and our emotional well-being. Productivity increases when your body knows it will be comfortable at its station for the day. Task initiation will be easier.

Setting up a comfortable workspace helps improve breathing, decrease stress, and boost focus on assignments.

How can you achieve it? Set your computer or device on a small stool, box, or stack of books to maintain good posture. Practice core strengthening exercises as weak abdominal and gluteal muscles can contribute to back pain for adults.

You can review my core exercises shared on Instagram @shoreplaytherapy. A few minutes a day is all you need—don’t over do it! Consider investing in a kneeling chair. You may also find comfort in simply lowering your office chair to the lowest setting.

How can you support your kid? Children can opt to stand at a kitchen counter or other elevated station instead of a table. Watch for signs that your child is “dumping” their weight into one leg, and adjust as needed.

Let kids switch back and forth from sitting to standing during their virtual classes. Kneeling on a pillow or gel pad can also be an option. Schedule movement breaks to avoid getting stiff. Keep water and preferred snacks nearby.

Also remember that children are naturally going to find ways to move and support their bodies; honor this! “Your body is getting wiggly, let’s take a body break!” Do a push-up challenge or a mindful minute of breathing. Invest in some sensory items that redirect habits like shirt chewing and lip biting while also enhancing focus and attention. (Therapy Shoppe is a good resource for these.)

2. Find ways to encourage emotional regulation.

What is it: Self-regulation or emotion regulation means staying connected and present in all emotions, in a way that doesn’t activate the fight/flight/freeze responses. (Activation of fight/flight/freeze responses is often referred to as “dysregulation.”)

Why it’s important: Now, more than ever, the ability to move through difficult feelings is a strength. When we hide or stuff our emotions, they often resurface when we aren’t in control of how they emerge. Resilience and courage are born out of being able to fully express emotions without judgment or repression.

How can you achieve it? There are several ways to incorporate regulation into your routines. As mentioned in the physical comfort section, the body is connected to our emotional well-being and can really play a role in how well we regulate stress, anxiety, and overwhelm. Connect with your body through exercising, breathing, eating, and staying hydrated.

Do a personal inventory: Who listens with empathy when you’re having a hard time? What are the ways that you feel supported? What allows you to feel regulated? A brief walk? A piece of candy? Honor your emotional existence and seek those resources out when you need them.

Your child’s academic education is certainly important, and so is their physical and emotional health and well-being. 

How can you support your kid? Naming a feeling often reduces the intensity or charge behind it. “I can see that you’re angry!” “Those tears are saying Jayda’s sad right now.” This also builds your child’s emotional vocab; the better they can say how they feel, the less they have to show others.

Anticipate your child’s needs or patterns and swoop in with a snack, a drink, or surprise dance break! Sometimes a dose of the new or silly will move a kiddo from activation to participation.

3. Pay attention to the ways you and your child communicate.

What is it: We communicate in a number of ways—the two biggest being verbal and non-verbal. When we need or want something, we behave in certain ways in order to get it. When we don’t succeed, we will behave in ways that communicate our frustration. Parents and teachers often share the same struggle: “How do I get kids to do what I need them to do?”

Why it’s important: Kids learn how to communicate from the adults around them. When stress and tensions are high, it can be hard to communicate effectively. These tips will offer some diversity in the language you use with your little people, encouraging them to be open and cooperative.

How can you achieve it? As adults with fully developed prefrontal cortexes, we talk. A LOT. Try listening, not just to hear, but with curiosity and a desire to learn more. Consciously focus on what your children and family members are saying to you, with their words and actions.

What do you truly notice and feel when you let the information land? Be curious: “Tell me more.” “I’m not sure I understand.”

If you attempt to listen for something new or different, this could guide you in a different, more effective direction.

How can you support your kid? 

  1. Use visual calendars for schedules. Delegating to a calendar or a visual schedule can often reduce friction between adult and child. Defer to the calendar when things start to feel tense or are heading towards chaos. This requires prep work and consistency on your end; assess if this is something you can commit to. If you are part of a homeschooling group or pod, use the adult strengths in the group to accomplish tasks like this!
  2. Acknowledge your children’s feelings. “I get that you’re tired” can go a long way compared to “You slept 10 hours! How could you possibly still be sleepy?!”
  3. Say it with a word. Brief is better! “Laptop!” versus “It’s time to log-in to your class because we’re already running behind!”
  4. Get creative. Instead of trying to keep kids to an impossible standard of focus, get creative when they lose focus. It’s as simple as offering, “Let’s draw a picture or make a list of what we want to do when we’re done with schoolwork today” instead of demanding they “Get back to work!”
  5. Be proactive with problem solving. Is your child having difficulty staying focused? Bring it up and include them in figuring out a solution. “I’ve noticed writing assignments have been hard lately. Can we chat about what’s making it hard?”
  6. Offer choices. Limit the amount of back and forth and fighting by giving kids a choice.  “Pink socks or blue socks?” vs. “Socks on NOW!”

Your child’s academic education is certainly important, and so is their physical and emotional health and well-being.

I encourage you to choose one or two things offered above, and work to implement them with consistency and integrity before adding on. In doing so, you are modeling problem-solving to your children.

And remember to ask for help! This is not always easy to do—we want to do it ourselves, figure out the hard stuff, and come out okay on the other side. The truth is, that’s not always the most supportive stance for our mental health.

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Malia L. Segal is a licensed clinical social worker and registered play therapist based in New Jersey. Malia specializes in working with children ages 4-18.

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