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Tips and Resources for Families Working From Home During COVID-19

Parent with toddler on lap while talking on phone and looking at laptop. Many toys in backgroundIn this time of great uncertainty, parents who are now working from home face particular challenges in meeting the needs of their children. Most children and teens are now expected by their schools to complete assignments and learning activities from home, which can put additional demands on parents who are now tasked with assisting children in using technology, understanding assignments, and providing homework help -- all while trying to do their own jobs. Parents of very young children are responsible for meeting the needs of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who require ongoing supervision and engagement, which makes getting work done very challenging and stressful.

Many children (and adults!) find it stressful when regular routines are disrupted. In addition, kids feel our anxiety and fear, and older children likely have their own, very justified fears about what is going on right now. With those things in mind, we've put together some tips for parents who are now working from home.

Are you an Eastern employee? Check out a version of this page made specifically for Eastern faculty and staff.
Page last updated 5/20/20 at 1:48 pm.

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Two resources from the state of Connecticut for families in need of support:

  • The CT Talk It Out Hotline is a place to call when you need someone to listen, understand, and help you sort through your feelings.
  • CHR launched the Hero Hotline for anyone struggling during the COVID-19 crisis.
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    1. Remember that your most important goal as a parent right now is to help your child feel safe and loved. To that end, it's critical that you set aside times throughout the day to provide children with undivided attention. Even teens need some time each day with a parent who is focused on them and not distracted by incoming email and social media posts. Eating one or two meals together as a family, without devices present, can be an important time to connect as a family - and for you to take a short break from your work. Younger children will need several periods of undivided attention throughout the day, and opportunities for silliness and physical closeness. If you can carve out time for quality family interactions, children are more likely to be able to spend periods of time playing or doing other activities independently (depending on their age). 
    2. Children need to move everyday. Taking just 10 or 15 minutes for a dance break or to run around outside with your child could give them what they need to be able to play or read quietly for another 45 minutes. (And it's good for your physical and mental health, too.)
    3. Parents are not expected to be school teachers. Schools may be relying on parents to assist children in learning activities, but it is not realistic for working parents to be able to do their paid job for 7 or 8 hours a day and also become a homeschool teacher for 6 hours a day. It's just not possible. Before you beat yourself up about the instruction you're NOT providing your child right now, it might be helpful to remember a few things:
      • As long as children aren't spending all day watching TV or playing video games, they are likely learning. For example, during this time, many children are learning how to do things on their own that adults usually do for them. It's okay to gently suggest to your children that they try to figure something out on their own before they ask for help.
      • Older siblings will learn valuable skills when they help their younger siblings with schoolwork. 
      • Many older children can engage in some valuable self-directed learning during this period. Is your child really interested in anteaters? Now's the time for them to do their own research, reading, and art projects on anteaters.
      • Very young children learn so much through everyday routines. Rather than pushing chores off until after the kids go to bed, you might try involving young children in these chores and using them as learning opportunities. Children can help sort and match socks while you fold laundry, practice counting while setting the table, or learn about measurement and quantity while helping make dinner.
      • Everyone else is in the same boat. If your child doesn't complete every suggested activity the school sends home, it's unlikely that he will be drastically behind his peers when school starts up again. 
    4. Notice which things your child can do independently, and try to coordinate with the times when you most need to concentrate. You may find that your first grader can do her reading assignment on her own, but that she frequently asks for help on math. See if she can do math when you're doing mindless work tasks that won't suffer from interruptions - and plan her reading time for when you've got more mentally taxing work to do.
    5. You will likely need to be flexible with your own work habits. If you're accustomed to coming to the office each day and working for a set block of time, you will find that this just doesn't work when you have kids at home. Trying to stick to an 8-to-4 schedule and expecting your kids to be self-directed during that time is bound to cause stress for the entire family - and may actually be harmful for very young children who need ongoing supervision and attention. You may need to "chunk" your work, so that you get up early to put in a couple of hours before your kids wake up, then take a break to get everyone breakfast and settled into a period of activity. If you have very young children, you may be able to do some busy work while your kids are in the room with you - but work that requires more thought may have to wait until nap time or after they've gone to bed. 
    6. Remember that your typical office work day includes plenty of interruptions. Colleagues stop by to chat about weekend plans; the phone rings; you check something on your phone. These "interruptions" serve an important function of giving your brain much-needed breaks throughout the day. Keeping this in mind may help you to reframe interruptions from a child as opportunities to take brain-breaks (while giving your child an important dose of undivided attention). You may also find it helpful to think about how many hours of REAL work you actually get done during your regular work day. Few people are productive for a solid 8 hours, so don't expect yourself to be fully productive for a solid 8 hours when working from home.
    7. Try involving children in activities that you used to do alone. This may free up some of your limited child-free minutes for work activities. For example, if you used to get up and exercise on your own first thing in the morning, maybe for now you can convert your normal exercise routine into active play you can do with your kids. Alternatively, you might try to do your regular exercise while the kids are awake (and maybe even playing nearby) and be mentally prepared for interruptions - after all, it's probably less disruptive to have children ask questions while you're running on the treadmill or doing a workout video than while you're trying to compose an important email. If you usually prepare meals while your kids were busy with other things, now is an opportunity to involve them (even if that means it takes a little longer to get dinner on the table). Older children can help with most food prep, and middle schoolers can learn to use the stove. Younger children can help measure and stir, set the table, and put away silverware from the dishwasher. 
    8. Screen time can be a saving grace for when quiet is essential. Many of us are very careful with how much screen time our children get, for good reason. Remembering that these are extraordinary times may help you to let go of some guilt if your children are spending more time than usual looking at screens. For older children, it can be helpful to let them know in advance when during the day they will have screen time, so they know what to expect and won't ask all day long. Lots of screen time is not recommended for young children (especially for children under age 2), so save screens for times when it's essential for the house to be quiet, such as when you have an important conference call, or are trying to finish something for a deadline.
    9. We are all in this together. Every parent out there knows how challenging this is. Colleagues will understand if there is background noise during your conference call or if your child's face suddenly appears in your videoconference. No one expects everything to be perfect right now.
    10. You need to take care of yourself (the ol' "Put on your own oxygen mask first" advice). See tips below for managing your own stress and anxiety.
    • Healthy Children.org (from the American Academy of Pediatrics) has the tip sheet Parenting in a Pandemic: Tips to Keep the Calm at Home. Tips include keeping a predictable daily routine and using positive discipline.
    • NPR's Life Kit has teamed up with Sesame Workshop to create a podcast for parents and another for kids (featuring Grover) on getting through the uncertainty of the pandemic.
    • Child Mind Institute offers live video chats with expert clinicians, tips for helping children manage fears, suggestions for meditation practices for children, and many other resources.
    • The Hechinger Report has tips for families on what to do and not do while home with their children. The article points out how the most important role parents play right now is providing kids with a sense of safety and normalcy – and that is far more important than ensuring that children stick to a pre-determined schedule of learning.
    • Peace at Home Parenting has free online workshops for parents on a variety of topics, including helping children feel safe and tips for working from home.
    • The Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media has tips for talking with children about Coronavirus and tips for taking care of yourself and your child.
    • PBS Kids has tips for talking with younger children about Coronavirus, including suggestions for things young children can do to feel like they are helping (including videos about hand-washing).
    • The National Association of School Psychologists has tips for talking with older children about COVID-19.
    • ZERO TO THREE has tips for families with very young children.
    • Zero to Thrive has a parent's guide for coping with COVID-19, including simple, easy-to-remember tips for staying present with young children.
  • If you have time to engage in fun activities with your young child periodically, there is no shortage of things you can do together that will both support your child's learning AND their emotional health. And with some activities, once your child gets engaged, he may be able to work independently for a while. For example, The National Association for the Education of Young Children has some ideas for creating “center-like” areas/bins that children can access throughout the day, much as they would at preschool. In addition, CECE researchers created a two-page handout of ideas for supporting math development in children from 3 to 8 based on math research done at the Center.

    Some ideas of non-screen activities that young children can do independently include:

    • Putting together puzzles
    • Building with blocks or legos
    • Playing with play-dough (you can find recipes for homemade play-dough online)
    • Playing with dried beans, rice, shaving cream, or water in a shallow bin
    Here is a list of online suggestions from other organizations for non-screen activities to do with young children:
    • We Are Teachers has a list developed by a school principal of interesting things kids can do while at home (e.g., measure the area and perimeter of each room of your house).
  • Do not feel like you need to find online learning activities to try to replicate what young children would be learning in preschool or Kindergarten. They will likely learn as much math building with blocks than playing online math games. Don't worry that they're spending too much time "just" playing - that's how young children learn! However, sometimes it's critical to have quiet time so adults can do work, and online activities can come in handy. Just be careful to monitor how long children are spending on these activities. Here are some online resources for younger children (age 3+):

    • Amazon is currently offering Audible for free for children to be able to stream audio stories.
    • Scholastic Learn at Home has 20 days of free learning activities, broken up by age range (PreK/K, grades 1-2, grades 3-5, and grades 6+).
    • National Geographic Kids has science experiments, games, homework help resources, and videos on a range of subjects.
    • Many public libraries have e-books that can be checked out for children to read at home, as well as other online resources. Don't have a library card? Send them an email - many have ways to enroll you virtually right now.
    • Many children's authors are doing online book readings and other activities. For example, Connecticut illustrator Barbara McClintock has been posting videos of herself reading her books on her public Facebook page. One fun one is Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems (new video uploaded to YouTube every day at 1 pm EST). We Are Teachers has assembled a long list of children's authors doing readings of their own books.
    • Similarly, many children's musicians are doing live mini concerts that can give children an opportunity for large movement (dance party!) For example, Laurie Berkner has live concerts daily at 10 am (and also songs for waking up and going to bed). “Mr. Lobster,” a Connecticut music teacher, will be doing 30 minutes of live music each Monday at 11.
    • Many zoos and aquariums are offering free virtual tours, and some offer suggestions for associated learning activities.  
    • Cosmic Kids Yoga has yoga and mindfulness videos for children age 3 and up.
    • The Miracle League of Southeastern Connecticut will be posting an adaptive online gym class for children of all abilities on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1 pm.
  • Here are some recommendations from Eastern faculty and staff for online resources for older children (4th grade and up):

    • Oceans Initiative is hosting a virtual marine biology camp on Mondays.
    • Scratch is a site developed by MIT where kids can learn the principles of computer coding in a fun, age-appropriate way.
    • Amazon is currently offering Audible for free for children to be able to stream audio stories.
    • The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden will be highlighting an animal live on Facebook each day at 3 pm EDT and suggesting a related activity.
    • The Happy Scientist has kid-friendly videos on a variety of scientific topics.
    • Skytalk is an audio podcast with the latest astronomy news.
    • Periodic Videos has videos about each element on the periodic table.
    • Neuroscience for Kids offers games, activities, and experiments to help kids learn about the nervous system.
    • Khan Academy provides video tutorials and other supports for learning math (Note: As of 3/19, they are  requiring users to log in).
    • MERLOT provides access to online learning materials on just about any discipline (some for college/high school, some for younger students). 
    • Open Library provides access to digitized library resources (including some books for young children).
    • The Kids Activities blog has a super long list of education companies currently offering free subscriptions.
  • Early childhood teachers and researchers have the following suggestions for things the whole family can do together: 

    • Now is a great time to connect by phone or video chat with family members you don't usually have a lot of time to call. ZERO TO THREE has tips for making the most of video chats when very young children are involved.
    • Have a dance party, or listen to music while doing chores. If using Spotify, Apple Music, or other streaming service, try guessing which song might come next.
    • Some families have instituted a daily Lego challenge, where the family chooses a theme each day, and everyone builds something related to that theme. At the end of the day, they reveal their creations and guess what each person made.
    • Go on a walk in your yard, woods, or street, and pick something to observe. For example, look for signs of spring - you might even take a daily photo or sketch of a particular tree or flowering plant and observe how it changes over time. Or you can collect different rocks or leaves and record images or notes on what you observe in your own science journal.
    • Spend time together in the kitchen. Most children love to help bake, and it's a great opportunity to learn math through measurement. Younger children can also help with counting out specific numbers of snack items ("Let's give everyone 10 raisins,") or ensuring that the family eats at least 5 different colors over the course of the day. 
  • Children intuit and internalize the feelings and anxiety levels of their loved ones. In order to meet your children's needs, you'll need to find ways to take care of yourself. Here are some basic tips:

    • Recognize your own fear, anxiety, and stress - and find a way to process it without involving your children. This may mean keeping a journal of your feelings or texting or calling a friend to vent or express your worries (just do this out of earshot of your children - you might need to sit in your car while you make your phone call). If you can work through some of your own feelings, you'll be better able to discuss your child's feelings with him/her calmly.
    • Some adults find that it's important to spend some time alone each day to think (or not) - or even to have a few minutes to cry without observers. If your children are old enough to leave alone, it may be helpful to take a walk every day to clear your head, or even spend 15 minutes doing yard work. If it's impossible for you to leave your house, find a space where you can be alone for a few minutes (such as the laundry room, garage, or even the bathroom). Use this time to do something that nourishes you, whether it's doing yoga, solving a crossword puzzle, or eating some chocolate - just don't use it to read the news or social media if those things add to your anxiety levels.
    • Spend a little time each day doing something that brings you joy, whether that is reading a book, playing an instrument, playing with your dog, or shooting a few hoops.
    • Get some exercise every day. Since gyms are now closed, you may have to adjust what counts as exercise (maybe now is the time to find out more about those 7-minute HIIT routines!) Running around the backyard with your kids may be your exercise - or you can find creative ways to involve them in your fitness routine (how many jumping jacks can everyone do?) Many families are using this time as an opportunity to explore hiking trails together - can you end each work day with a family walk or jog?
    • Eat healthy to the extent possible. You may feel you have even less time to prepare healthy meals, and you may be hesitant to go to grocery stores to get fresh produce. But the better you take care of yourself, the better you'll be able to manage stress. Similarly, it's important to watch alcohol intake during stressful times. While ending your day with a virtual cocktail hour can be and important way to stay connected with friends, be mindful about over-indulging.
    • Limit how much time you spend taking in news about COVID-19. It's important to stay informed, but spending hours each day consuming dire news (including news shared on social media) will affect your mental health. Pick one or two reputable websites (such as the CDC and your state's official COVID-19 information page) to check in on, and ignore the rest.
    • There is some research indicating that mindfulness activities can help adults (and children) manage stress. There are many apps for meditation and videos for yoga. Even spending 5 minutes each evening reviewing or writing down a few specific things that you're grateful for today can help.
    • Get help when you need it. Check to see if your employer has an Employee Assistance Program that you can reach out to for support. Many community health programs are now offering tele-counseling for individuals who need someone to talk to during this crisis. If nothing else, reach out to a friend when you're feeling overwhelmed.
    • Lastly, go easy on yourself. Now is not the time to strive for perfection. Forgive yourself for serving cereal for dinner one night, for snapping at your kids when they start bickering, for skipping your exercise from time to time, or for not quite getting in your full work hours one day. These are extraordinary times, and most of us do not need to be extraordinary, ourselves, as we struggle to just get through this. Be kind to yourself so you can be kind to your children (and any other adults in your household), and, as one preschool teacher put it, not "sweat the small stuff."

    Other online resources on taking care of yourself during this time:

  • Thanks to all the Eastern faculty, staff, students, and friends whose ideas and contributions appear on this page, including:

    Jennifer Beck
    Julia DeLapp
    Steve Ferruci
    Kendra Flanagan
    Leisha Flynn
    Matt Hancock
    Amie Lopez
    Helene Marcy
    Niloufar Rezai
    Heather Standish
    David Stoloff
    Teresa Surprenant
    Sudha Swaminathan
    Claudia Sweetland
    Jeffrey Trawick-Smith

    The web resources listed on this page were gathered from a variety of sources, including:

    • Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut, Inc.
    • Child Trends
    • The "COVID-19 and Keeping Kids Busy" Facebook Group (and other Facebook posts)
    • National Association for the Education of Young Children
    • Partnership for Early Education Research (PEER)