School Closed Due to COVID-19: How Parents Can Thrive With School-Age Kids at Home

Key Takeaways

  • Peacefulness at home is a good goal.
  • Take a few moments to think about how your relationship with your kids will be impacted.
  • Being off the routine is not fun for anyone.
  • More time together requires more rules, not less.

While health professionals are helping you keep your kids safe, I’m going to give you tips on keeping you sane. This isn’t an article about things to have your kids do. There are literally thousands of websites that will give you ideas. I only hope to help you think about a few things before you try to manage all of this.

Your time managing your kids doesn’t have to be dreadful – that doesn’t mean it will be easy, but I hope these thoughts will help.

Try a lot of Free Time

The more you try to schedule out their day the more you’re going to have to monitor their day. There’s a reason teachers get burnt out. Trying to keep kids “on task” is very challenging. You’re trying to get things done. You’re trying to stay sane. Give them as much free time as you can stomach. You’ll get more done and you’ll be more ready to help them with things.

Free time gives them a chance to learn how to solve one of the biggest challenges in life: What do I do when I’m bored?

They are absolutely capable of solving this problem on their own. When they come up and say, “I’m bored!” You can say, “I know what you mean. School work is no fun and you wish you could work on some other stuff.”

I don’t know about you but I wish adults would’ve said things like that to me growing up. I always felt like my boredom was nothing but an inconvenience for others. The adults were probably justified in this feeling too. But, did it actually help the situation? I don’t see how it could have. It certainly didn’t give me much reason to share how I was feeling the next time.

That’s because kids are actually saying, “I want to be heard!” They’re not looking for you to solve the problem for them. They’re not looking for ideas on what to do and they won’t respond positively when you give them ideas. They’ll roll their eyes. You’ll roll your eyes. And the tension in the home is going to rise.

Lastly, they also may want to be close and snuggly and clingy. That’s okay too but you’re allowed to say no. You’ve got stuff to do. Just because they’re home doesn’t mean you have to drop what you’re doing. I’ll just prepare you – they’re going to be upset by this. A word to the wise, let them be upset. If you start criticizing them for being upset you’ll open up a whole other can of worms.

Kids Want Your Rules to be Clear

We live in a world of rules. That’s a good thing! Ask yourself this, “Do my kids know what my rules are and why they’re important?”

They don’t have to be overly complicated.

Make time for loudness.

Make time for messiness.

Make time for being alone.

Make time for activities.

These provide a predictable structure to the day. This structure helps them stay on your good side. Your kids need to know how to stay on your good side because, let’s be honest, you treat them better when they’re on your good side.

Here are a few examples of rules we have along with the explanations we give our kids

  • No running in the kitchen and dining room area. Our floors are hardwood so you could slip and hit your head on the counter or the floor.
  • Sit down when you’re using scissors. Tripping and falling with scissors can really hurt.
  • Sit down to eat. Food that’s dropped while walking around is hard to clean up and can get mashed into carpets.
  • You can’t touch someone else without permission from them. This includes roughhousing, tickling, hugs, and kisses. (We follow that rule too)
  • You can’t enter a siblings room without permission.

We maintain these rules without the use of punishments, bribes, and yelling. I wrote more about that here.

Exercise Empathy and Understanding

In times of uncertainty it’s important to remember that kids don’t always have productive ways of expressing their anxieties. They get silly and fidget or maybe take pleasure in destroying things. Do your best to reserve your anger and disappointment. That doesn’t mean just accept everything they do. Just don’t be mean about it. This starts with active listening, and here’s a quick article with tips on that.

One thing I know about kids. Every single one of them wants to get along with their parents. They often don’t know how to do it but they really want to.

Here’s a few examples:

  • You tell them it’s time to shut screens off. They bicker and moan, “Ugh!!! We aren’t in school! Why can’t we just hang out?!” I might say, “I know it’s frustrating. I can see how it would be nice to be able to just play on your tablet.”
  • You tell them it’s time for bed. They bicker and moan again, “I don’t have to get up in the morning! Why don’t I just stay up late?!” I might say, “You don’t have to go to sleep but I need you to stay in your room. I’ve still got several things to do and it’s difficult to do them if you’re still playing around me.”
  • They start panicking that one of their friends is going to get sick. They start wondering what will happen if they get sick. I might say, “We’re all trying to do what we can to keep each other safe. That’s one of the reasons school was closed. I know you’re worried about your friends though. Should we set up some time to talk with them more?”

I’m not criticizing even their backtalk. I’m actually encouraging it a little bit. I want them to tell me how they’re feeling. If they don’t feel like they can tell me then they’ll start bottling up those emotions.

Free Your Kids from Criticism

Criticism undermines every goal I can think of that we have as parents. That doesn’t mean we always agree with what they’re doing. Correcting someone says, “that was wrong;” criticizing someone says, “you’re wrong.”

Kids feel the difference.

Here’s one helpful question you can ask yourself that I got from the well-known counselor and psychiatrist William Glasser:

“Is what I’m going to say going to hurt the relationship, or help it?”

That one question can be enough to stop you in your tracks and re-evaluate what you’re about to say.

Sometimes it’s helpful to look at the behaviors of your kids through a different lens. Like the picture below. If you look at the behaviors on the left, those are the kids you don’t want to spend time with. The behaviors on the right are the kids you do want to spend time with. It’s the same behavior though. You’re just seeing it with a new lens.

I hope these ideas help you. They’ve certainly helped me over the years. I’d love to hear how your time with your kids went. I’d love to hear you say, “I never thought we could get along this well. We got on each other’s nerves a bit but we stayed out of each other’s way a lot and even made time for fun.

That’s what a family should be about, right? Wouldn’t you rather get to the end of this forced homeschooling period thinking, “I feel closer to my kids now?”

Take it day by day. You can’t do it perfect.

Send me a message and I’ll reach back out after all this is over and I’ll want to hear how it went. Good luck!

Philip Mott

I've been working with families for two decades now. I write about topics pertaining to parents of children ages 4-12.

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