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Advice to families on work and school at home

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Families are facing an unexpected challenge in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic —  everyone is home. All the time. Being in close proximity for an extended period of time can be stressful, but this stress is magnified when there is something else, like a major viral outbreak, thrown into the mix. What can families do to cope with the sudden changes?

Keep to a normal routine

With one or both parents working, and children at school, the daily routine is set most days. But when telework and distance education become the norm, the old schedule can go out the window. Establish a new routine for the duration of any homebound time. This doesn’t have to mirror the old routine. If kids, who have been getting up before 6 a.m. to get ready for the day, want to sleep until 8 a.m., that’s fine. They need the sleep. The same is true for parents who have been fighting traffic on 95 or 66 for years. But getting to sleep in isn’t a license to stay up until 3 a.m. watching YouTube videos. Have a set bedtime and wake-up time. If you can, do all the normal things that a typical day would entail, including a set start and finish time for school and work whenever possible. If there is a break for lunch, consider eating together. Definitely eat dinner as a family.

Balance family time and space

It’s always important for families to be able to spend time together, but we also need space at times. To avoid the potential of people feeling overwhelmed and surrounded, identify a personal private space for every member of the. That way if a person needs quiet time, that space is always available for them. If not everyone has their own room, think creatively. Can someone have a bathroom that is their designated space? Or the basement? If everyone knows they have a place to go for alone time, it reduces tension and feelings of being trapped in the house. This outlet decreases the likelihood of pressure building up between individuals or among the whole family.

Family activities

When the family is together, make sure to take the opportunity to connect in a positive way. It’s important to be able to laugh together and enjoy each other’s company. Here is a list of 15 different things you can do with your family at home:

Play a board or card game together

Take turns sharing music with each other

Have a family cake-baking contest

Plant and tend a garden

Learn a new craft like making mosaics or origami

Learn to play instruments or start a band

Research your family tree

Have a dance party

Start a family movie club, take turns picking movies that are appropriate for everybody

Learn to knit

Play croquet or badminton

Read a book together (take turns reading out loud, do voices for all the characters)

Have a family talent show

Have a backyard camp out

Pick a patron saint for the family, learn about that saint

Screen time

For most members of the family, the lure of screen time is a strong one, especially when the out-of-house options are limited. Balance is important. While it’s not a good idea to play videogames or watch movies online all day, it’s fine to use it as an activity for a set amount of time when there aren’t a lot of other options. Parents will want to give teenage children a little more leeway when it comes to social media.  An important part of being a teenager is being able to build friendships. If they are unable to see their friends in school or spend time with them outside of school, this will cause an increase in stress, anxiety and frustration. During these extraordinary circumstances, parents will want to be a little more flexible on how teenagers are using technology to remain in contact with friends.

Family prayer

Coming together in prayer is a major source of support for families in crisis. If a family already has a set routine for prayer such as a nightly rosary, strive to maintain that routine. Families who haven’t had the time to establish a prayer routine together now can incorporate this into family life. This can be as simple as reading the Gospel of the day together. On Sundays, consider watching one of the online Masses from a parish in the diocese as a family. In crises, it’s easy to become distracted with worries or lose sight of what is important. By praying as a family, we are able to return our focus to God and draw closer as a family as we do so.

Horne is director of clinical services for diocesan Catholic Charities.

Find out more

To make a teletherapy appointment with a Catholic Charities counselor, call 703/425-0109 or 540/371-1124.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020