Balancing school and parenting is challenging at the best of times, but back to school season during a pandemic is a whole other level of stress. It’s normal to be anxious or feel stressed about how this year will go and while there may not be a perfect solution to excel as a student-parent in the current climate, here are some tips to help:
Set a schedule. Establishing some routines will help you and your children feel more settled. This could include early morning writing time, working during nap times, or studying after children have gone to bed. If your children are older, maybe everyone can have a regular quiet time for studying, reading, listening to music, watching a movie, etc. Consider taking some time on the weekend to plan activities or crafts for small kids that will keep them busy for 30 minutes at a time during the week.
Connect with other students with families. It can be hard for classmates without children to understand the struggles you are having. Reach out to others in your courses or program who are juggling similar priorities right now. They might be able to share the challenges and successes they have had.
Make a study space for yourself where you can leave all your work or school materials. Pinterest has many suggestions on how to create a home office in unconventional spaces. Studying and attending remote lectures will be easier if you don’t have to pack and unpack your computer and books every time.
If you are parenting with a partner, plan how you will share responsibilities so that you have time to dedicate to your schoolwork. If your children are older, discuss how they can help around the house too. Kids may be more committed to a plan that they help make. The plan will look different for every family, but having those conversations sooner than later can be helpful.
If parenting alone, communication is still important. If your kids are old enough, talk to them about how they can help you by giving you some quiet time when you need it. Reassure them that you will spend time with them after you complete your work. For younger kids, squeeze in your own school work during naps or find age-appropriate activities that allow you to work for short periods of time. Be patient- you might not find the right tactic right away and it might take a while to figure out what works best for you and your kids.
Do your best to create and assert healthy boundaries. While this may not always be possible with children who are younger or have complex needs, do what you can to create boundaries where you can. Explore creative solutions to help carve out time for yourself- not just for school work but also to exercise, get outside or to do something you enjoy, remember that self-care isn’t selfish.
Don’t forget this is stressful for your children too. Going back to school is a big change for them as well but there are a lot of resources available to help them deal with the transition:
Psychology Foundation of Canada-COVID-19: Resources to build our children’s resilience
School Mental Health Ontario- Supporting mental health and wellness during the return to school: Tips for parents and families
Give Yourself a Break. Even if you follow all these tips, there will probably be some days where you feel burnt out and overwhelmed. While you may try your best to not take your frustrations out on your children, there may be times where you lose your temper or raise your voice. Although you may be using the weekend to study or get work done, don’t forget to also plan some family time to enjoy each other’s company. At the end of the day, remember: you love each other and you’re all on the same team.
Know that you are not alone. There are many students, staff and faculty who are experiencing the same challenges. If you are feeling distressed or overwhelmed, remember that you have support available to you.
-Lindsey Wacher, R.Kin, MSc, Health and Wellness Promoter