By Lorie Hailey
While it seems like social distancing measures have been going on for much longer, it’s actually only been two weeks since Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear first encouraged businesses to allow their employees to work from home if possible.
Many companies took action right away, enacting telework and social distancing plans that prioritized the health and safety of their employees while continuing to serve the needs of their clients and customers. Since then, schools and childcare centers have temporarily shut down, government centers and non life-sustaining businesses have been closed to in-person visitors, elective medical procedures were canceled, and more businesses have sent their employees home to work.
Working from home sounds easier than it is. There’s a new set of challenges – setting up virtual private networks (VPNs) or other online networks, making sure all employees have access to the right software and are trained to use it, learning new communication techniques, and ensuring that employees are strictly adhering to cybersecurity safety measures.
In normal times, these adjustments may take only a few days or a couple of weeks. But normal times, these aren’t. In addition to the logistics of setting up shop at home, many teleworkers are dealing with an extra challenge – getting their work done while parenting (and educating) children who are home from school. It can make an already anxious time even more stressful.
Colleen Miller, a teacher at Fayette Cooperating Preschool in Lexington, was featured in a video to help preschoolers deal with their feelings about coronavirus that aired Wednesday during Beshear’s daily briefing. But Miller has a few tips for parents, too.
Preschoolers and other young children in particular don’t need strict schedules and structured activities every day, she said. During this unprecedented time, many parents are allowing more screen time than usual, and that’s OK.
“Don’t be too hard on yourselves,” Miller said.
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Keep in mind that children need to be able to play independently, so “you do not have to entertain them all day long,” she said.
And a little perspective goes a long way. Parents may feel anxious and even a bit frustrated in this unchartered territory, but “remember that having young children at home during this time should give you joy,” Miller said.
Miller’s video told children it is normal to have big feelings about the changes in their routines and the restrictions of social distancing, and offered a great reminder: “You are brave. You can do hard things.” The same advice holds true for parents.
“Breathe and take care of yourselves,” she said. “And please know that your children are going to be just fine.”
A few additional tips from mental health experts – including Dr. Allen Brenzel, medical director for Kentucky Department of Behavioral Health, Development and Intellectual Disabilities – to help parents get their work done and feel good about their roles as parent educators:
- Creative a designated work environment.
- Set realistic expectations. Don’t bite off more work than you can chew, and be realistic about what you can accomplish and how long it will take.
- Set a realistic schedule. Try working in blocks of time.
- Preserve daily routines as much as possible.
- Coordinate activities with your spouse so that each of you gets dedicated, uninterrupted work time.
- Work before your children get up and while they nap – if they nap.
- Take every opportunity you can to get outside. Children need nature, and so do parents.
- Give your children their own tasks to work on. Use online educational (and fun) resources to entertain your children when you need to hop on a conference call or concentrate on a difficult task.
- Make your physical and mental health a priority. Maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly and get enough sleep.
- Take a break from social media and don’t overexpose yourself to too much information.
- Reduce feelings of isolation by connecting with others through appropriate social distancing or virtual opportunities.