April 9th, 2020

Surviving Virtual School for Parents During the Pandemic

Yvette E. McDonald, LCSW

Virtual school is in session for many students and caregivers and for some this concept is mind-blowing. Doing school in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic seems doable and impossible all in the same breath. And for coronavirus Front Line Workers, figuring out how to navigate the ins and outs regarding virtual school in addition to navigating the tremendous amount of stress, anxiety and overwhelming feelings that come along with the duties of their job, can be the recipe for a meltdown.

My clients who are both Front Line Workers and parents ask: “How am I supposed to figure out how to virtually do this teaching thing when my emotions feel in such disarray? All I feel is numb in the moment and I’m struggling to catch my own breath.” They report continuously getting emails and calls regarding school and then stress about how their child/children will share a computer. Parents have to navigate which kid gets on the screen when they’re supposed to at their designated time, while in the midst of their own mental health crisis.

I hear you and I see you. As someone who has homeschooled for the past 11 years, I have experience when it comes to teaching kids at home. That in and of itself is a difficult process, now add onto that the chaos of the Covid-19 pandemic which has turned everything upside down. Catch your breath and let’s do a virtual school pep talk!

Firstly, recognize, accept and work through the fact that this is new and with all new stuff, it can bring about feelings of overwhelm, anxiety and frustration. These are all totally valid reactions!

Then, create a new normal. Here are some tips on how to do so:

1. Family Meeting

Let’s start with a family meeting to discuss the reality of the situation, expectations, limitations. This time will also serve for you guys to discuss any concerns, fears or frustrations in order to problem-solve them effectively prior to starting this new normal.

2. Create a Routine

Within this new normal you're going to need to create new routines. With families sharing computers, you need to discuss the layout regarding who needs to be on the computer-based on the demands of each child's assignments. Orchestrate, to the best of your ability, how the computer and morning meetings and virtual appointments with teachers are going to be navigated.

3. Daily Meditation/Prayer & Journaling

You’re going to need a daily pep talk for yourself, be it prayer, mediation, or journaling. As the caregiver, you acknowledge the newness and changes of everything. Show yourself some self-love! Every morning you’re going to have to wake up and love on yourself- tell yourself that we’re going to get through this and give yourself a dose of compassion and understanding. Your brain and heart have to understand that this is new and this change is gift wrapped in chaos, so you have to give yourself mercy and grace as you navigate this new normal. (Keep in mind that it takes 30 days to build a habit.)

4. Daily Gratitude Exercises

Develop the habit of gratitude exercises. My boys and I complete this task daily in order to take advantage of all the emotional and mental benefits. Try writing in a gratitude journal with your kids! Gratitude exercises help transition the mind and take it out of a state of negativity. It's like a chemical reaction of sorts in our brains which helps you to get grounded in the moment as opposed to swallowed up in it all.

5. Practice Self-Care

This is where you need to create a self-care routine, not only for yourself but also for your family. Create time to reset and recharge. Self-care techniques can include: going for walk, green time, taking a long warm bath, talking with your counselor, unplugging from electronics, stretching/yoga, trying something new, practicing mediation, dancing, writing in your journal, being still, unstructured time, trying a new recipe, eating healthy, and getting rest. There are various ways that you could love on yourself during this time and it’s not being selfish! You cannot pour from an empty cup.

Feeling like you breathing a little easier with these tips? That’s my desire!

You got this!

You’ll make it through. It’s not gonna be perfect and that’s totally okay. That's actually one of the bigger elements that you have to walk through. You are a front line person there is a lot going on and this whole schooling at home isn’t just a quick one, two, three I got this. Being a homeschooling mom myself it has taken me years (and I don’t say that word years lightly) to get to the systems that we have in place, the rhythm and flow and the ease of it. But again, this is something that has taken me a long time and it was my only job for the beginning portion of it. A lot of time, energy, research, trial, and error went into getting where we are today. You’re not going to achieve any level of that within this crisis nor are you expected to, it really is just doing the best you can within the circumstances. We are not aiming for perfection. Realistic expectations need to be created in order to survive this.

Yvette E. McDonald is the owner and counselor at Traveling Light Counseling, a practice for individuals, couples and families helping them achieve a new normal within all the chaos that threatens their sanity.