Maintaining Sanity in a World of Social Distancing

Most of the world has gone into hiding from a virus, and even homeschoolers aren’t used to being at home 24/7. Our family is missing church activities 2–3 times a week, visits with friends, homeschool meet-ups at the park, and (currently) the softball season our girls should have started a few weeks ago. So while this situation is undoubtedly harder on kids accustomed to going to school (and their parents, who in many cases work outside the home), it can be taxing for pretty much anyone’s sanity.

But with 13 years as a stay-at-home mom and having been homeschooled myself, I do have a fair bit of experience with being “stuck” at home. So here are a few tips that may be helpful during this unusual time of “social distancing.” Homeschool moms, feel free to share with your non-homeschooling friends—we’re all in this boat together at the moment!

First, one that’s mostly for the moms . . .

1. Get dressed.

I know, I know . . . this breaks all the homeschooling stereotypes. Honestly, we do often have school in our pajamas, at least for part of the day. But I’ve found that getting dressed helps get us out of the “lounging” mindset and into the “school” mindset. Also, sitting around in your pajamas is great until you do it for several days in a row—then you start to feel like a slob. And so you get dressed, and you feel better for it.

On occasion, it’s nice to do more than just get dressed. A woman’s self-esteem benefits when she feels decidedly un-frumpy every so often. So although we can’t go to church at present, on Sundays I’m making an effort to put on a nice outfit, apply my make-up, and maybe even curl my hair. Besides being a morale booster, it’s one way to make Sunday stand out among days that may feel very much the same.

2. Stick to a routine, not necessarily a schedule.

Some homeschool moms are masters of organization, and good for them. I tend to look at schedules the way the Pirates of the Caribbean look at “the Code.” In other words, the kids understand basically what we plan to do every day (I’ve actually started making them checklists so I don’t have to remember it all myself), but we don’t do everything at the same times of day.

On the other hand, I’ve found that a totally open-ended schedule doesn’t work so well either. Just before this virus craziness broke out, I started enforcing what I call “school hours”—that is, an official starting and ending time to our school day. The starting time is mostly for my sake (because I tend to procrastinate getting started), and the ending time is for the kids’ sake. Actually, strike that—they’re both for my sake. I got tired of them hurrying through their obligations to get to their video game time, as if that were the point of their whole day. Now they may not do any screens (except those pertaining to school) until 4 PM. This not only gives them a more defined goal, but also saves me from having to field extra requests. Which reminds me . . .

3. Set expectations.

If you find a particular question or conflict coming up repeatedly, make a new rule or give them a broader answer to help reduce your mental workload. For instance, one of my children is a banana-holic, and she would ask us multiple times a day if she could have a banana. We finally decided to tell her that she could have just two bananas a day but could decide when she wished to eat them. As another example, my 6-year-old has trouble sitting still and keeping his hands to himself during Bible study. When we started out the year, I gave him a list of “Bible Study Rules” that he needed to follow, on pain of losing screen time (gasp!). It hasn’t worked perfectly, but at least when he starts crawling across his sisters, we remind him he’s breaking the Bible Study Rules, and he generally stops.

4. Teach them that “Mom” and “Teacher” are the same person, but with different roles.

This can be a difficult notion for both mom and kids to grasp. I struggled for years with keeping my kids on task and not letting every school day become a mom-counseling session. Teaching them this concept (and being okay with it myself) helped immensely. For more on this idea, you can read my posts here and here.

5. Set / enforce screen time limits.

Screens are such convenient babysitters, I know! When we first got a gaming system, I thought I would just tell the kids when they had played long enough rather than setting a hard and fast limit. I quickly learned that there were two problems with that: 1) I became the bad guy whenever it was time to turn the game off, and 2) the kids started feeling entitled to play as long as they wanted. Further, long periods of screen time often made them more whiny than they were before. Setting limitations not only tells them exactly what to expect but helps keep them more mentally healthy.

6. Fill time with chores and other requirements.

If your kids are used to a busier schedule, they may have a lot more free time on their hands. This may be the perfect time to teach them how to do their laundry, clean a toilet, unload the dishwasher, etc. These are skills that they will need in adulthood, probably even more than algebra!

Of course, if you are a safe distance away from neighbors, you can send them outside and tell them they’re not allowed back in for a certain length of time. During the summer, I sometimes require my kids to spend an hour outside (so long as it’s not raining) before they can have an hour of video games. I may have to resurrect that rule.

7. Make them an activity list.

One idea that’s worked well for us in summertime is writing down a list of activities for the kids to choose from any time they are bored. Although some of these can involve you, most should be things the kids can do by themselves. Here are some examples:

  • paint a picture
  • write a letter
  • make / play with homemade play-doh
  • make creations with salt-water-flour dough
  • make friendship bracelets
  • play “school,” “restaurant,” “store,” “hospital,” etc.
  • put on a play
  • have an art contest
  • READ
  • have a pillow fight or (as my siblings and I did more often) a stuffed animal war
  • build a “fort” out of blankets and furniture
  • hide and seek, sardines, flashlight tag
  • play hopscotch or draw with chalk on the driveway
  • have a picnic
  • teach them how to make a dandelion chain or whistle through a blade of grass
  • look for 4-leaf clovers
  • have a tea party
  • do a puzzle
  • play cards or a board game
  • draw something using YouTube instructional videos (we love Art for Kids Hub)
  • FaceTime friends

8. If all else fails, let them be “bored.”

In a world where we fill our kids’ schedules with activities and can’t survive five quiet minutes without looking at our phones, extra time may bring on many complaints of boredom. But being bored can actually be good for you. Boredom can spark creativity and help us to quiet our minds and de-stress. If the kids complain about being bored, send them up to organize their rooms. They may not get much organization done, but I can pretty much guarantee that they will find something up there to keep them busy.

Good luck, fellow moms. We’ll get through this social distancing together!—just make sure to stay at least 6 feet away. 😉

—Jessica

Photo credit: 1, 3, 5 images courtesy of author.

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