With the ongoing Phase Two (Heightened Alert), you may be thrilled to be able to see your children during the daylight hours, but wary that the shrieks and howls from your frequently bickering kids will not be conducive to high productivity. Families have been adapting to new routines brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, managing their children and finding ways to work from home at the same time.
Now, parents will have to continue multitasking for a while more, now that working from home is the default mode during Phase Two (Heightened Alert).
Experts say the trick to maintaining your career A-game while working from home is to focus on your children’s routine, rather than your work-from-home reality from the coronavirus outbreak.
Parents who homeschool their children also provide tips on how to cope during these times.
Here are some tips to making the most of your time at home and how to cope during these times.
Ms Dawn Fung, 40, founder of Homeschool Singapore, a com-munity of homeschoolers here which has a website, encouraged parents to view this period of being at home as an opportunity, rather than a burden.
“The circuit breaker has forced you to have time with your kids, whether or not you like it, or can handle it,” said the mother of three homeschooled children.
Try to “reframe” your perspective of life with your children so that you can cope from a position of strength, she added. “You must prioritise your family because their behaviour and demands will affect you, which will affect your mental and emotional health.”
Mrs Angela Lim-Er, 44, who homeschools her four children aged six to 12, said family members’ mental well-being must be taken care of.
“There is a laundry list of things to be done, so parents must come up with a routine they are comfortable with, and be flexible. We must do what we can to cope with the anxiety and uncertainty that come along with all the changes.”
She added: “Children may fight with each other a lot at home, but that is part of growing up. Now that we don’t have to rush off for activities outside, it gives us time to work out disputes, communicate with each other and facilitate the learning process.”
Set family goals that are achievable, said Ms Fung.
“For example, it is not practical to have all people in the home work for eight hours peacefully in their own zones if you have a few pre-schoolers in the house,” she said.
“If your expectations are unrealistic, you will stress yourself and your family out.”
It may also not be possible to have as much personal time like in the past, she said. “Recognise that this change is because of external factors that are out of everyone’s control. If not, you will be resentful of your children for taking away that ‘me time’.”
Ms Fung said: “There is no ‘magic formula’ to juggling working and being a parent at the same time.
“The whole world has slowed down because of Covid-19. Every parent who is an employer, employee, partner and vendor will be mindful that each of them has caregiving commitments to attend to at home.”
Negotiate for more reasonable deadlines and quotas, she said, and talk to bosses about your needs and limitations, if possible.
Mrs Lim-Er said parents can still try to carve out time for them-selves to do activities they enjoy, such as reading, exercising or a craft project.
For instance, she has an hour of “quiet time” on her own every day, a practice she started three years ago and which her children respect.
“The children can read books and play by themselves, but they are not allowed to talk to each other. They also need that quiet time, otherwise the constant noise and activity affect them,” she said.
Mr Mark Lim, 43, who runs his own educational training consultancy and homeschools his two sons with his wife, said spouses must communicate.
“This can be a period of high tension between husband and wife, especially when everyone is at home. Both need to be on the same page and not have differing views of parenting,” he said.
“We are sharing housework, doing regular work and homeschooling the children. It can be stressful if the spouses don’t understand each other’s stress points.”
Find some shared time as a couple, after the children have gone to bed, for instance, to watch Netflix together and enjoy each other’s company, he added.
Predictable schedules make children, especially younger ones, feel secure, which helps them better understand the expectations placed on them when a parent starts working from home, says Ms Lee Puay Fung Veron, an assistant manager in the pre-school management division at PAP Community Foundation (PCF) headquarters.
Planning is crucial for the work-from-home parent, for whom working in concentrated spurts may be more realistic.
This could mean maximising the uninterrupted hours when a child is at school or at childcare, trying to take conference or phone calls during a toddler’s nap time, or waking earlier or resuming work after Junior goes to bed.
It’s unrealistic to expect tiny tots to understand that Mum can’t pay attention to them when she’s within grabbing distance. Toddlers may want Mum, rather than their customary caregiver, to play with them or tend to their bath time and other needs.
Arrange with caregivers such as the child’s grandparents, your domestic helper or other members of the family to support you as you work from home, advises Mr Shem Yao, head of Touch Integrated Family Group (Parenting).
At the same time, make full use of breaks from your computer screen during the day.
Ms Lee advises: “Take some time to assist your young child in her shower and have meals together. Make use of such pockets of time to bond with your child.”
She suggests engaging the child with activities at home, including age-appropriate household chores, which build confidence and encourage a sense of responsibility.
Sometimes, the parent simply needs to set aside his Google sheets for full-on dad duty.
Ms Geraldine Arudas Susay, senior specialist in development at Seed Institute, which provides parenting workshops and resources, says: “In situations where toddlers are clingy and unsettled, parents should be flexible and attend to their child’s needs first. If an older child is upset because of something that happened at school, talk through it with him.
“Nothing is more important than your child’s well-being.”
It is prudent to prepare the ground for better cooperation.
PCF’s Ms Lee says: “Clear communication and setting boundaries are important when setting rules for children.”
She suggests apprising the children of what they might see you doing when you start working from home, as well as what you expect of them.
“For instance, when you are on a video call, let them know you need to step away and that you would appreciate it if they kept their volume low,” she says.
“Engage in role-play activities to help them understand why you need them to behave in a certain way. This will help them to react positively when they encounter such situations.”
Anticipate how you will deal with common scenarios such as your children wanting to play video games or asking for help with their homework.
Mr Yao says: “Talk about boundaries with regards to screen time, such as duration and timing.
“When it comes to homework, parents should communicate from the start that they will help their child with his homework at an agreed time. This will help manage the child’s expectations.”
Even if your “home office” is really a fancy name for the dining table where your laptop is ensconced, designated work and play spaces are helpful in setting boundaries for children, which aid them in understanding that Mum’s work is important.
Mr Yao suggests affirming the child positively when he keeps to his play zone and learns to ask permission before entering a space dedicated to his parent’s work.
These parent and child spheres need not be far apart.
Mr Yao says: “Allow your children to be near you while you attend to your work matters, within the boundaries outlined. This will help them understand that they cannot demand your attention and disturb you whenever they like.
“However, you will remain within sight to respond to them when needed.”
Remember “BBC Dad” from 2017?
South Korea-based academic Robert Kelly and his family achieved viral fame when his two young children crashed a live interview he was giving to the BBC.
His daughter, then four, hippity-hopped through the unlocked door, followed by his son swooshing in using a baby walker, before his wife skidded into the room and frantically bundled them out.
“BBC Dad” is a reminder to employers of the realities of working from home, who nonetheless have to trust that their staff are performing as well remotely as they would have done in the office, according to Ms Jessie Koh, head of Reach Counselling Service.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.