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Connecting with Kids: Surviving the Slump

By Lori Jackson and Steve Peck

Developing a new strategy when the schedule isn’t all that

In our last column, we talked about the importance of keeping and maintaining a family schedule to map out the overlapping work and homeschooling responsibilities of the new American family. Particularly for families with younger children, this is a critical task to make sure a setup is in place for work to be completed and Zoom meetings managed. We’ve heard from many families that this can be an organizational game-changer.

However, as time has passed and the novelty of being together has worn off a bit, we’ve heard some feedback like this:

“I can’t get them to do anything.”

“I know what I need to do; I just can’t do it.”

“I’m bored, but I don’t want to start anything”

“I have zero ability to concentrate.”

Both parents and kids (especially older kids) have shared that they are less productive than they have ever been in their lives―and it’s freaking them out! After all, they are organized and scheduled. They have a place to work, a good internet connection, coffee (or the young person’s equivalent) at the ready. And yet nothing is coming. Nothing. 

What’s really going on? 

We are the hamster on the emotional wheel and there is no off-ramp. We want the ramp―the ramp takes us to what needs to be done and accomplished. 

But did you read the news, there’s 30 more cases in your town?

Did you hear the news, school is canceled and distance learning is my new normal?

Did you see my sister? She never stops talking and I can’t stand it.

Our emotions are running the show far more than usual, and far more than we realize.

We’ve also lost our routines and with them the typical ways we have learned to manage how we feel. No more trips to the gym, coffee with the girls, sports or classes with our friends.

So is it surprising that we are facing an emotional backlash and we can’t get off the emotional wheel? Is it surprising that a schedule isn’t enough right now to help us to overcome how we feel and get to work? It’s not. It’s just that no one is telling you and your kids that it’s okay. 

What do you do when you can’t do?

Be honest. Name it, label it, be honest about it. I can’t work and I’m not afraid to say it. I’m unfocused, unmotivated to do what I need to do and I can’t force myself to do it. There, it’s said. 

Be fair. Most adults and certainly most of our kids have never experienced this type of situation before. It’s scary, it’s unknown and it’s got no clear ending. This type of interruption is going to impact the human brain and body. 

Be prepared. What can you do? What are activities that make you and your kids happy and relaxed? Is it a game in the backyard? A Mario Kart competition? Ice cream for dinner? Netflix Marathon? Find things―and have them at the ready that will help ease the transition from nothing to something.  

Then, make your new schedule.

Let’s face it, not doing can only go on for so long. We have to get things done. But, we can take the list above and make a more realistic schedule that takes into consideration our current situation. Sit down with your family and be honest about what is happening in your life: 

1. Make a list of the things you like and that you know will help you to get off the wheel―get your emotions in check so you can get something done. Take those events and put them into your schedule as motivation and a way to keep yourself going.

2. Be honest with yourself about what you and your family can and will accomplish. In my life, we have the following categories. Have to, nice to, and would love to. We aren’t even bothering with the “would love to” now because seeing them just makes us feel overwhelmed. Some days, if one thing gets done we consider it a good day. 

3. Be aware throughout the day of how you and your family are doing. Schedule changes on the fly are the new normal.

Like the commercials tell us, we’ll get through this. But, it’s going to take us paying closer attention to our emotions and how we manage them. Good luck. 

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