7 Tips from a Psychologist for Home Schooling Stress

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If You're Handling Home Schooling Stress, Here's 7 Tips from a Clinical Psychologist

The end is in sight. Here's how to get to the finish post

homeschooling stress
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Exhausted, anxious, emotional – just some of the things you might be feeling if you’re homeschooling right now. Because managing your offspring’s education while navigating your own workload while simply trying to get through another day of a relentless pandemic is, to use the understatement of the century, hard.

And although there may be hope on the horizon with schools re-opening soon, that doesn’t mean the current stress is set to magically disappear. If anything, the relentlessness of lockdown means moods are more frazzled than ever, with parents despairing at the constant juggling and endless guilt at not being able to give anything – or anyone – the full attention they wish they could (plus, seriously, how hard are some of those maths questions?).

But take a deep breath. Even if a mindfulness class at a sun-drenched spa retreat is a faraway dream (let alone five minutes of quiet time in the kitchen without being interrupted for a snack order) there are techniques to manage this stress.

'The challenge we are facing as parents is like a multitasking Olympics, and we are all beginners in learning to manage during a pandemic,' says Clinical Psychologist Dr Emma Hepburn, aka @thepsychologymum, author of A Toolkit For Modern Life: 53 Ways To Look After Your Mind.

'Mistakes will be made. But try to be gentle on yourself. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t keep up your usual standards. Remember, you are in survival mode, not your normal life.' Read on for her tips on how to give stress a time-out.

A Toolkit for Modern Life 30 Ways to Look After Your Mind
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1. Work out your cool-down toolkit

While there’s nothing more likely to dial up the blood pressure than someone instructing you to 'stay calm,' arming yourself with a few sure-fire shortcuts to chill will prove invaluable – and empowering – the next time tension rises.

'Slowing your breathing, shifting your context (even just going to the toilet for a few minutes!) and moving or getting outside' will all help diffuse stress, says Dr Hepburn. Plus don’t underestimate the impact of 'doing something silly that will make everybody laugh,' she adds.

2. Shift your standards

Those principles you used to have about TV/sugary snacks/getting dressed? Park them for now. 'Research shows that flexibility with standards helped families get through the first lockdown,' says Dr Hepburn.

'So shift your expectations of what you can do to where you are now, not to your normal life pre-pandemic. That might mean downgrading standards and prioritising only what is necessary. Being more accepting of screen time, for instance, is one thing parents said helped them cope.'

Additionally, look out for comparison and self-criticism. 'Guilt tends to come with the territory of parenting. But it's OK to have some extra screen time, it's OK to sit down for a break. Being compassionate to yourself can help get you through,' she says. 'The aim is to survive and get through a pandemic – not be the perfect teacher, parent, worker… which is impossible all at once.'

3. Keep a check on your capacity cup

If the to-do list is never-ending, the kids keep interrupting, you’ve got three Zoom meetings and four lessons to monitor on your schedule and it’s still only 11am: stop. 'Watch out for the pressure rising,' says Dr Hepburn.

'I talk about the capacity cup in my book. it's important to notice when your capacity is getting full and manage this before you overflow.'

Have strategies in place for when you’re at the tipping point, as well as 'routes off the anxiety roundabout' she says. This might mean factoring in time to yourself – because yes, you do deserve it – as well as opportunities to talk it through with people you trust. Alternatively, have a dance or sweat it out with an activity that focuses your energy.

4. Keep calm and try not to shout

It would be fairly accurate to suggest emotions are swirling right now. 'When children’s emotions rise, our emotions often rise in tandem – but responding with shouting just raises everyone else’s and rarely helps,' says Dr Hepburn.

Instead, she suggests focusing on ways to calm down before you react (yes, we know, never easy). 'Try slow breathing or taking a few minutes before you respond. 'Additionally, make kids feel like you’re on the same side.

'Keep an open dialogue and focus on solutions rather than ascribing blame,' she adds. 'And remember to notice everyone’s achievements – at the end of the day, sit down as a family and think about what went well.'

6. Learn to share (chores, feelings, time…)

Partnered up? You might feel like you’ve been elected headteacher, head chef and head of department, while others in your household appear rather less conscientious. 'Research from the first wave showed that pre-planning and allocating tasks helped families cope,' says Dr Hepburn.

If you're in a hetero couple, you might know that: 'However, the domestic load still predominantly falls to women.' The solution? 'Tackle this head-on. Work out together what needs to be done and who will do what.'

But it’s not just about doing, adds Dr Hepburn. Sure, plan 'to do' time, but also schedule in 'to don't' time – plenty of free space and breaks.

Couples also need to be empathetic – with no separation between home and work and school, helping each find a moment’s peace goes a long way. 'Lockdown research shows that planning even small pockets of time for parents to be alone helps them manage better.'

7. Give yourself time to recover when this is over

Even when schools have fully opened, there might be an almighty hangover after this hectic time. 'Change, even positive change, requires a period of adjustment and can be taxing on your brain,' says Dr Hepburn.

'Allow time to adjust. Have realistic expectations – you’re still living through a pandemic and won’t get back to full productivity straight away. We are all exhausted and there will still be high emotions and anxiety. Talk openly about this and problem solve ways to help in the knowledge we are all learning together how to manage this.'

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