The boy, at home

image of child wearing red ear-flap hat sitting in blue wagon
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

No matter where you live, the pandemic means that your life has become compressed both in space and time. We can’t go anywhere, we can’t get together with others, and we are stuck inside. I’m lucky, I live on a mountain where there are lots of hiking trails and parks so I can get out, but that isn’t the case for a majority of people. I’ve been thinking about how to handle children at home during this time.

Almost all schools are closed, and we’re told to distance ourselves from others – what’s your son doing? I would bet that he’s spending a lot of time playing video games, texting with friends, or watching TV. This isn’t ideal, but what can you do to shift his “new normal”?

The first step: establish a schedule. When we’re not all essentially on house arrest due to a pandemic, your boy goes to school, and the school day provides structure for him. He knows he has math first thing, then language arts, and so his day goes. He has lunch at the same time every day, and a set time for activities. He needs that structure now more than ever. A key piece of this is that he shouldn’t be allowed to sleep in. This is not vacation, he should be getting up at the same time as he would on school days, with the exception that he doesn’t have to physically go to school.

Write down everything he’s expected to do– while he isn’t in school, undoubtedly he has school work to do – most school systems have instituted online sessions and syllabuses. No matter how well designed that online material is, though, it won’t take the same amount of time as it does in the classroom. I’m not saying that online work is not as challenging, but it may give you a hint at how much time is wasted in class simply getting every student to do the work. So, school work is first on his list. He doesn’t have to do it all at once; he can, and probably should, break it into chunks throughout his day – that will help break up the day, and make our new pandemic daily pattern more palatable.

The next thing he needs to do is to figure out his part of the extra work that has developed because everyone is home all day. Mostly, this involves making lunch and cleaning up. He’s likely not aware that at school, there’s a cleaning crew that comes in at the end of the day to clean the floors, empty waste bins, and the like, and there is a kitchen full of people who prepare his lunch. He should be doing that work at home. At the end of the day, he should be responsible for bagging up the family trash, which will be much more because everyone is home. He’ll complain that it’s not fair that he’s responsible for your trash, but point out that you’re doing more at home as well.

As for feeding him, every child over five years old can work or help in the kitchen, and should do so. It may take longer teaching your boy how to prepare a meal, but you have the time now, use it. He should be preparing his lunch with some supervision. He should also clean up after himself. If he has siblings, they can figure out how to share the work and develop a rotating schedule so the same child does not always have the same task. This is the time to teach your child to cook, especially if you don’t have all the usual food that you use to prepare meals. Let you son list the ingredients that you have available and search the Internet for how to make a meal out of those foods.

You should also start teaching your son basic home maintenance. Show him how to change the various filters in your house, or do basic repairs. If someone in the house does woodwork, include your son in this activity. Teach him how to change the oil in the car and how to fill the various reservoirs with the appropriate fluids.  

Everyone needs a job and usually, your son’s job is school. Now that his schoolwork takes less time, what else can he do with himself? If there are elderly neighbors, perhaps he can take their trash to the receptacles, or move their cans to the curb and back. Your son might tidy their yard or cut their grass. All of this can be arranged by phone so you can keep the proper distance from each other. He needs a job, one which he is totally responsible for.

Everyone can take time to read to themselves or to each other. The family can work a jigsaw puzzle while one person reads a book out loud. Take turns doing the reading as this is great training in learning to speak in public.

Finally, your boy needs exercise. While children want to play together, they definitely shouldn’t during the pandemic. Parents can figure out by phone who gets to play outside at which time so the children don’t interact with each other. If you live in the city and parks and other open spaces are not available, your son can run the stairs – not walk, run. The boys at every school where I’ve taught have run stairs and it’s excellent exercise. There are also many exercise programs available on YouTube and other Internet sources.

Yes, your son wants to play games on the computer, and that’s fine … for short periods of time.  Limit that time, and make sure that you all get together as a family to talk, share, and entertain each other. Tell stories from your childhood and get your parents to tell stories of their childhood using various forms of technology.

Good luck, enjoy each other, and stay well.