‘A lot of pressure’: Parents juggle their homebound children amid the coronavirus

Vanessa Ressler, a mother and volunteer, is now an impromptu kindergarten, fourth-, and sixth-grade teacher to her three girls who are homebound after their school shut down to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Without a formal curriculum, Ressler has created a schedule for her kids, so they have a similar routine as before. Days start at 8 a.m. and include studying, walking, family time, and board games. Ressler adds in screen-less work activities along with movement, exercise breaks, and healthy snacks. 

But the homeschooling experience hasn’t been an easy adjustment for the Miami family. They’re on top of each other; the kids lack social time with friends; and the uncertainty of the new arrangement is unsettling.

“The fact that we don't really know how long this is going to last is giving everyone a bit of anxiety,” Ressler told Yahoo Money. “We are getting through it by sticking to a structure that I have put into place, respecting each other, and by having a good sense of humor.”

Vanessa Ressler has prepared a daily schedule for her three daughters homeschooling. (Photo: Courtesy of Vanessa Ressler)

‘Many parents are not prepared’

Ressler’s children are part of the 55 million U.S. students staying home as state and local governments attempt to stem the outbreak of COVID-19, according to data compiled by Education Week, a nonprofit that covers K-12 education news.

At least 124,000 public and private schools have been closed across all states. Some state governments have mandated the closures, while states like Iowa and Nebraska have opted for a more nuanced approach, determining closures at a district or school level.

While many parents appreciate the extra time with their children, the effort is also putting pressure on them to take on an unfamiliar role as educator while sometimes balancing the demands of their own jobs. 

There are 55 million U.S. students staying home as state and local governments attempt to stem the outbreak of COVID-19, according to data compiled by Education Week. (Source: Education Week)

“Many parents are not prepared to have their children at home all day,” Alan Kazdin, director of the Yale Parenting Center, told Yahoo Money. “Many parents have two careers. Many parents are going to have to try to get daycare, but who's going to want to have daycare with all these groups of children?”

‘More stress on the parents’

On top of that, there are many single parents in the U.S., making the home situation more difficult if the only parent must go to work, Kazdin added. Even in two-parent homes, many don’t have jobs that allow them to stay home, added Ressler, who has been able to keep up her volunteering commitments while managing her children.

“It would be very different if I were a healthcare provider...or any number of professions that are being stretched to the breaking point as a result of this crisis,” she said.

And if a parent begins to feel stressed, they likely will pass that onto their children at a time when they want to create a more normal environment.

“It's gonna be a situation where there are all sorts of cascading effects,” Kazdin said. “If children stay at home, more stress on the parents. More stress on the parents, more stress on the couples.”

‘Keeping your kids on a schedule’

“There’s a lot of pressure,” Katie Novak, a mother of four, told Yahoo Finance. “But there’s an opportunity to change the mindset. I [now] have the chance to teach my kids what I think is important and to learn new things with them.”

Novak, an assistant superintendent of schools in Groton, Massachusetts, is still obligated to go to work, so her husband takes care of homeschooling.

Katie Novak's children are combining fun activities while studying while remote learning. (Photo: Courtesy of Katie Novak)

Having been a teacher for 12 years has made it easier to adjust to the new situation, Novak said. So, she and her colleague created a daily schedule they shared online for parents to use.

It includes a variety of activities such as learning, physical activities, creative time, and time to connect with friends. For instance, the Day 5 plan focuses on wild animals and includes such activities as a game of animal tag, a virtual field trip to a zoo, and making animal sock puppets.

“Keeping your kids on a schedule is incredibly important,” Novak said. “We don't know how long this is going to go on. We don't want them just getting in the habit of waking up super late and not getting anything done.”

‘This is fairly unprecedented’

Parents can also reduce the amount of attention they and their children pay to media coverage of the virus, Dr. David Schonfeld, a developmental behavioral pediatrician and the director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, told Yahoo Money.

“A situation like this is fairly unprecedented,” he said, “and as a result, they may be feeling a certain degree of anxiety and [be] overwhelmed.”

Dr. Schonfeld added that, despite the bleak forecasts on TV about a looming recession, parents need to be mindful of what exactly is discussed at home. Airing financial concerns doesn’t help children process what’s going on around them.

One of Vanessa Ressler's daughters studying and doing fun activities as parr of her homeschooling schedule. (Photo: Courtesy of Vanessa Ressler)

“If a parent says things like: ‘Well, I don't know that we're going to be able to go on another big vacation,’ they may interpret that as there are serious financial concerns,” Dr. Schonfeld said. “And that might mean that we really are at risk of not being able to afford the mortgage on the house, or paying for food, or other basic living needs.”

‘They understand it is our social responsibility’

As Ressler molds hardening clay with her daughters and referees Switch dance games, she also is explaining frankly, but also gently, about what's happening in the world that's keeping her children at home.

“We are talking to them about this virus, but the message is softer for the six-year-old.” Ressler said. “They understand that we are not trying to kill the virus but rather slow it down. They understand it is our social responsibility to isolate and they are being great about it.”

Aarthi Swaminathan and Denitsa Tsekova are reporters for Yahoo Finance and Cashay. Follow them on Twitter at @aarthiswami and @denitsa_tsekova.

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