Just as you’ve become accustomed to an empty nest, COVID-19 forced your son or daughter to return from college. Now, both of you are working from home, plus separated from friends, community, school, and job. As you both experience heightened stress from these changes, with no clear solutions or end in sight, it’s natural to feel disappointed, confused, angry, or worried. You’re, living under the same roof, only with new stresses and growing pains.
How can you assist young adults in managing their studies and sanity until normal life resumes? How do you help your kid move forward when you yourself don’t know where things are going?
The lack of structure has likely worn thin by now. One of my college clients expressed that he doesn’t want “to float around the house all day doing nothing,” yet he struggles creating and following through with routines, even though he has been successful doing so in college. Another client struggles to get out of her pajamas and brush her teeth. “What’s the point? No one is going to see me.” Sound familiar?
During this uncharted territory with COVID-19 and social distancing, it’s normal to feel unorganized. A healthy daily routine will ground us and help us manage uncertain times. Use this opportunity to brainstorm ways to create structure, while establishing and following through on healthy family boundaries.
Discuss what’s going on while consciously avoiding old communication patterns and family dynamics. Our independent, young adults insist on be treated more as equals. Listen, reflect what you hear and state your opinions neutrally with “I notice” or “I think” statements. Everybody has surely grown and changed since the last time you were all under the same roof. You want to explore ways to help them figure out a daily routine that accomplishes the things they need to do and the things they want to do.
You’re not telling them what to do; you’re offering your assistance. If they don’t follow that, it’s fine to express your frustration, but don’t tell them why they should. That’s not part of the collaborative spirit.
Here’s 6 suggestions to create satisfying, manageable plans at home:
- Start with the basics: Help your son or daughter divide the day into chunks: waking up, morning, early afternoon, late afternoon, etc. and to list everything they HAVE to do: washing/brushing up, online classes, homework, eating meals, making the bed, etc. Follow that up with a list of everything they WANT to do: going for a run, practicing an instrument, video-chatting with friends, social media, gaming, etc. Figure out how they can divide their time into blocks divided by the things they need to do and interspersed with some short breaks of optional activities, and longer breaks for meals and exercising. Depending on your personality and ability, it might be better if you model writing out your own schedule instead of sitting over their shoulder and helping them do their own. Now’s not the time to overload them with more chores — start simple and add things as time goes on.
- Avoid micro-managing: Don’t nag, use supports to assist you. Your kiddo can set phone alarms with different tones or ask Alexa to tell them when the half hour of gaming time is up. When it’s time for a break, they can use Post-It’s to jot down what they were thinking or about to do. These things always work better if you model them, too.
- Be available and empathize: Though you’re juggling more than before, take advantage of openings to talk. Avoid using meal time to discuss studies or life plans, instead, create regular check in times for those issues. Social distancing is especially tough for them as they are, in many ways, distanced from an essential part of themselves. Don’t blame kids for spending hours online with friends. If they were at college, they would likely be with their friends every night.
- Re-establish responsibilities: Don’t assume your kid will pick up old chores just because they’re home. Set up a family meeting to split chores so that dishes don’t mount while you’re on conference calls. Talk about responsibilities and the common good in this time of crisis. Your son or daughter can cook and plan meals, and she may even make a few new dishes.
- Sleep: College-age adults are going to make a schedule that they feel works best for them. They may sleep until 10 every morning and work until 7 every night, while you get up at 6:30 a.m. and work until 4 p.m. They’ve been in control of their own time at college and you need to trust their process. It’s helpful to know their general daily plan but you don’t want to be the person knocking on their door every morning to wake them up.
- Exercise daily: Like you, your son or daughter will be healthiest and happiest if they’re exercising in some capacity every day. This could be going for a run with the dog, doing a workout video online, doing yoga, dancing around to music, and more. If they aren’t doing this on their own, ask them to join you in your exercising. Going for a bike ride together or doing a pilates class on YouTube after lunch could be an unexpected way to bond.
Offer your compassion and patience and they will give it back. Model for them how to be responsible and healthy during this strange time, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how self-reliant they can be. The stronger everyone is, the more you can lean on each other when you need it most.
Saline, S. (2020). Help! My Kid’s Home from College and the Novelty’s Worn Off. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 22, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/help-my-kids-home-from-college-and-the-noveltys-worn-off/