When you get the call or email that your employer wants you to return to work during the country’s gradual re-opening after the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s likely you’ll experience conflicting emotions. The relief of knowing there’ll be a paycheck coming in again and some semblance of normalcy will resume could be offset by worries about how your kids, who’ve become used to your presence at home for several months, will fare, physically and psychologically. Here are some tips on how to reassure your kids when you go back to work after COVID-19.
You Need Reassurance First
Having regular income coming in again is a positive sign, especially since research shows that economic concerns have weighed heavily on those who’ve been laid off or unemployed during the pandemic. A survey from the American Psychological Association found that the average reported stress level for parents of children under 18 is 6.7 (compared with 5.5 for those without children). And nearly half of parents rated their stress level high (between 8 and 10 on a 10-point scale).
Now, though, as you prepare to resume work duties, think about what this change means to you. Before you head back into the office or place of employment, set up a phone call, zoom meeting or email communication with your supervisor to get the specifics on what and how health and safety protocols have been put in place to protect employees. Be sure to ask any questions you have as they come up. Find out how to raise concerns that may arise once you do go back to work. Not only is this important for your own reassurance, it will give you solid facts to tell your children who may be anxious that you’ll get sick from the coronavirus at work.
Engage in Ongoing Dialogue with the Children
Once you’ve let your children know that you will be returning to work, it’s not the end of the conversation. Be aware that kids of all ages, from youngsters under 10 to adolescents, teens and college-age offspring are going to be curious about the abrupt change in their home life. In particular, they may hear from their peers or pick up threads of conversation from other adults or the news or social media about COVID-19 cases spiking, local hot spots, even deaths. It is your responsibility to engage in an ongoing dialogue with your children to help quell their anxieties, offer proactive solutions to problems they may be having at home or elsewhere, and serve as a constant reassuring and trusted parent.
Ensure Consistency in Discipline and Routine
Part of what it means to be a parent is to ensure that there’s consistency in daily routines and to insist on adherence to family discipline when necessary. Children need a moral framework and clear rules to live by, especially during uncertain times like they’ll experience when you’re no longer home everyday and have gone back to work. Knowing that life at home will continue as before, with some well-explained changes, will give them a foundation to build on. They’ll know they won’t be left on their own without any guidance. This is vitally important for their development.
Make One-on-One Time with Kids a Priority When You Arrive Home
It may be exhausting coming home after work, now that projects and assignments have piled up, been unattended or minimally taken care of for months. Instead of plopping on the couch, drinking an alcoholic beverage and shutting out everything that may be troubling or distressing, remember the children have been eagerly anticipating your return. They want to see, hear, and touch you, to be reassured by your voice and presence, showing them by actions that you’re coming home as you promised. They want and need to spend one-on-one time with you. This is best accomplished as soon as you walk through the door, not hours later. A quick hug, a brief 15-20 minutes listening to what they have to say, drawing them out, sharing a laugh and a bit about your day will do wonders for their overall wellbeing — and yours.
Check In Regularly Throughout the Day
During coffee break, lunch or between meetings, make regular contact with the kids. Just calling to say hello and see how things are going, or to give them a heads-up about what you’ll be doing with them later – maybe heading to the park, barbequing in the back yard, having friends over will help lift their spirits and remind them that you love and care about them, even though you are again working. Younger children can be particularly encouraged by such regular parental contact, and even if they complain it’s too mushy or they’re fine, do it anyway. Helping them stay socially connected with their friends is also important on a daily basis.
Plan Outings, Celebrations & Vacation Trips
While plans for the future have likely been put on hold for weeks and months during the lock-down or mandated sheltering-in-place state guidelines, now that you’re going back to work and businesses, retail, services, parks and beaches, churches and other venues are gradually re-opening, sit down as a family and make plans for what you will do together this summer and fall. If there are outings that were planned and put on hold, or not planned due to uncertainty over the length of the pandemic, now is the time to talk about what the family wants to do and put together plans (which may be altered, if necessary) to go ahead with them. Outings, family celebrations and vacation trips are exciting to dream about, to discuss, and pencil in on the calendar. Make sure all the kids have a say and participate in this planning exercise, since engagement is conducive to family bonding and shared memories.
Address Mental Health Issues Promptly
Are the kids fighting more than when you were with them at home? Maybe their caregiver lets you know that one or more of the children has become sullen, reclusive, and isolated, unwilling to play with siblings, or is argumentative, rude, and defiant. These may be early indicators of a developing problem stemming from emotional pain, one that you should address promptly. Indeed, research shows that mental distress resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic is widespread. Children who are overly anxious, clingy, demonstrably more aggressive, acting out, crying, acting listless or lost may have an underlying mental health issue. Take the child to the doctor, or set up a virtual appointment, and discuss what’s been going on. Brief counseling or other cognitive behavioral therapies and advice can help and will ease your mind that you’re helping your child constructively deal with the uncertainties and disruptions that COVID-19 has caused in their lives.