With children back at school (physically or virtually), many working parents are faced with the need of juggling work with caring for their children’s education. Whether working from home or going to an office, the challenges can be unique and stressful for each family. 

As with many things in present days, there is a learning curve in getting accustomed to thriving in the present. We had the amazing opportunity to consult with Registered Clinical and School Psychologist, Dr. Jessica Schnoll, to learn what companies can do to create a supportive work environment for employees with kids. Continue reading to discover some of the insights from our conversation on how to create healthy working habits at home so you can be present at work while still thriving in life.  

What are parents’ main concerns in this new workplace reality?

Parents are looking for a lot more flexibility around working from home and the timing of their availability.

Typical programming for kids has been put on hold. Before, parents could send their kids to school with a runny nose, little cough or stomach ache but this is no longer allowed. Children are being asked to stay home with any sort of symptom, which means that parents need to be able to have flexibility in scheduling meetings and other commitments at work. 

How is this new reality impacting children’s health?

There are a number of challenges that children are currently facing in light of COVID 19. Similar to the adults in their lives, this is the first “Global Pandemic” they have encountered in their lives and it can feel scary. The uncertainty that is weaved through each day of this virus can feel incredibly big for a child. Further, they have had changes in their routine, breaks in the continuity of their learning, and many have missed important milestones (like birthday parties, graduations, major events). They have also lost a sense of security and safety. As a result, many children are experiencing increased anxiety, sadness, irritability, feelings of disappointment, and boredom. It is important to remember that our children can show these emotions through behaviour, and so we need to be patient and understanding as we help them navigate this time. 

How can companies help working parents navigate this situation? 

Understanding, empathy and flexibility are key ways of being supportive. 

Companies should allow employees to step out when they need to, of course with the expectation that employees communicate their needs to their teams. For example, let your colleagues know when your child is home when maybe they haven’t been in the past.  It’s also helpful for employers to recognize that the availability of the employee may be sporadic throughout the day to allow for child care situations.

Another recommendation for employers to support this environment is to provide the necessary tools and technology to help employees work from home and limit the amount of distractions. For example, providing headphones that have a microphone that help tune out or limit more background noise. 

What is something both employers and employees should keep in mind as we continue working today?

Empathy is a really big factor. I keep coming back to these words of empathy and flexibility. We are all learning those skills in a big way these days in terms of rolling with it. One day looks different than the next, and we don’t really know what’s coming ahead. So we have to be adaptable and roll with whatever changes come on a day-to-day basis.

What are your recommendations for how working parents can better ‘show up’ for their team?

This is a really interesting time. Everyone is learning and working in ways that nobody was used to before, which implies a big learning curve. Everyone has moved into virtual models of working and communicating on Zoom, Google Meet and other platforms. Communication has become a different nature.

If we think about what the workplace was before, we never had to worry about sounds that were in the background of a meeting, like children running around, because we were all in one place. Since everyone is in a different location, there are now other factors that are outside of our control.

One of the recommendations I have is that we focus on the things in our control versus the ones that are not. We can’t always control the sounds in our new workplaces, but we can put our computers on mute, for example, when we’re not the ones speaking in a meeting. 

Over time, I would expect that everyone becomes accustomed to these different sounds – dogs barking, children crying or playing, etc. I would recommend that as an employee, we do our best to set up an environment that is as distraction-free as possible.

Based on what you’ve heard and seen in the past few months, what takeaways can you leave us with to help parents create the best environment for their children?

  • Remember to focus on the things that are in our control, not the ones that are not.
  • Try to keep a consistent routine, whether kids are in school or learning virtually from home.
  • Make sure everyone takes regular breaks from on-screen activities.
  • Social contact is important! Help them find ways to connect with peers, either outside while weather permits or through phone and virtual means.
  • Help children express feelings in productive and healthy ways. Engaging in play or art can allow children to process their emotions and make sense of their realities
  • Be careful about providing information about the virus in a developmentally appropriate way. For school-aged children and younger, limit access to media coverage. 
  • When talking to children about COVID, manage your own anxiety. Make sure your children know that they are safe and that the precautions that we are following are there to keep everyone safe. Being in control and calm helps children feel confident in their own safety.
  • Empathize and validate their feelings. This is a difficult and confusing time for everyone.

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Because we’re in such a different circumstance now than we were at the beginning of 2020, Dr. Jessica Schnoll’s words show us the importance of being kind not just with others — our colleagues, our employers, our kids, and our partners — but also to ourselves. For Dr. Schnoll, communication with our employers and our colleagues is a key step that working parents need to take to create the flexible working environment that is needed by our current times. 

Sounds like a plan to us! We can create winning situations that have the most favourable and stress-free outcomes by focusing our efforts on what we can control and being kind to ourselves and our surroundings. As employers, we need to listen to our teams’ needs to provide support and assistance every step of the way. Whether it is through a well-rounded wellness program, family-friendly culture initiatives or flex-work policies, the basic ingredients will always be communication, flexibility and empathy.