The Ground-up Approach to Structure with School-Aged Children During the Coronavirus Crisis

These are challenging times for all of us, and for those of us with children, it can be especially daunting to face the coming weeks. Schools have been closed and are unlikely to resume any time soon. Managing elementary and middle-school aged children can be quite a task for parents trying to juggle working from home and engaging in full-time childcare at the same time. This is one time where perhaps the usual gripes about reticent high school teenagers can pivot to feelings of gratitude about their self-sufficiency! For the parents of younger children, though, there can be additional feelings of guilt and anxiety regarding making sure that they are doing home-schooling “right.” This concern can result in a top-down approach to structure, where rules can be established rigidly, in an attempt to mimic the structure of the school day. 

Attempting to ensure that, every day, your child: 

– studies math, 

– reads a certain number of pages, 

– gets physical exercise, 

– engages in arts and craft, 

– practices music, 

– learns new things in science and social studies, 

– keeps up with the school-at-home websites, and after that, 

– talks to family and friends, 

– engages in game and leisure time, 

– eats, 

– sleeps, 

– bathes and brushes on time…

… will only ensure the outcome of a frayed, fraught and frazzled parent!

All of the activities, as mentioned above, are useful in themselves; however, desperate times do not necessarily call for extreme measures. A ground-up approach to provide structure would be more useful in such challenging times. Moving smoothly between structured and unstructured activities will help your child to regulate their emotions related to the significant changes to their daily school routines. Rather than structuring the whole day with a gamut of activities, it might help to structure the next hour or two with an activity or two and leaving enough room for unstructured time. A more inductive approach to tasks and achievement during this time of crisis would help the child process and express their emotions in healthier ways. 

There is significant research on the positive benefits of unstructured activities for younger children. Now might be a good time to allow those benefits to be obtained, as we can creatively and compassionately weave those in with the scheduled activities. It would help parents to realistically manage their own expectations (and that of their children) and for the time being.

If your child seems to be struggling with adjusting to the new routine of life or is experiencing negative emotions related to the pandemic, psychologists, and therapists at CFIR are here to help! We are offering telepsychotherapy (e.g., video, telephone) sessions that are private and safe. 

Dr. Ashwin Mehra, C.Psych. is a psychologist at CFIR (Toronto). He provides psychological assessment and treatment services to a wide range of clients. Dr. Mehra supports them to understand and overcome a wide range of difficulties related to anxiety and mood disorders, traumatic experiences, substance use and addictions, and interpersonal challenges.

CFIR OTTAWA is moving to its new home JULY 4TH, 2022. Click here for more details.