Life doesn’t stop just because you are homeschooling. Homeschoolers are not immune to life’s challenges and grief. But what happens when you’re homeschooling during a crisis or extreme stress? Life feels like its falling apart. How do you manage?
In my years of homeschooling I have gone through many challenges. I’ve also known other homeschool families to go through their own tough times. Challenges like the death of a close family member, miscarriages or stillbirth, grief for many reasons, marriage problems, bedrest, sickness of a child or spouse, sickness of a close extended family member or even the homeschooling parent, chronic illness in a family member or homeschool parent, care for an elderly relative, moving, eating disorders or other mental health concerns with a child or parent and more. These are all realities of the world we live in…but we homeschool.
So, what are you to do? First, consider if this is a temporary situation or a long term one, because the way you handle it will be different. Short term situations you can get away with just stopping homeschooling for a while and applying the rest of my tips. Longer term situations you will need to eventually start homeschooling again and need to consider your options.
Tips for Homeschooling During Crisis
Remember, homeschooling allows for the flexibility of what life throws at you. Homeschool during this time will change, and that’s okay! Usually one of the reasons people homeschool is because of the flexibility…this is the time to use it! Some first steps you should consider when you are in crisis mode:
- Embrace the time. Children do learn all the time. Learning how to properly handle adjusting to a change like moving, how to care for someone who is sick, how to deal with grief or many other situations are part of learning. You won’t have any workbooks completed to “show” the learning, but your children will learn important life skills!
- Take a break from homeschooling. Just do whatever needs to be done.
- If you can’t take a break from homeschooling (and most people can, even for a short time, so really really consider just taking a break before considering keeping on going)….consider if at least some of your kids can take a break. Perhaps you have some in high school that need to keep going but also some littles that could take a break. Perhaps you have a high needs child who needs structure but others who are okay with flexibility. You know your family. Try to make it as simple as possible for those who need to continue. But do keep in mind a break is not going to ruin everyone in most situations!
- Outsource as much as possible. Online there are so many options for schooling! Outschool is one popular source. Some programs like Teaching Textbooks for math are online but can even be used off-line for up to 6 lessons at a time for ease of use (perfect for travelling!) They even have a free trial. The program marks and grades for you! Another online math program is Unlock Math. Starfall, Reading Eggs, Math Seeds or Nessy (also includes spelling, typing and writing) might be a good fit for your early elementary student. A very engaging option for teaching history/science/geography is History Plus Online (they also have a free trial!). Consider Virtual Elementary School, K12Homeschool, Virtual Christian School (they have elementary for Grade 4-8 and high school). For high school, consider online options such as VLC or ILC (Ontario), Ontario Virtual School, or Virtual Christian School. Check with your library to see what they offer for online learning. Some libraries have e-book sources like Libby (and can be downloaded and read offline- again perfect for travel!), Hoopla for borrowing all sorts of books and other resources, and sometimes an online language learning resource and more! Another idea is to ask another homeschool parent for help- perhaps your child could go learn at their house sometimes.
- If you are a library-user, consider if during this time it serves your needs better to borrow e-resources instead of worrying about returns and late fees. E-resources automatically return for you!
- Assign some independent learning- Give your child some audio books or new books for reading time. If your child is independent enough, perhaps they could use this time to spend on a hobby and learn something new (only do this if it isn’t going to add to your stress!)
- When you do start homeschooling again, take it slow. Ease into it. Your family has been through and could still be going through a very stressful time. Even if the situation has ended, emotions and stress reactions go on for a long time. Expect it to be hard to start up again and to deal with an adjustment period. Be gradual and gentle. Some situations relapse- someone can get better and then sick again, or grief can seem to improve and then get much worse again. Be patient and give lots and lots of grace.
- Simplify. Now is not the time to do extras. Things like making bread, volunteering, etc are not for you right now. Don’t feel any guilt. Say no. Cancel things. If people don’t understand, this is not your problem!
Tips for dealing with Parenting
Parenting while dealing with a crisis is very difficult, even if you aren’t homeschooling! But when you are homeschooling, your kids aren’t distracted by school and might have an especially hard time with the change of routine. Here are some tips on how to parent your homeschooled kids during your crisis:
- Allow time and space for your kids to have big feelings! Crisis times can bring out some very big feelings in kids. They also will likely show it differently than adults, and every child has their unique way of processing their stress. Consider ideas to help such as counselling, going on a walk with the parent and talking/driving and talking (somehow not looking at the person is easier to express big feelings sometimes), giving them a journal or sketchbook to write/do art about their feelings, and making sure that they know they can come to you anytime and talk about anything.
- Remember that times of stress also often bring out the worst behaviour in kids. Give some grace in this area. Be careful that your own emotions don’t cause you to be too harsh during this time. Try to remain calm and say things like “I know how hard this is for you. I am so sorry we are going through this. I know you are angry/sad/frustrated and that is okay and totally normal. But you can’t (for example) hit/damage things. However you CAN do things like take a break, listen to music that calms you, talk about it, write down your feelings, do some art, do something physical…consider what your child does best with and remind them what they CAN do when they feel stressed instead of the behaviour they are presenting.
- If needed, don’t feel guilty about adding some extra screen time.
- Spend a simple time with the kids doing something each day. Take them to a park. Read them one chapter of a read aloud. Listen to an audio book together. Get out some simple stuff they like to do like perhaps playdough, drawing with music on, assembling a marble run, or legos. Bring the kids somewhere they can mostly entertain themselves like a park meet up with another family, or a McDonald’s play place.
- If you have little kids and older kids and the youngers nap and the older ones can be left at home, put the littles in the car and drive and they might fall asleep. Then park, put the windows down and take some time for yourself reading or drinking a hot drink away from home in peace and quiet.
Before you say that its impossible to find help…hear me out. There are lots of different ways of finding help. Some of them might not apply to you or might not work for you. But read it all and really consider if you could try any of the ideas. Asking for help can be really hard for some people. But if your friend was in your situation, would you want your friend to feel they could ask for help? Some tips for finding and asking for help:
- You usually have to ask and be specific. I know this is very hard. Consider if any of these fit your situation: family, friends, your local homeschool group, or a church if you are part of one. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If people know your situation and offer help, give them something specific to do. Some ideas are: mow the lawn, shovel the snow, clean, childcare, meals, snacks, do my groceries. If you don’t have anyone you can ask for help, consider hiring help. Ask around if there are teens or young adults that want to earn some money for babysitting or housework. If you don’t have a local homeschool group, now might not be the best time to join one, but it might be! Consider if that is something you can handle right now. If you are looking for one, check out our list of groups across Canada!
- I know this might not work for some families financially, but consider if you can hire a mother’s helper, a teen or college/university student to help with childcare or housework, or perhaps a professional cleaning company for a time. A mother’s helper comes into your home when you are there and helps with basic housework and childcare and often you can hire kids a little less ready to babysit full time because you are still there for dealing with sibling squabbles and meltdowns, and they are usually more available!
- Drop your standards. I recall someone desperately needing help, but refusing it because no one did it “her way”. This is not the time for perfection. If you want help, you’re going to have to accept the way other people do it.
- Consider ways to make meals easier…see the next section on meal times.
- Set up reminders however that works best for you. You’re tired. You’re stressed. Your memory probably isn’t working as well as usual. Set up reminders and alarms and even second alarms!
Make Meal Time Easier
Figure out how to make meal times easier. Its important to eat as healthy as possible in times of stress. But make it easy on yourself! Consider these options:
- Buy frozen meals at the grocery store and stock your pantry with healthy snacks.
- Consider a meal service like Hello Fresh
- Fruits and veggies tend to go bad when people are busy. So buy some that keep really well like apples, frozen or canned fruits or applesauce.
- Buy frozen veggies in bags.
- Buy frozen smoothie mixes. Smoothies are a great way to get some healthy food in fast and on-the-go!
- Stock up on some healthy granola bars for quick energy and protein for when you are on-the-go, travelling, or waiting for appointments. Kids especially can get very cranky when hungry, so I suggest always having 2 per kid in your bag/purse at all times. I even keep a box in the van. You never know when things don’t go as planned.
- Grab some of those ready-to-go salad kits.
- If you are travelling, buying some healthy ready-to-go foods at the grocery store can save money. Eating healthy while travelling can also help you cope better with the stress you are going through. The budget stores don’t usually have much for this but other fancier stores usually do. Some options we enjoy at the grocery store while travelling are: the pre-made section that includes salads, granola with yogurt, and cut up fruit, cheese strings, individual drinkable yogurts, granola bars, corn chips with hummus, baby carrots, and ready-to-drink smoothies. Sometimes you can buy canned soups with pull tabs and warm them up in a hotel microwave if there is one.
- Consider picking 7 meals and using the same ones each week. It eliminates decision fatigue. If you really can’t stand the thought of only 7 meals, pick 14 and then you are only eating the same thing twice a month. But keep it simple! An example could be: Monday- frozen burgers, buns and a salad kit. Tuesday- spaghetti with jarred sauce that has meat in it, and pre-cut veggies from the store like baby carrots, mini cucumbers or snap peas. Wednesday- frozen lasagna from the store and salad kit. Thursday- frozen pizza from the store and baby carrots/snap peas and dip. Friday: pancakes and smoothies. Saturday: eggs and fruit salad (just open a can of pineapple or other canned fruits and some different frozen berry packages, dump into a bowl, let sit for a while to thaw, and enjoy!) Sunday: frozen macaroni and cheese from the store and a salad kit.
Self-care is extremely important during times of stress. If you as the parent are not pouring into yourself, eventually you will feel like you have nothing left to give to care about others. That is not a good place to be! Self-care doesn’t have to be complicated or take a long time. Here are some tips for self-care during times of crisis:
Time for You
- Do something simple for self care to help yourself cope. Maybe that means going on a short walk, having a hot bath once the kids are asleep, drinking your favourite hot drink, doing some deep breathing, or putting on some music you enjoy. What helps you? Check out some of our ideas for self care with even a 5-minute break!
- Get as much sleep as you can. I know this is hard. Many times when going through stress, sleep is hard to come by. But get as much as you can. Consider talking to your medical professional if sleep is becoming a big issue.
- Don’t neglect showering, dressing (comfy clothes count!!) and brushing your teeth. Not doing those things tend to make everything feel worse.
- If you can, drive somewhere and sit and look at a lake if there is one near you. There’s something calming about looking at water!
- Go on walks, go to a park, spend time in your backyard if you have one, or some place in nature that helps you feel better. If that seems impossible, sit on a chair outside or do as I did and stand on the front step and take some deep breaths of fresh air.
- Eat simply but as well as possible. See the ideas in the section above for making meal times easier!
- try to keep your mental language in your head positive. Instead of “I can’t do this” change it to “this is hard. But I can do this one step at a time. I can do hard things.”
- Practice self-compassion. What would you say to a good friend right now if they approached you looking for encouragement, help or advice? Do that. Be kind to yourself and recognize real guilt (when you actually did something wrong that needs fixing) and false guilt (when you didn’t do anything wrong and you are guilty for no good reason).
- Get a journal and write out your problems, grief, fears and stress. It helps to get it out on paper!
- Gather together all the numbers for help lines in your community. Sometimes, going through crisis can put such extreme stress on a parent or family member that they need extra help. What are your community help line numbers? Find them and write them down and keep in a safe place in case they are needed.
- Join an online or in-person support group if possible. These groups can be invaluable in making you feel less alone.
- If you are going through grief, remember that grief is NOT linear. It is a messy process, not a straight line where you go through each stage in a neat and tidy fashion. Instead its up and down and back and forth and 2 steps forward and 3 back. It takes time to work through to the other side. And the only way to the other side of dealing with it better is to go through the hardest parts. Be patient and expect waves of grief. Be kind to yourself when you are having a bad day, and be kind when you are having a good day and find yourself laughing and smiling. Its ok to feel whatever you feel! You are not alone. Others have walked this path.
- Consider counselling for you and/or your family members. Sometimes we all need extra help and support to get through difficult times.
Tips for Appointments and Information Overload
- If your situation involves a lot of appointments or involves information overload that you have to keep track of, keep a binder of important info. Put a stack of plastic sleeve-style sheet protectors in the binder and divide it all up with dividers. Take notes at appointments as your brain is tired and you probably won’t remember when you get home. Slip any notes or handouts into that binder. Slip a few pens into an inside pocket or in a pencil case with rings that attach to the binder. Bring it with you to all appointments. Put a sheet in the front with all the contact info for anyone involved with your situation (such as doctors, counsellors, dieticians, friends you can ask for help, etc) Make sure to include your name and contact info at the top of that sheet in case you leave your binder somewhere.
- If you are in the car a lot, get some audio books and make “car school packets” of school work (if you’re not taking a break) that can be used in the car and in waiting rooms.
- Pack a backpack full of useful items for waiting room times such as: headphones, audio books on a device, ipads, sketchbooks and markers/pencils (or whatever your child likes to use for simple non-messy art) books, fidget toys, “car school packets”, snacks (granola bars are great for this) and water! Re-stock it every time you come home and re-charge devices.
What if your situation is ongoing?
If what you are going through is going to be long term and you don’t see an end? Your kids might be antsy and in need of routine. Or they might be old enough that they simply can’t take extended time off school work without it impacting them greatly. So what are you to do then? You need to really consider how you are going to approach this. Make sure you’ve first taken a break time from homeschooling. Then if you need to start again, make sure its actually the best choice. First, implement some of my suggestions above, but also consider that you might need to majorly switch things up for this season or perhaps permanently, depending on the situation.
Options for Ongoing Situations
- Switch up how you homeschool, or outsource a lot. You might need to buy a simpler curriculum, do an online curriculum, hire someone to help with something (a subject or course or maybe housework), join a co-op where they understand your situation and can exempt you from helping at this time, (this would be hard to find, yes, but you never know until you ask), setting up ways to make your child’s homeschooling as independent as possible, assigning more reading or audio books. See my ideas above about outsourcing for companies who offer online learning (see the section called First Steps).
- Keep it very simple. This isn’t the time to take on big hands-on projects, home improvements, or complicated subjects. Stick with the basics!
- Cut out any extras that you can’t handle. It might help to write down every single thing that you have to do, and then consider which things you can eliminate or delegate to others. Consider if this was a friend and they were telling you their list. Would you tell them to eliminate/delegate even more? Guilt is a real feeling but show yourself kindness and take some more to-do’s off your plate.
- This is the time to really reach out for help. Its important to reach out and help during any crisis, but a long term one requires it even more. This isn’t an option for all families, but perhaps you could consider hiring someone long term to help with your homeschooling or housework.
- Consider counselling if its applicable to your situation. Short term crisis are challenging enough, but long term ones can really stretch your capacity to cope. You and/or family members might need extra help to get through it.
- Consider all your options. Is there another method of school that would work better right now? Is this still the right season for you to homeschool? Do you need to consider if during this season, or permanently, that homeschooling needs to stop?
Crisis during Homeschooling is Complicated
Homeschooling during a personal or family crisis is complicated. If your situation is for the short term you can take one approach, but long term struggles require even more figuring out. Please do keep in mind that sometimes long term struggles and homeschooling are just too difficult to balance. Perhaps the homeschool Mom is dealing with depression or a chronic illness. Maybe a child is not going to get well. It could be that the stress of whatever your situation is feels like way too much.
Homeschoolers aren’t failures if they choose to stop homeschooling for a season, or altogether. Homeschoolers start homeschooling because they believe its best for their family, but that might change. There might come a time when other options are best for your family. Sending your kids to school can be a tool in your toolkit. If you need to, choose it without guilt and know that you are not alone. Other homeschoolers have decided that they need to do this either for a season, or permanently. Remember the two types of guilt: real guilt and false guilt. Don’t let false guilt get in the way of making whatever decision you need to make.
Remember, times of crisis are extremely difficult but also present great learning times for your children. Our children learn life lessons during this time that they wouldn’t learn any other way.
Hopefully some of these tips are helpful as you navigate your own challenges in life while homeschooling. My best advice is to be real with others and reach out. Let them know what is going on. You can’t get help and support if others don’t know. When you’re in a better place you can return the favour and encourage others.
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