Andi Pyatt is an educator, entrepreneur, wellness professional, and author. (Courtesy Photo)

By Andi Pyatt

The Well” is a recurring column to remind us of the power we possess in mind, body and spirit.

I ask that you put one hand and five fingers up with your palm facing outward. Put a finger down if you answer yes to the following statements:

  1.   You are the parent of a school-age child currently attending virtual school.
  2.   You are gainfully employed. 
  3.   Your child has attended a minimum of seven virtual school days, in-full.
  4.   Your child has smiled once in the past seven days.
  5.   You have smiled once in the seven days. 

If you are now making a powerful fist because all your fingers are down, raise your fist proudly to the sky and state “I AM a phenomenal parent!” If you have one or a few fingers that didn’t make it to the fist, make the remaining fingers into a fist and raise your fist to the sky and state “I AM a phenomenal parent!” I want to remind my fellow mothers and fathers that this new normal is a major adjustment and to appreciate everything you are doing to maintain a healthy you, healthy children, and a thriving household. I understand first-hand the work and commitment it requires to be present for yourself and for your children. I am a single parent of two beautiful boys in fifth grade and ninth grade. Navigating their daily emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical development is a huge task. Every day is an adventure as I work from home with this pre-adolescent and six-foot teenager. Staying grateful and present in the moment is the only way I have been able to navigate this uncharted terrain. I was born in that Generation X and Millennial gap. They refer to those born between 1977-1985 as Xennials. We understand the analog world and we are adept at the digital world, including TikTok. My generation was trained to be flexible and to learn quickly. I mention the dynamics of the Xennial generation as a reminder that many of us are raising school-age children who need our capacity to adapt to rapid change. I mean let’s face it, in our formative years we listened to music on cassette tapes, compact disks, mp3 players, and streaming service all before our frontal lobes fully developed. We know about changing with the times. For the next few weeks we are going to support each other as we work through parenting during a pandemic and the coping skills, we now can develop in our children. The skills necessary to move past survival and thrive. 

As we approach the end of the second week of virtual school many children are feeling disenchanted and parents are frustrated for numerous reasons. I will honestly say that my household has been quite joyful. As I write this piece, I am sitting in my home office, facing the window, while listening to my children play soccer on the front lawn. In the immortal words of the well-known Generation X poet Ice Cube, “Today was a good day.”  As a Montessori child, parent, and professional, I often refer to one of my favorite Maria Montessori quotes, “We must help the child to act for him(her) self, will for him(her)self, think for him(her)self; this is the art of those who aspire to serve the spirit.” I would like to offer a few suggestions, based on documented child development practices, that have been successful in my home.

  1.   Have a conversation with your child about the virtual school day. Call a family meeting. Invite everyone to join the conversation, including those who are furry and walk on all fours. Have a large piece of paper, chalkboard, or a white board available to record the important aspects of the meeting. This meeting is an opportunity for you to establish a structure to the day while encouraging feedback from your children.  Explain the external and internal expectations of their virtual school experience. Ask them open-ended questions that allow them to express their feelings and provide solutions to possible challenges that may arise throughout the day. Allow them to ask questions and be honest with your answers. Express any anxiety you may be feeling in this new process. Reassure them that you will find success by working together. 
  2.   Post the daily schedule in a visible area in the house. A year ago, I turned one of our dining room walls into a chalkboard. Don’t worry about the aesthetic, you can get chalkboard paint in any color! This has been an amazing addition to our home.  We post the daily schedule, write reminders, and share love notes/drawings on our purple chalk wall. This central information station allows children to access information on their own. They don’t need to ask you about the day while you are on a virtual meeting. Younger children still learning to tell time and read will need support with the schedule. You can use images to help them read the schedule. This access encourages independence and builds self-confidence. 
  3.     Include aspects of the former routine in the new routine. One of the boundaries in our home is that you should physically appear online as you would in-person. Although school is virtual we went school shopping for clothing for the boys prior to the first day. My youngest was particularly excited because he did not have to wear a uniform for virtual school. However, the household expectation is that everyone is clean and neat while in school, even if school is at home.
  4.     Take breaks outside. Ensure the day has at least two opportunities to go outside. Going outside for a walk or run is an important aspect of physical and mental health. Allow yourself the time and space to join your children in at-home recess. If your child is older, encourage them to engage in some form of physical activity before starting their day. My high schooler wakes an hour earlier than the scheduled wake time to run. This was an aspect he asked to be place in his schedule. 
  5.   Establish an after-school routine. We all need time to decompress. Create opportunities for your child to engage in a social activity at the end of the day. This can be as simple as allowing your child to have time to chat or play a game online with a with a friend. Our schedule consists of reading time for the entire house, putting together a puzzle as a family, and sometimes helping me with a work project. Daily chores that support the entire household can also be included in these activities after class. There is one major parental boundary, no video games or television are allowed during that time. 

In the age of pandemic, covered smiles, and virtual school, we are forced to adapt if we desire success for our families. Parenting right now can feel daunting. Understand that you have the capacity to make this work. Take a deep full inhale followed by a long slow exhale. Know that you were born to do this. Namaste. 

Andi Pyatt is an educator, entrepreneur, wellness professional, and author (Julia Belle) of the new children’s book, Sunflower’s Breath.  She holds an undergraduate degree in Psychology/Neuroscience from Williams College and a graduate degree in Health Science from The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

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