Doctoral student Gypsy’s top 5 tips for juggling online study with family responsibilities
By Gypsy O’Dea
I am a postgraduate student in the third year of the Doctor of Psychology (Clinical) course, and mother of three kids. I completed my Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) degree at Deakin in 2017, so have been juggling study and kids for more than seven years now, but nothing has challenged me like the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has created challenges that none of us could have anticipated when we enrolled in our units for 2020. Deakin students have now transitioned to online learning, some for the first time, and those of us who are also parents are trying to juggle our own studies with also having our kids home from school.
This is a challenging time, so here are my five top tips for making it work:
1. Lower your expectations (of yourself, and your kids)
- These are extraordinary times, and most of us simply don’t have the capacity to work at our usual levels of productivity, and that’s ok. Many kids (and parents) are feeling anxious, normal daily life has been interrupted, kids are missing their friends and school and sports. Be kind to yourself, and your little ones, and don’t expect too much.
- Be realistic and proactive. Contact your unit chair and advise them of your situation (e.g. caring for preschool or school aged children, and any other caring responsibilities you might currently have). Let them know what support you might need, (eg, an extension, special consideration), and ask what support is available.
2. Create a daily routine (and hold it lightly)
- Routines create predictability, which makes kids feel safe and can help reduce anxiety.
- Make it visual, print it out and put it on the wall so they (and you) can keep track (you can find an example routine for primary-aged kids here).
- Include time for chores and responsibilities in the schedule. Kids are learning important life skills and taking responsibility for some age appropriate tasks like unpacking the dishwasher or folding laundry is good for kids’ self-esteem and helps them to feel we are all in this together.
- Most importantly, routines are important, but so is flexibility. Some days will simply not go to plan. When things get challenging, change it up! Go for a bike ride, take the dog for a walk, make a milkshake, play a board game, or do some family yoga together.
Pro-tip: When the kids are at home sometimes it feels like they want to eat every 10 minutes! Try making lunchboxes in the morning as you would on a regular school day to minimise the amount of time you need to be in the kitchen or supervising snacks during the day.
3. Schedule time to study
- When is the best time for you to get your studying done? Early in the morning before the kids get up? Maybe after the kids are in bed?
- Use the kids’ quiet time to study. After lunch is an ideal time for the kids to have some quiet time. This might be reading, jigsaw puzzles, video games, or watching TV (the ABC is streaming great educational content on ABCme and on iView). Try sitting in the same room as your kids, especially if they are younger – they are less likely to come looking for you (and interrupt you!) if they can see you right there.
- Share the load if you can. I often spend the morning with my home-schooling kids, as their dad usually has several online meetings with his team in the mornings. After lunch, he is usually able to spend time with the kids while I get a couple of hours of study done. A few evenings a week, we may also work or study after the kids are in bed.
- This is going to be much more challenging for single parent families, and the demands on your time are huge. If your kids spend weekends or alternate weeks with their other parent, you could plan to use that time to catch up on uni work and study.
4. Stay connected and stay active
- It’s important for you and your kids to stay in touch with friends and family. Make time for phone calls, or use your Deakin Zoom account to set up video calls to stay connected!
- Staying active is important for everyone’s physical and mental health. Go for a walk, run, or bike ride, or try a yoga workout (here’s a great free yoga app).
5. Be kind to yourself
- These are unprecedented times, and parents who are also trying to study have a lot to deal with right now. Everyone is different. Your kids might be older, or younger, you may have more kids, maybe you’re a single parent, maybe you or your partner is still going out to a workplace each day. Make adjustments for your own situation.
- Make time for self-care and remember that self-care doesn’t always look like bubble baths and massages. Eating regularly and getting enough sleep are really important for your wellbeing. For some people, self-care might be prioritising time for exercise, a phone call with a friend, cooking a bulk meal so you have something ready in the freezer for the day your next assignment is due, or practicing some mindfulness (there are some great free apps for this, try Smiling Mind, Calm, or the Headspace app).
- Ask for help. If you are struggling, you are not alone. See Deakin’s Counselling and Psychological Support webpage for information about how this team can support you during this time.
Need some guidance as you study online?
The Faculty of Health has designed workshops to help you thrive as you study online. Check out the Student Engagement and Transition Support Program for the upcoming events over the next few weeks.