The recent closure of schools and many workplaces upon recommendations of “social distancing” to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 has led to a significant lifestyle change for many families. While the ability to spend more time with your children might be something you have hoped for, the reality is that spending all day every day together can be a challenge. The intention of this post is to provide some ideas about how to maintain a routine, reduce feelings of shame and isolation and give suggestions about how to take care of yourself in the process. Most importantly, it aims to address the question, “My kids are at home. Now what?”
- Rituals and routines: It’s important to try your best to retain family rituals and routines, as difficult as this might be. Having a schedule, perhaps with a visual cue, can be helpful to settle children, maintain consistency, and let them know what to expect.
- Sleep: In a time of heightened anxiety for both children and parents, you might find that you and/or your child are struggling with sleep. It can be helpful to maintain a consistent bedtime even if your child attempts to negotiate or bargain their way into a much later bedtime or awakening time. It may not be realistic to follow the exact same schedule they have while in school but remaining consistent continues to be important. Keep up and potentially expand your regular bedtime routine (e.g. reading a book together) and consider trying a progressive muscle relaxation, a brief meditation or a guided visualization.
- Consistency of parenting practices: While it is certainly unavoidable to flex a rule or boundary in these trying times, it can be beneficial to follow the majority of the family rules and guidelines that you have in place under normal circumstances.
- Exercise: Keeping yourself and your child feeling strong and healthy is essential for wellbeing. Exercise is an important part of maintaining health, especially now that your child won’t be benefitting from active time at recess or in gym class. Try doing some animal yoga or jumping jacks with your younger child or finding a YouTube workout video for your adolescent.
- Social distancing: While you might be inclined to have playdates or visit family members, it is important to consider the most up to date public health recommendations about social distancing. While we aren’t medical professionals here at JFS and can’t advise you on this topic, we would encourage you to follow guidelines.
- Family fun time: Add some family fun time to your schedule! Try planning family activities to break up the day and keep your child socially engaged. This might involve going back to basics and digging up your board games, finding the lego set or finishing the crafting project that you and your child started last year but never had time to finish.
- Technology: While you might be battling the urge to implement an unlimited tech time policy, this can lead to reduced social engagement, a detrimental impact on your child’s mental health and more difficulty transitioning off of technology. You may not be able to maintain your existing limits around technology but it can be helpful to continue to have some limits in place. Children often benefit from transitional warnings that they will be moving from a preferred to a less preferred activity so make sure to give them notice (e.g. “In 10 minutes you can finish up your game and we’ll take some time to do schoolwork like it says on our schedule. After dinner, we can do something fun as a family”). It’s also a good idea to make sure that tech time concludes an hour before bedtime.
- Chores: Your child may not be particularly inclined to complete their chores. Try to find ways to make this fun such as providing an incentive to complete an extra chore or doing tasks together.
- Schedule time together and time apart: The reality is that many parents are working from home while their children are off school. It is important to explain to your child that although you are present, there will be scheduled times when you have to do work. If you are co-parenting, you can make a schedule of who will be with the kids and who will be working. If you are the primary or sole caregiver, you can schedule regular check ins with your child such as taking a 10 minute break to spend time together every hour and set them up with tasks to do in the meantime.
- Take care of yourself: If you’ve ever taken an airplane, you may remember the safety demonstration where they advise you to put on your own mask before you put on that of those around you. This applies to our day to day lives. If you don’t take time for yourself, even if it’s just 10 minutes to call a friend or family member or do some exercise, you may find that it’s more difficult to support your child. While parents often feel guilty about taking time for themselves, it’s important to remember that you feeling well yourself leads to increased wellness for your child.
- Limit News: While you may be on the edge of your seat waiting for the latest update about the spread of COVID-19, having the news constantly playing in your household can be detrimental for your child. It’s important to stay on top of current events and health and safety recommendations but make sure to limit your child’s exposure. You are likely also facing your own anxiety about the future. While it’s important to offer your child an opportunity to ask questions and express their worries, try not to have these difficult conversations when you are experiencing heightened distress. Consider what information is appropriate to share based on the developmental age of your child.
- Self-compassion: Please remember to treat yourself with kindness and self-compassion. This is a time of significant lifestyle changes for everyone. You might find yourself feeling more irritable or that there’s a trend towards more technology time in the household than you would have liked. Remind yourself that you are not the only one and that you’re doing the best you can.
Gabrielle Wilson is a registered social worker and psychotherapist working with The Counselling Group. Looking for counselling? The Counselling Group offers a variety of experienced therapists who can support positive changes and growth in your life. For more information, please visit www.counsellinggroup.com or call 613-722-2225 x352 to speak with an intake worker today. We are offering appointments remotely at this time and are available to speak with you for new requests.