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Being a parent is not an easy job, and now the corona pandemic has made it even more challenging, isolating us from our loved ones and creating uncertainty and fear around us. While these are not easy times, we can follow some recommendations to ensure that this period of quarantine and isolation doesn’t get the best of us.
Share a wine glass, tea, coffee, a glass of juice or whatever you want with a group of friends via skype. Talk to them about your concerns, about how you are feeling, or just about anything else if you need to take your mind away from the current situation.
There are many others struggling in these difficult times, and chatting with others or venting can help us feel better. Somebody might have just the words you need to hear/read!
I highly recommend Kristina Kuzmic’s page. You can scroll down some of her older and down to earth videos (many of them are quite funny!) and in addition you can now tune in to her daily Facebook Lives offering support to her community in the times of corona virus. She also created a brand new Facebook group (Kristina Kuzmic’s Support Group for Humans) where everybody is welcome to share tips to help others!
While it is not recommended to physically meet in groups these days, you can find (or create!) an online support group for your community. Facebook is perfect for this. Here in Norway, people in the different localities have created support groups for helping others in isolation or quarantine. If someone cannot leave their home to buy groceries (or things like a phone charger) because of quarantine or self-isolation, they post online and somebody volunteers to help them buy and drop the groceries by their home door. The response and involvement has been fantastic and inspiring! It is awesome to know that you don’t need to be alone in this.
As I was writing this article, I ran into a post in a Facebook group where the author mentioned playing Bingo with the grandparents via Skype now that their “much looked forward family vacation was cancelled and the kids were missing their friends and family terribly.” This gave me something to think about! I am sure there are plenty of games like Bingo, Lotto and Ludo (just to mention a few) that could be shared online with our loved ones. As long as you have a board game or two and the others have a dice, you can play the games together! Or as an alternative your kids could perform or hold a dance competition with their relatives via Skype.
I also I found a really great article published by Los Angeles Times called “How to help kids cope with coronavirus stay-at-home orders,” where child psychiatrist Dr. Roya Ijadi-Maghsoodi suggests scheduling “video calls where loved ones can read a story to a child, or your kid can show off what they’ve been working on.” Other suggestions include “setting up Facetime dates, phone calls (…) looking at pictures, or drawing something to send their friend.”
It is all about helping your children feel connected while the new circumstances last.
Here in Norway, the health authorities indicated that as long as you or your family have not been exposed or infected, it was OK for our children to meet with one or two other kids to play. One parent described it as “a way of helping each other keep our sanity in stressful times.” We considered it for a while because our six year old is very social and misses his friends terribly, but in the end decided to wait and see how things develop before taking any action. At the moment we are practicing social distance as much as possible in order to do our share towards flattening the virus curve.
But if you are considering the possibility, please make sure first that this is allowed in your location and that you are not breaking any quarantine or lockdown rules, limit the playmates to the very minimum, and do check again periodically for the rules might change as the pandemic progresses.
This might seem ridiculous. You all live together, what else is there to know about each other? You would be surprised at how much we can miss just because we assume we know everything there is to know. Use these times of confinement to have talks with your children about their favorite times together (their answers might surprise you and lead to having more of those!), what they are looking forward to and what they like best. Even silly questions as “if you had a superpower, what would it be?” can lead to finding more interesting things about your children. And if your kids are too small to actually talk about different stuff, spend more time watching them. Just enjoy being a witness to what you would normally miss in your normal routines and days.
By now, you have probably talked to your children a bit (or a lot) about corona virus. But since the conversation is likely to pop up again, it might be important to read the recommendations given from the experts from Unicef and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC. You can find the compiled recommendations in the article “15 Tips on How to Talk to your Children about Corona Virus.” The article also includes some tips on how to discuss economic uncertainty, taken from the interview with Dr. Ijadi-Maghsoodi published by Los Angeles Times.
While the recommendation is to speak to your children honest and truthfully, there is no harm in trying to keep the spirits up and calling this a “homecation” or “staycation” (as opposed to isolation or lockdown).
Remember the Italian film “La vita è bella” (“Life is Beautiful”)? In the film, the main character, Guido, taken to a nazi concentration camp along with his son, plays pretend in order to convince the boy that they are actually participating in a game and scoring points in order to win a tank. This might or might not be for you, but whatever you call this period, just remember that you have the power to make these days better (and possibly even fun!) for your children.
I recently read a post pointing out that we might see an increase of misbehavior (tantrums, meltdowns and oppositional behavior) over the coming weeks. It is important to know that this is normal and to be expected, as what children might initially have envisioned as a vacation turns into a period of confinement at home, without the possibility of seeing their friends and loved ones.
Our children won’t simply come to us to tell us that they are feeling anxious, scared or stressed out; they will show their feelings in the form of misbehavior, and therefore this is the period when they most need to feel comforted and loved. If you want to see the original post (author unknown), click here.
Your child’s behavior will be the best “thermometer” you can find to measure how they are reacting to what they hear and to the situation in general. According to the CDC, some behavior changes in children and teens to watch out for are: “excessive crying or irritation in younger children, returning to behaviors they have outgrown (for example, toileting accidents or bedwetting), excessive worry or sadness, unhealthy eating or sleeping habits, irritability and “acting out” behaviors in teens, poor school performance or avoiding school, difficulty with attention and concentration, avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past, unexplained headaches or body pain, and use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.”
Make yourself available to talk to your children when they need you, listen and don’t minimize or avoid their concerns. Be sure to acknowledge their feelings and assure them that it’s natural to feel scared, but reassure them that they are safe. Finally, share your own strategies to cope with your own stress so that they can learn from you and, above all, be a role model. These are the recommendations given by CDC and the Unicef.
Keeping your children busy will surely make things easier for everyone at home. There are probably thousands of posts in social media and blogs offering free resources and ideas for these times of crisis. You can check my own compilation in the article 15 Activities for your Children to Enjoy During Corona Lockdown (with you or while you get some me-time!)
A couple of days ago, I woke up to an article published in ElPais.com (in Spanish) that questioned why we all feel the need to be over productive in our lives, and how this is affecting us and causing us more stress in the times of lockdown.
The article, inspired by Jenny Odell’s book How to Do Nothing, mentions the loads of articles, memes, WhatsApp group chains and shared links with online resources like free online museum visits, tours, yoga or art classes, books (or full online libraries!), learning resources, and a long etcetera (I have gotten my share, haven’t you?), as if we all needed to fill out the time at home doing something “productive.”
For some, this might be exactly what they need (and perhaps you don’t even have a choice if you are working from home), but maybe it is not for you. Perhaps filling your schedule with a lot of activities for you and your children only leaves you feeling more tired, stressed out and burnt out. You don’t need to feel guilty about not being over productive. Perhaps these days are a most welcome opportunity to recharge and connect with others. So please do as the authors suggest and give yourself permission to “embrace boredom and distraction” if that is what you need.
Perhaps you think this is just the perfect time to get your kid up to speed with their reading, learning the numbers, the tables, the alphabet… you name it! And if this helps your family, by all means go for it! But if it becomes stressful, you might consider taking a break from at least some of the activities.
Some children will welcome a full planned schedule just like you might need to keep busy. But others might benefit from taking things slower. You are the one who knows best what is best for your family!
The Pediatric Mental Health Association Page shared a post a few days ago advising against focusing on homeschooling related activities during the school shutdown because “It’s going to be stressful. If things get worse you are going to be stressed (…) Arguing with your kids to do work is not what anyone needs right now. Instead, cuddle up together and read, read, read. (…) Do a puzzle. Build a fort. Bake. Watch TV together. Paint. Get out the lego and build together. Set out a tent in your living room and camp out (…) Don’t stress about them forgetting. Don’t stress about homeschooling them. Just spend time together. Your kids won’t learn much if they are feeling stressed. Though this is a scary time, it could be very well be a time they remember as the best time in their life.”
Some parents reacted negatively to the post (you can read it, as well as the comments, here), stating that their children needed the activity/challenges and actually asked to do more schoolwork. But for me, his post was just what I needed to read. Having somebody tell me that it is ok not to be using the time to do every craft that comes to our hands was a relief. So if this message also speaks to you, then follow its advice. And if not, feel free to ignore it. Do what feels right for your family.
“What kids need right now is to feel comforted and loved. To feel like it’s all going to be ok. And that might mean that you tear up your perfect schedule and love on your kids a bit more (…) Don’t worry about them regressing in school. Every single kid is in this boat and they all will be ok. When we are back in the classroom, we will all course correct and meet them where they are. Teachers are experts at this! Don’t pick fights with your kids because they don’t want to do math. Don’t scream at your kids for not following the schedule. Don’t mandate 2 hours of learning time if they are resisting it. If I can leave you with one thing, it’s this: at the end of all of this, your kids’ mental health will be more important than their academic skills.”
Every child psychologist, teacher or specialist I have read or followed since my children were born advocates for creating routines and sticking to them because “they give children a sense of security and control over their environment” (quote from Raise Learning. Full text can be found here). This applies also (or perhaps even more so) to these difficult times we are leaving “because structure can help both kids and adults feel a sense of security during stressful times” (quote taken from Consumer Reports).
But do please allow for some flexibility in your schedule. Perhaps one day your children are too distracted and trying to get them to do a craft or schoolwork becomes a battle. Or perhaps you are so burned out that you feel you have no choice but to let the kids have extra screen time. If for whatever reason, things happen to go south a day or two (or more!) and you don’t manage to stick to your plans, please be kind to yourself and allow yourself to reschedule. We are after all, human, and life happens.
The reason for changing your schedule doesn’t have to be something bad. Maybe the weather is great and you can all take a walk around the block or get in the car and take a trip around just to get out of the house (provided that you are not infected or exposed and the rules in your particular community allow this). Or maybe your children are super excited about doing a particular activity with you, instead of the regular plan. Please allow yourself to enjoy those moments.
Nothing is going to happen if you take a day off (or more) from your schedule. Your family’s mental and emotional well being is more important than a plan (please do feel free to ignore my advice if you have experienced that routines are the only thing that give you a feeling of control and well being. You have to do what is right for you).
Pay attention to the needs of your family. I cannot stress this enough. Do what feels right for you and your loved ones. Keep busy or take the time to relax. Stick to a schedule or don’t. Do a spring cleanup Marie Condo style or don’t. Get your children busy with homework, art and projects. Or don’t do it at all. And be ok with the fact that what is right one day may not feel right the next. Listen to your heart and you will understand it is ok to suddenly change course.
Though we might feel tempted to reading everything we can about corona (how many infected are in our area or our country, how the health services are coping, new rules on isolation, advances on research, etcetera), you need to recognize when it becomes too much for you and take a pause.
I found out that reading or watching corona related news was affecting my mood and making me stressed out, especially at night time. So I decided to keep news consumption to the very minimum. What works best for me is to read news around mid-day, not too early so that any bad news cannot have an impact on my overall feeling for the day, and not so late that all I can think about bedtime is corona.
And even if being informed is what you need, please consider reducing your children’s exposure to news.
Stay active as much as possible. That is a great medicine against stress. Get out for a walk and some fresh air if that is a possibility in your area. If not, there are thousands of resources online (some free and some paid) for learning yoga, Pilates or for doing aerobics or any type of fitness from home. You can very likely find one that you can do with your children and enjoy together!
The CDC advices “Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs. Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.”
Practicing some mindfulness (the art or practice of paying attention to the present moment) can be beneficial in these stressful times. According to Center for Change, “Mindfulness practices can help us to increase our ability to regulate emotions, decrease stress, anxiety and depression.” And according to CoolAustralia.org, “mindfulness develops the whole brain and helps children to understand their emotions and feelings, reducing their risk of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Practicing Mindfulness helps children to notice the positives, and develop a sense of appreciation, gratitude and contentment.”
So perhaps some mindfulness exercises could come in handy these days, even if for the sole reason of having some quiet and down time. Check out this Mindfulness for Kids video in YouTube if you want to give it a try with an easy to follow guided meditation for children.
When things get rough, take one day at a time or, if needed, even one hour at a time! This too shall pass.
This might not be the time to do a balance of your life (advice from a dear friend of mine) because, let’s face it, none of us envisioned we would be in the situation where we are right now, with projects, school, proms, graduations, jobs, vacations and family reunions on hold.
And when it comes to making plans for the future (always a great idea!), I would suggest that you don’t set a date for them, or you will be crushed if this pandemic goes for longer than we hoped for (you can always set the goal for post-pandemic times).
You are human. You will feel ups and downs, and now that we are in our homes with our kids 100 per cent of the time, it might be really tough to hide your downs. So talk about them. If you get upset and cry, explain it to your children. The worst for them is to make up their own stories about what is going on.
Ask for personal space if you need it. Let your spouse/partner take over, even if only for a few minutes, while you breathe, wind down, or pull yourself back together. These times are difficult ones and taking care of ourselves makes us more capable of taking care of our loved ones (and taking care of ourselves sometimes means enjoying some minutes alone).
In interview with Los Angeles Times, therapist Jonathan Vickburg, said, “Unfortunately, when we as adults have our anxiety on high alert, it is so easy to project that onto kids. What happens sometimes is the kids are trying to reduce that anxiety and they’re trying to take care of us, and it should not be that way,” he said. So making time for ourselves and making sure that we are well will benefit our children and families. As Unicef says, “You’ll be able to help your kids better if you’re coping, too.”
When things go wrong and you snap or say the wrong thing, please don’t beat yourself about it. We are humans, and as much as we would love to be perfect parents and role models in these times of crisis, we won’t always make it. Not 100% of the time. But your children have an opportunity of becoming better human beings if you take the time to talk to them about what you are feeling or did, apologize to them if appropriate, make it up to them and go from there. It is life, after all.
While it is recommended to try to focus on the positive when we experience difficult situations so that we can stay afloat, it might not seem an easy task when we are struggling. Besides, what can possibly be positive about a pandemic and a lockdown?
In an interview with the NYTimes, Judith Matloff, who found herself once trapped in a hotel during a civil war in Angola, tells us five possible positive turnouts of the corona lockdown:
If you are curious to read more about Matloff’s experience, you can check out the whole article “Advice from a Crisis Expert on Surviving a Lockdown.”
To this I would add, we are giving the Earth the time to heal. Have you heard of the skies turning blue again in Beijing and pollution dropping to a 6-year low in many Chinese cities? Perhaps, once this is over, we will have found a way (or more than one) to make this more permanent.
This is not a small thing, so please remember it when social distancing and isolation become too much to handle and you have trouble coping. YOUR actions are giving our health services time to treat patients. YOUR social distancing is giving time to scientists who work trying to develop a vaccine or an effective cure. YOUR actions are saving the lives of your loved ones, my loved ones and someone else’s loved ones. This is BIG and IT MATTERS. I might not know you in person, but please know I am incredible grateful for the actions you are taking to keep your loved ones and others safe.
Finally, if you feel down and don’t manage to snap out of it or if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row, please make sure to contact your health provider or ask for help.
If you have found some good tips or some comfort in this article, please spread the word in social media or send the link to your friends! You might just reach someone in need of it.
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About the author: Edymar Ablan Pacheco is a journalist and children’s book author. You can download her first book, “The Monster Who Loved Throwing Stones,” for free for a limited time by clicking here. By subscribing to her Reader’s List you will also be receiving free coloring and activity pages, mazes, printable jigsaw puzzles and more!