Family life and relationships: Who are these kids and why are they here all the time?
Some of you may still be experiencing the initial shock of having your children home 24/7 since schools have closed. After the first couple of weeks you may have even asked yourself, "who are these kids and why are they here all the time?" It's not like summer break from school you knew was coming and could prepare. This unexpected Covid-19 event is causing many families stress and anxiety over what to do to manage their kids being home from school, along with keeping them safe and healthy. Unlike summer vacation, children still need to continue their learning and education. As written in an online article (thetlantic.com), it takes only a matter of weeks away from school for students to fall disastrously behind schedule on their learning. And realistically, it takes probably only a matter of hours away from school for them to affect their parents’ productivity. So in places all over the country where remote learning will be difficult, impossible, or delayed, parents face a formidable challenge: how to keep their kids from bouncing off the walls or melting into blobs in front of glowing screens, while also avoiding backslide and learning loss. (1)
Many of you may have already figured out what to do to manage the stress from the absence of school, and able to maintain a stable family life. Many others may find this a more challenging experience. Either way, the stress and anxiety affects us all individually, as well as our families. After all, being in a pandemic and doing the things we must do to stay healthy is new for us all and we find ourselves having to do things quite differently, even things we've never done before. I've never seen anything like this in my life time.This is uncharted territory.
First, let's look at the affects of prolonged school closure and home confinement can have on children.
The Lancet website posted an article referencing evidence suggesting that, when children are out of school (eg, weekends and summer holidays), they are physically less active, have much longer screen time, irregular sleep patterns, and less favorable diets, resulting in weight gain and a loss of cardiorespiratory fitness. Such negative effects on health are likely to be much worse when children are confined to their homes without outdoor activities and interaction with same aged friends during the outbreak (2).
Of course as parents you want to minimize this as much as possible, but still it can be overwhelming if you lost your job, or working from home, you're a single parent, or even a two parent family. How you manage the stress of these will set the tone for how you're family manages the stress of all the things that go along with prolonged confinement. Let's begin here with a few general approaches that can make a positive difference in the stability of your family relationships.
First, as parents, be sure to take care of yourself. This is essential to providing adequate care and emotional support to your family. Take the time to notice your feelings and pause and reflect before responding to sources of stress.
If you’re stuck at home due to coronavirus precautions, your family may be together 24 hours a day and it may feel impossible to get a break for yourself.
A. If you co-parent, talk about how you can share caregiving time so that each of you have a little time alone.
B. If you and your co-parent are balancing work-at-home with child care, collaborate on creating daily schedules that allow each of you to focus on key professional responsibilities while keeping children safe and occupied. Schedules (in terms of who does what, when) may need to change on a daily basis, so making time to plan before bed or during breakfast can set up you up for a successful day.
C. If you don’t have another adult in the home, take advantage of “quiet time.” Is your child still taking naps? Use that time for yourself.
D. Is your child too old for naps? Try to arrange a quiet hour or two each afternoon when your child reads in bed or plays quietly.
E. If needed, use the time after your child goes to bed or before they wake up in the morning for self-care as well.
What activities make you happy? Reduce your stress level? Leave you feeling calm and rejuvenated? It’s different for everybody. What’s important is finding self-care strategies that work for YOU—ones that bring you peace and are realistic to use (3).
Remember, you are your children's role model, so model the behavior and attitude you want from your children. For instance, model for them, how you talk and care for each other, handle conflicts and responsibilities of taking care of your home and the social distancing guidelines.
Second, pay attention to how you're feeling. This is very important in your interactions with your children. Keep in mind, you model how you manage your emotions to your children. Be able to calm your emotions enough to tell the difference between what it is you're reacting to that your children have done, and if you're over, or under, reacting. This will help you gain a better perspective and make better decisions.
Third is, add some structure. This was briefly touched on in B above with implementing the use of a schedule. Just about anywhere you go there is structure. At work you follow a schedule or routine to get things done. At school there's a schedule to tell children when to change classes and when activities begin and end and also, include behavioral guidelines. Fact is, children do better with structure by providing predictability and the expectations that are desired. This can be especially helpful for children experiencing behavioral challenges by building in rewards for appropriate behavior and consequences for inappropriate behavior, such as a token economy (4).
Parents, as horrible as this pandemic may be, it provides you with a unique opportunity that, for all we know, may be a once in a life time event. Use your structure to not only help your children keep up with their academics, but build in time with them, better learn who they are, experience new things together, and improve on your relationships. This is a chance to have a powerful and positive impact now on your child's future that may not come again after this passes. Margaret Lemp, PsyD, a clinical psychologist offers these suggestions that can add positive and pleasant experiences to enhance your structure for you and your children.
Help them stay connected with others - Face time or call friends and relatives, play games or puzzles together, make cards for the elderly or those who are isolated.
Keep up their physical activity – Take advantage of nice weather to get outside and walk or play. When inside, explore online videos to dance, do yoga or workout.
Monitor their news and social media intake – Talk to your children about how to select news with factual information and limit the amount of time they spend on media. Monitor your own use and avoid watching or listening to anything that might be upsetting when your children are present.
Practice mindfulness with them to stay present - Do breathing exercises, draw, paint, sing, cook, meditate, make slime, read a story.
Remain calm and provide reassurance - Talk about their feelings, help them reframe their concerns, let them know adults in their lives are there to keep them safe and healthy. Make sure your explanations are age appropriate.
Keep them positive - Talk about things you are grateful for as a family or things that are going well, help them choose activities which are pleasant and improve their mood.
Acknowledge that there is, for now, a new normal - Talk about being flexible as a family to cope with each day’s new challenges.
The main idea here is creating a structure to establish a routine for children to continue their normal day to the best of your abilities…same time for waking up, getting dressed, eating breakfast, doing schoolwork, taking a break, going outside for recess. How far you take this is up to you, and what will meet the needs that'll improve the quality of your family relationships.
No one knows with any certainty how life will be when this pandemic is over, but it won't be the normal we're used to. Maintaining stable and healthy family relationships now, improves your chances of not just surviving, but thriving in these unprecedented times.
What I’m about to reveal to you is the greatest illusion of all time. An illusion so captivating, so compelling, so believable that it seems real. So real that you believe it is real. And once it becomes real for you it can ensnare you like an insect trapped in a spider’s web, you can see no way out and it becomes a prison, a prison from which there appears to be no escape. Yet all these things, however real they may seem, are but illusions (1) This is from A Course in Miracles (ACIM). I call this place, this prison, The Land of Insanity, Illusions and Lies, for short the land of IIL (For our purpose here, pronounced ILL and you’ll learn why later). The Course goes on to tells us that, This does not appear to be the case, for the manifestations of this world seem real indeed (2)
(From, Escape from Insanity Illusions and Lies)