In the midst of the current chaos of the world dealing with a global pandemic, parents are suddenly finding themselves juggling more challenges than ever – social distancing, working from home, home schooling their children or facilitating distance learning, and of course trying to maintain their family’s health. These are certainly trying and uncertain times for everyone, but supporting your children during this time of social distancing (also known as physical distancing) can mitigate a stressful situation. Here are some quick tips on ways to support your children during this difficult time:
Create a schedule
Making a schedule, perhaps similar to one they might have in school, will help to sustain a sense of normalcy. It will also help to promote some independence and autonomy in your children if they know what they should be doing and when. For children who might have a more difficult time with staying and learning at home, a schedule will help them to know what to expect. It’s also okay if the schedule includes big blocks of free or play time or watching movies!
Focus on filling your day and theirs with a mix of activities
Engage in activities that are productive, fun, active, and social:
- Productive: Engage in activities throughout the week that will make your child feel like they accomplished something. This can be cleaning their room, doing math worksheets, writing a story, or helping with household chores. This will help your child feel a sense of pride during this unsettling time.
- Fun: It’s important to spend time having fun! Social distancing is difficult for children and adults, and the lion’s share of adults’ attention is on coronavirus and staying healthy. Therefore, it is particularly important to ensure that kids and teens are enjoying themselves and that they are able to just “be kids” despite everything going on around them. Encourage them to play a new game, watch a new movie, work on a craft, play with a new toy, or play with a sibling.
- Active: Children and teens are used to moving around every day. They get up and go to school, have physical education class, play sports, dance, and run in the park. While these activities may not be possible right now, it is still crucial to ensure that children (and adults) are moving their bodies every day. If your local government allows it, take a walk with your child and enjoy some fresh air. There are also many apps that can be downloaded at no cost with kid-friendly exercise videos and body breaks. YouTube can also be a great resource for kids’ yoga, follow-along dance videos, and exercise ideas.
- Social: Connecting with others is the main thing we are all going to miss during this time of social distancing. However, thanks to technology, we are still able to connect. For younger children, this may involve setting up virtual playdates with other children in their class or video chatting with a relative that they cannot visit. For older children and teens, who are going to experience social isolation more intensely than younger children, this might mean allowing them more time with their phone and devices to chat with and connect with friends.
Even when your children are in school for 6-7 hours per day, they are not learning or working that whole time. We know that children (and adults!) need brain and body breaks for optimal learning. It helps reduce fatigue, fight boredom, and increase stamina. Right now, breaks are especially important to help combat stress. Breaks can include lunch or snacks, play or craft time, one-on-one time with a parent or caretaker, movement or exercise, or a fun distraction like a new television show or game.
Talk to your kids
Regardless of what you have told your children about the pandemic, they know that this is an unusual time in our lives. Knowing that they cannot go to school, to their sports and activities, or see their friends is a large upheaval in their daily lives. Kids will have questions and worries just like the rest of us, and it is important for the adults in their lives to talk to them about what is going on. Answer their questions, re-assure them, and remain calm. (See our post about how to talk to your children about the coronavirus outbreak.)
Embrace (and allow) technology
In our normal daily lives, we often encourage monitoring and limiting screen time for children. While this is, generally, a good recommendation, right now, embracing technology is key. With distance learning in place, technology is vital. Additionally, there are many technology-based resources that can help your children learn, stay occupied, and keep them connected to others. Allow them to watch more videos than usual, to play educational games more frequently, and to connect with friends virtually.
Reduce the pressure
In this uncertain time, children and teens may feel an immense amount of pressure to “do school” at home. They may want to ensure that they are still learning and doing all of the work set up for them by their teachers. Without the structure of a classroom and guidance from their teachers, it is likely that children and teens will have unanswered questions. Remind your kids that no one is expecting perfection right now, and that it is okay if something is unclear to them or does not get completed. Reassure your children that these challenges are normal and the present situation presents a huge learning curve for everyone.
Be gentle with yourself
With parents juggling new roles, it is easy to notice all of the ways in which things are not going perfectly. Perhaps your children missed a virtual lesson because you needed the computer, or because you lost track of time. Perhaps the laundry is piling up because you spent an extra hour reassuring your child or doing a yoga video with them. Right now, it is especially crucial that we are kind and gentle with ourselves. Everyone is adjusting to this “new normal” and if that means missing an assignment or not finishing a project on time, it’s okay. We all need to take extra care to be understanding with each other and respect the stress and demands of everyone’s lives. Most importantly, however, we need to be understanding with and kind to ourselves. Everyone is adjusting and doing the best that they can. For now, that is enough.
If you or your child are experiencing an excessive amount of stress, worry, or anxiety or if you are finding significant changes to your moods, consider consulting with a cognitive-behavioral therapist for strategies to manage and maintain your and your child’s emotions during this trying time.