With current social distancing and shelter-in-place mandates, parents are facing new unprecedented challenges. Balancing work, children, homeschooling, and typical daily demands in the environment of COVID-19 are the new normal. Managing your own emotional needs while attending to the emotional needs of your family requires extra effort and planning.
While some children appear to take change in stride, others are struggling. Often children’s struggles are not stated verbally, but rather are exhibited in their behavior. Young children may experience a regression in learned skills such as toilet training or sharing, or they may tantrum more often. School-age children may have difficulty sleeping or completing tasks alone. Teenagers may retreat to their rooms, refuse to complete school assignments, or walk away from interactions with parents. Although challenging to manage, these reactions are all ways that children express their internal struggles.
Tips for managing the major lifestyle changes in your home
Set realistic expectations for you children and yourself.
Many parents are feeling unrealistic pressure to ensure their children are learning and not falling behind. The reality is that there is no way to be your child’s teacher. Don’t feel pressured by what you see and hear on the internet; every other parent in the world is not more creative and more engaged than you. You can support their online learning but when schools reopen their teachers will have to spend time reviewing and filling in the gaps.
Attempt to keep the routine as normal and consistent as possible.
Think in time chunks. Set up a daily routine that includes times for schoolwork, times for eating, and times for playing. Although routines may need to be adjusted daily because of changing work and school schedules and children’s needs for supervision, try to keep bedtime and wake-up time consistent. Give your children a heads up to changes that affect them.
Have a dedicated time each day to play solely with each child—without the distraction of cellphones and other electronics.
The amount of time matters less than the fact you are focused and listening to your child. Even 15 minutes daily will make a difference to both of you.
Let your children help you.
Teach them how to do age-appropriate tasks that build life skills. For example, let your child help you fold the laundry, cook, or clean. Young children will love these actions.
Help your children find ways to stay connected to friends.
One of the biggest challenges that children and especially teenagers are experiencing is not being able to see friends. Social isolation can lead to sadness and sometimes depression. Taking a walk or sitting outside with a friend while being sure to maintain social distancing may help. Help them set up zoom, google hangouts or facetime with friends. In an age where we have all been told to reduce screen time as much as possible, online chatting, online lessons and allowing time to play online and more importantly chat with friends online are temporary necessities.
Connect with family across the distance.
Arrange for family dinners with grandparents and other family members via video chat. Facetime, Skype, Zoom, Google, Facebook Messenger, and Microsoft Teams all offer video chat. It’s fun and will mean the world to especially those of the older generation. Grandparents and other family members can read books to younger kids or play games with them. One app that is especially helpful and is being offered free during the pandemic is Caribu—which allows both the reader and the child to see the pages of the actual book, or play matching or word search games across the distance. Some board games like “Hotels” or “Yatzee”are available online for groups to play.
Make suggestions to reduce boredom.
Boredom is one of the biggest problems children and teenagers are facing stuck at home. Facilitate exploring interests and hobbies. A teenager who typically doesn’t like to read may enjoy reading about a favorite athlete, performer or other personality. With no papers or deadlines involved, kids may be surprised that they enjoy escaping into a good book. Those interested in photography, art, music and other hobbies may be intrigued by online classes or videos on YouTube that introduce new skills.
Talk about stressors and practice ways to relieve stress.
Exercising, going outside to play, playing games, watching movies, and working puzzles are all good ways to take minds off the current situation. Learning relaxation and mindfulness techniques can help both you and your children cope with stress and anxiety. Practicing relaxation skills with your child for a few minutes at bedtime can also help them fall asleep. Apps such as Calm and Headspace can be helpful.
Turn off the news.
Some of us have the news on as background noise. It is best for all of us to reduce the time we listen to the news, but it is crucial to remember that children are easily scared by news stories and do not have the same ability to put the information aside. When they do have questions about what is happening, try to give them realistic reassurance.
Create a fun and relaxing space for your child to “get away.”
Everyone needs a spot of their own—especially in a very busy house. Designate a personal spot that is each child’s place. It can be a bedroom, but it can also be a corner of any room in the house. Let each child keep a few personal items for their own use there.
Help your teenager cope by providing additional support and resources.
Click the link for information from Children’s Health Care of Atlanta.
We hope you, your family, and friends stay well during these difficult times. If you need more assistance, we are here to support you with parent coaching and therapy sessions via secure video meetings. Please call to schedule.