Schools across the UK have closed in response to COVID-19, leaving parents and caregivers scrambling to find daily activities for their children that are educational, creative and entertaining.
Read on below for some of the ways parents can take care of theirs and their children’s mental health and make it through what could be a long and unexpected disruption
Don’t throw out structure. Map out how the days will flow. Set up specific times for reading/homework, chores, independent free time, mealtimes, family time and bedtime. Like every teacher, write it down and post the schedule. It is very important that your children get dressed up in the morning and you do not support them staying in their pyjamas all day long.
Make time for yourself. Everybody will need a breather right now. Make sure your children know that you will plan blocks of time for yourself and that they will need to self-entertain. This will give you time for needed chores and your own mental-health time. Have several a day and work in times for your own self-reflection, checking in with other parents and exercise time.
Free play. While officials are asking people to distance themselves from others, getting outside is still allowed and encouraged. Outside time and fresh air has huge physical and mental health benefits. While children might complain about not knowing what to do, they will quickly find something to explore or create while outside. If there’s room in the house for one room to be set aside for unbridled free play, do it. Zoom sessions for your children and their friends should also be an option.
It’s OK to loosen screen rules…a bit. Given the circumstances, go with weekend rules just to help you and your kids survive. The same is true with TV and Netflix. While binge-watching might be an appealing alternative, you’ll pay the price in your child’s moodiness after you pry them free of their screens. Several one-hour blocks a day is better than binge-viewing.
Interact with your kids and family. Whether it’s old-fashioned board games or watching TV together or sharing an electronic game or two; this could be a gift of time with your loved ones! Also, would be a great idea to watch old family videos. Connecting with happier times is always good for our mental health.
Stick to a sleep schedule. While it might be tempting for your older children to stay up late every night and sleep late every morning, that’s not going to be beneficial to their physical and mental health. Stick with your bedtime schedule!
Stay in touch with your community. Rather than being on the phone or social media all day long yourself, try to schedule set times to check in with your adult friends. You can also consider setting up a Zoom community of friends where you can have a designated time to check-in with each other and have grandparents do regular video calls with the kids.
Limit the news. For your own mental health, and the mental health of your children, titrate the intake of news. Constantly following the latest coronavirus news will only increase the entire family’s anxiety.
Give kids an outlet to discuss emotions. You can set aside a time to talk as a family about how everyone is feeling and coping with the outbreak (ie. at the dinner table or after dinner). It’s important to acknowledge their anxiety but also their loss and grief about upcoming trips and school programs on which they will be missing out. Then turn to your family game time and your usual routines.
Adjust to your unique child. The above recommendations need to be adjusted to the age and nature of your child. Children who struggle with impulse control will need more structure and rules than other children. Teens will need to be in contact with their friends over social media. You’ll also need to be aware of teens that will be tempted to sneak out at night to meet up with their friends.
Have an adventure mindset. In good times and bad, help your child understand that every moment in life, offers opportunities to learn, create and grow; having said that journaling could be an exciting idea. Ask your kids what they will remember from this experience. What will they treasure and what would they want to change for generations in the future!
Make sure the information is age-appropriate. Emphasize safety for younger children. Explain they are safe and being taken care of. For older children, in middle and high school, stick to the facts and make sure you are not sharing too much of your own anxieties with them. Process your feelings mostly with older adults.
Harvard Medical School offers some useful ways to talk to children about the new coronavirus with sample questions and answers and how to talk to teens about the new coronavirus.
Source of inspiration: cpr.org, by Jenny Brundin