I was asked last week to write out some tips for parents who are acting not only as parents, but teachers, social activity directors, employees, and general gurus all at the same time, and in the face of frightening and confusing changes and transitions. I hope they’re helpful to you as well.
Ten tips for parents.
1) Children will take their cues from you and how you’re handling the changes in your home schedule and work schedule. Try to use language and examples that they understand and that don’t convey panic. Talk about staying at home as a protective choice, not that your family needs to hide or flee. Maybe use this example: “Imagine our doctors are like your teachers. What would it be like if suddenly, your teacher had 50 more kids to teach? That would be hard. So, we’re staying home so that there are less people that are really sick. That way, we can help our doctors.”
2) Make a schedule for each day (children will love helping with that). You can divide the day into six sections:
Activity time (that’s work, school, or chores for all of you);
Quiet time (with younger children, you can use oven timers to help them stay in their “corner” for quiet time); Play time (Games, Singing, Card games, Board games, but something interactive:
Pastimes (This can be iPad time or video time, art, reading, begin creative);
Rituals (time doing things you and your family always do – this is very important with so much change. Bedtimes stay the same. Brushing their teeth in the morning, etc.);
Sharing Time (Time when everyone talks about feelings that are arising and what the new changes in schedule are like, praying or sharing). And you literally make a schedule like the kids have at school.
3) Keep your child (and yourself) as emotionally connected as you can. Have them write letters to grandparents or draw them a picture. Have them draw pictures of their friends and encourage them to talk on the phone or if possible, Facetime.
4) If children become frightened, you can have them talk about or draw someone that helps them feel courageous. That could be Superwoman, Batman, or someone they actually know in real life. Have them play out what that hero or heroine would say to them! Maybe even let them “play” their hero figure.
5) Watch or listen to only one source of news about the virus – a source you trust. There’s so much information out there and it can be overwhelming.
6) Laughter is so important. Get out last summer’s water guns and have a water gun battle. Make up a scavenger hunt for things in the house or out in the yard. Suggest they write a play (or use a popular movie like Star Wars or one of the Disney movies as the story line) and assign roles to each child, and then act it out. They can take turns being the director or have different roles.
7) Realize that you can’t do everything. If you have a child with special needs or an elderly parent living with you, make a list of priorities. Delegate where you can to older children. You are playing parent, teacher, social director, cook and no telling what else. And your own self-care is important. There are still only 24 hours in the day. And you need some quiet time as well. Even if it’s fifteen minutes here and there.
8) When fighting begins (which it will), use time out for all parties. Maybe decide a space in the house that’s a cooling-off space – you could put up a tent or hang a sheet up for this. Invite the child who needs “cooling off” to go there before things get out of hand.
9) Give permission to kids who might be missing out on a sports event or a spring competition to be sad about that. As adults, we can forget how very important those things are to kids.
10) Each of your children will handle this in their own way. Their personalities are unique and will take these changes accordingly. Help them recognize that there isn’t one “right” way to handle this new normal. For example, kids who love to be social are going to struggle more than the home bodies. So as best you can, support each one in what’s uniquely hard for them, or easy for them.
And don’t forget, especially if you’re highly perfectionistic with yourself, now more than ever, it’s time to be compassionate with yourself.