Schools across the UK are now closed indefinitely and parents are faced with the challenging task of looking after children while continuing to work from home.
If the thought of having the little ones running around while you respond to emails and log onto conference calls makes you break out in a cold sweat, then don’t worry- there are steps every parent can take to make the situation less stressful.
Increase the bonds between you and your children
As parents we often complain there isn’t enough time to really talk and bond with our children, so use these weeks as a ‘relationship reset’ which will improve the way your family relates to each other. Treat the time as an opportunity to spend some quality time with our children. Build in some one-to-one time with each of your children. This will let them know that they are important to you and that you are interested in them as a person. During this time let your child lead the play or conversation and choose the activity. Join in with them in their world – they spend much time in ours having to follow our routines and those at school.
Keep to their usual routine
Set an alarm, have breakfast, and get them up and ready for the time they’d usually start school. Keep to your regular morning routine. Get up, shower and have breakfast with your family at your usual time. Don’t be tempted to lounge around all day in your PJs, save that for the weekend.
Routine gives our children great structure and makes children feel safe, as they have a natural human fear of the unknown, it also helps them master new skills and learn to take control of their own lives. Keeping their routines the same as much as possible will help reduce anxiety for your children in what is an uncertain situation.
Depending on your child’s age or development use the routine to master new skills, putting on shoes/making the bed. This will set time every day for you and your child to work together, saving time and stress going forward. We can use this time to teach our children skills so that they can be more independent and help around the house too. This sense of teamwork and achievement will boost their self-esteem.
Routines need not dampen creativity, schedule activities and playtime. Having a clear structure to your day will help your child with delayed gratification, to look forward to complete downtime, and help them appreciate their freedom more when it comes.
The routine can help bonding with your child, use time together in the routine to talk about everyday activities, sing a song, tell a story, and explain the benefits of healthy habits, such as brushing your teeth and organising homework.
Ask them to do one thing at a time
If we ask our children to go upstairs, make their bed, clean their teeth and put on their socks, they will get upstairs and wonder what they were meant to be doing. Ask children to do one thing at a time, when they do it praise them, and then ask them to do the next thing. Lists and visual aids can help and enable children to take responsibility for themselves and reduce the number of times we must ask them to do things.
Break the day into two distinct shifts
If you have a partner or older children at home then create a rota that splits the day across two or more parents or helpers into two uninterrupted blocks e.g. early start to lunch and then post lunch to evening. If you have a partner take turns to look after the children. If one or both of you are working from home schedule the time so that you both get a break. Ask the children to help. Give your children age appropriate jobs to do. Older siblings may be able to help with younger siblings. Most children can lay the table, tidy up their toys, load the dishwasher, take the bins out, sort socks into pairs etc. Working as a team will help your whole family to stay busy and make sure that no one person is overwhelmed.
Let the children know what to expect
Plan the day so your children know what to expect. Children respond well to the structure of school, that you can recreate together at home. Do this with your children. School will likely provide you with a timetable, first task is to turn that into a poster they can stick up. Keep play times in the morning and afternoon ideally outside and for lunch play you could organise a zoom virtual play with their school friends.
When events are scary and largely out of our control, it’s important to be proactive about what you can control. Making plans helps you visualize the near future. Involve older children in planning for self-isolation. What food do you need? What films and games and activities will keep you occupied if schools must close? How can your children have virtual play dates? What can your family do that would be fun outside? What are favourite foods you can cook during this time? Problem solving and planning is a great skill to share with your children and bring you closer together. All the family can take part sharing ideas – listening to each in turn and pooling ideas boosts self-esteem and the feeling of belonging.
Plan this for what works for you and your family. This is one example here:
Get up and get dressed
Make the bed
Brush your teeth and wash your hands and face
Make sure you have everything you need for the planned activities for the day e.g craft materials, workbooks for schoolwork etc.
Use a timer so that children know how long each activity will last for to help with transitions
Alternate schoolwork with fun activities
Have a morning break for a snack and time outside in the garden if you can. If you can’t get outside try some physical activity such as dancing, homemade obstacle courses, running up and down stairs etc. If you can safely take them outside – to the park, the countryside or your garden – for exercise and fresh air, do. After this you can then let them switch off in front of the TV/their screens for a while you get some work done.
Have lunch at their usual time and provide time for children to have some free play afterwards. Don’t have lunch in front of the TV. Make the lunch break family time. You can sit together, and chat and you can all help to prepare it and tidy up afterwards keeping you active.
Alternate schoolwork with fun activities in the afternoon
Start and finish schoolwork to coincide with the school day so that they can carry on with their usual afternoon routine after that
Put school things way until the next day
Create a work zone
Don’t work from bed while you’re working from home – it disrupts sleep, damages your posture and makes you LESS productive
Create a work area at home and ensure your children understand that’s a do not disturb zone (even if this needs to be your bedroom) Have a have a sign on the door, “Mummy/Daddy is working” to put up during any important calls so they know they need to play quietly and not interrupt .
If you have older children it may be possible for you all to work at the same time if you are writing emails etc but when you need to concentrate or have calls it is good to be able to move into your own space.
Be kind to yourself as a worker and as a parent
Don’t try to work at the same output rate. Most of your clients and colleagues are in the same situation and will understand.
A dog barking during a conference call, a child walking in on a video call is ok. Look at your priorities and focus on what matters most.
Putting yourself under pressure to be the perfect parent is unrealistic. Apologise when you get it wrong and start again.
We can relax the boundaries a little on television or the ipad with the children to give ourselves a break. If you do this explain that this is a unique situation and put the boundaries back into place once the crisis is over.
If you can join in with them on the games they play or watch a film together to help you all relax.
Be creative and flexible – keep your family sane and safe by getting the balance right. Trust yourself- you are the expert on your child.
Sleep is an essential part of everyone’s routine and an indispensable part of a healthy lifestyle. Studies have shown that kids who regularly get an adequate amount of sleep have improved attention, behaviour, learning, memory, and overall mental and physical health.
This is good advice for sleep and is true for adults and children. Now could be a good time to set up a good bedtime routine.
Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time. This helps to regulate your body’s clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A relaxing, routine activity before bed helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety.
If you have trouble sleeping, avoid naps, especially in the afternoon.
Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity.
Evaluate your room. Design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep. Your bedroom should be cool – between 60 and 67 degrees, free from any noise that can disturb your sleep and free from any light. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices.
Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive. Have comfortable pillows and make the room attractive and inviting for sleep.
Use bright light to help manage your circadian rhythms. Avoid bright light in the evening and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning. This will keep your circadian rhythms in check.
If you can, avoid eating large meals for two to three hours before bedtime. Try a light snack 45 minutes before bed if you’re still hungry.
Wind down. Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading.
If you can’t sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. It is best to take work materials, computers and televisions out of the sleeping environment.
Having a bath
Reading a story
Going to bed
Often at bedtime children share our worries with us. Listen to what they say and answer with reassurance. If your child always picks last thing at night to worry you can introduce worry time earlier in the day before the bath when they can share with you. An older child can have a book where they can write out their fears and talk about them with you the next day. Teenagers like a to and fro book. Leave a book in their room. They can write in any worries or questions they have and leave it in an agreed place for you to find. You can then respond calmly and leave the book where they can find it.
It’s helpful to reassure your child about how rare the coronavirus is (the flu is much more common) and that children seem to have milder symptoms. Focus on what you’re doing to stay safe – we empower our children when they can take some control to protect themselves. The coronavirus is transmitted mostly by coughing and touching surfaces so thoroughly washing your hands is the primary means of staying healthy.
Remind your children that they are taking care of themselves by washing their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds (or the length of two “Happy Birthday” songs) when they come in from outside, before they eat, and after blowing their nose, coughing, sneezing or using the bathroom. If your children ask about face masks, explain that the experts at the CDC say they aren’t necessary for most people. If they see people wearing face masks, explain that those people are being extra cautious.
Children who are behaving more difficulty than usual by acting out or being more defiant may be feeling anxious. Take time to listen to their fears. When they are calm talk about their feelings and different ways that they can express their emotions. Respond to your children’s outbursts in a calm, consistent and comforting way.
Reassure them that children are much less affected by the virus than older people. They may be worried about people they know – grandparents, or people with underlying conditions. They may have asthma or other complicating conditions themselves. Make sure you know what the advice is, so you can promise them that everything is being done. Reassure them that everything will be done to protect and look after them. When you talk about not being able to see relatives be positive in the way you tell them about it – saying “We won’t be seeing them this week because we are keeping our distance to keep them safe” is better than saying “We are staying away because we might make them sick.”
Tell them that you will continue to keep them updated as you learn more. We can let them know what happens as we find out. This keeps the conversation open so that they can ask questions as they need to. Limit the amount of time you spend watching the news, look out for scaremongering posts on the internet and mute people that post panic- making material. Use technology to search for positive things that you can do together or something that uplifts you and to keep in touch with those you care about.
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