These are certainly unprecedented times. If you, like me and my family, are experiencing restricted movement to stop the spread of this virus, then I know there are some challenges you are facing. Where I live, we are currently only allowed to leave our homes for essentials—work, groceries or medicine and medical appointments. We can also exercise within a 2km radius of our home.
While these measures are absolutely necessary to preserve our physical health, many of us are feeling the pressure both mentally and emotionally—especially our children. While we may be able to grasp the enormity of the situation and manage our thoughts and feelings, our children may not.
I am writing this piece with my fourteen-year-old daughter as my research base. I asked her, back when all this started, what upset her the most about the whole situation. She replied that her biggest worry was me getting sick and dying, and that she would be left without her mother. That’s a huge deal. She is particularly worried because I have underlying health issues, and of course, she has heard on numerous occasions of the increased risk for people with existing health problems. You can see from her response to this simple question how deeply our children think about what is going on. This brings me to my first point on how to support your children’s mental and emotional health at this time.
Don’t pretend nothing is happening!
I know from my own children: kids can sense when something is not quite right. Mine are now fourteen and eighteen, and at that age, there’s really no way of shielding them from information about the pandemic. It’s everywhere, on every news channel and all over the internet. But even very young children, who you may think are oblivious, will sense the disruption regardless of their age. Remember, their whole routine and way of being has been altered abruptly. This can be traumatic for children. Trauma can be defined as events that challenge and strain normal everyday coping abilities. Children feel secure knowing what’s going on and what’s going to happen next. Therefore, it is important to be honest with your children about the situation; to talk to them and answer their questions age-appropriately. Kids Health website gives some excellent advice on how to talk to your children about Covid-19 in an appropriate and nurturing manner.
Routine is important, but ease up a little.
According to Jess (my daughter), it’s important to have structure in your day, but, “My god, ease up a little, parents.” We are all experiencing new situations—in particular, home-schooling. It is a pretty big deal to go from a timetable of classes that someone else organises and facilitates, to having a whole list of work being sent through email that you have to organise and complete yourself. Then there’s the parent’s role, where, in some cases (especially if you have young children) we actually have to teach. You know your own child’s capabilities and ability to focus. What works in our house is a block of three to four hours of focused work, with small breaks throughout. This timeframe is not the same as regular school, but it is more productive and less stressful than a full day of consistent learning. Kudos to full-time home-schooling parents!
Complete projects together.
During this downtime, it has really struck me how insanely stressed and busy we typically are as a household. We, like most families, have been consumed by long work hours, school and chores. This time has really allowed us to become connected again and catch up with each other. My partner and I have taken this time to freshen up the outside area of our home. Despite the endless amounts of entertainment through screens available to both of my children, they chose themselves to come outside and help. One of the most fun times we have had in the past few weeks was whitewashing garden walls. We had a blast. Long conversations, belly laughs, and a sense of achievement really brought us back together. I have always found that it is the impromptu moments of free conversation that my children open up the most. You can have all the therapy in the world, but moments like that are worth a million visits to a therapist’s office. Any kind of shared creative pursuit can provide an opportunity for deep conversation. Planting flowers, painting pictures, cooking, taking walks—whatever works for you. This is a really important time to look at ways to connect.
Take care of yourself so you can take care of others.
Another gem from Jess: “Parents, be mindful of your own mess.” On further elaboration of this point, she highlighted the fact that parents can be nuts sometimes! She’s right. We get frustrated and worried too. Things start to get on our nerves and being hemmed in and out of our own routine affects us too. It is important for us not to add to an already stressful situation with more stress. We can snipe at our family members about stuff that ordinarily wouldn’t be such a big deal, which in turn can turn into chaos about nothing. It’s important that we have breaks too. A thirty-minute walk, a work out or whatever it is that eases the pressure is important. Try and make these breaks something healthy. We already know that the use of alcohol and some drugs has risen at this time. We also know the devastating outcome for our children when we abuse substances.
For us, quarantine is still a reality, and will be for some time. Other countries are easing their restrictions. Regardless of where any of us are at right now, there is no denying that it has been a huge challenge for everyone. Support and nurturing is always vital for our children, but it’s especially important now. If you feel you need extra support during this time to better parent your children, a full list of support meetings are available on InTheRooms.com free of charge and open to all.
I wish you continued health and strength through these times.