With new information about the Coronavirus and the exponential spread of the disease arriving in our mailboxes and social media platforms and in print and broadcast media practically on the hour you may be reaching Coronavirus saturation point. Or because of the high level of uncertainty about this novel situation you may be relentlessly consuming as much information as you can. It’s normal to feel anxious about uncertain situations and this is a quite unprecedented pandemic.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapist Ali Binns, in her excellent article How to cope with anxiety about Coronavirus, explores the differing responses we are all having to the virus. Some of us are feeling very panicked and are rushing out to stockpile basic goods, avoiding gatherings and pulling our children out of school. While others are shrugging their shoulders and saying it’s just flu and carrying on as normal with the risk that they are not taking the steps they could to prevent the spread of the disease. Binns talks about a more measured response which shows concern but keeps the anxiety in check. This allows us to be prepared and to focus on what we can do to help ourselves and our families and neighbours.
There is a real possibility that families might find themselves in self-isolation or the children might be sent home from school or daycare for a short period or for much longer. The Easter school holiday break may be longer than originally planned but any plans you had to go away may no longer be possible. So you might find yourself in the company of your children for extended periods. How you prepare for this may make the difference between seeing this as a real nightmare or as an unexpected gift of quality time with your children.
If you are trying to work from home because of the virus and your children are home too that adds a whole new layer of difficulty of course. Working parents will be aware that the minute you open your laptop is usually the time your child has an urgent need. (Remember that BBC interview with Korea expert Dr Robert Kelly which was interrupted by his kids?) If there are two parents working from home one solution is to take turns in caring for younger children so at least you both get some work done during business hours and then recognise that you are going to be working the graveyard shift.
If your children are older there are a number of things you can do to make things go more smoothly. With great thanks to our clients (including Chloe who has been home with her 5, 10 and 12 year old for over a month in a small flat in Hong Kong) here are some ideas about how to manage this time… without completely overdosing on screens.
- If you’re trying to work as well as keeping children occupied or get them to do school work first of all match your expectations to your child’s age and temperament and be realistic about how long they can be quiet/occupy themselves. Work in small blasts through the day and expect to get most done after they’ve gone to bed.
- Talk to them at the beginning of your ‘confinement’ about the guidelines for this novel situation. Use your imagination and build in fun wherever you can. Maybe compare it to being marooned on a desert island. Obviously there will be different rules depending on whether there is illness in the family or you’re just home because school has closed. Set out what needs to happen in detail and get input from them. For instance where is everyone going to work? What happens if you get a work call? It may even help to run some role plays.
- Clearly school arrangements will determine how the day looks for your school aged child. If they are conducting lessons remotely you will need a laptop for that child and preferably headphones and a quiet space to work. Do you have enough devices/desk space/bandwidth? If school are just sending work home then that may need more supervision from you.
- Put in place some structure for the day as otherwise working hours and relaxation hours and weekdays and weekends can all merge together. It will help everyone to cope if they know how long they are going to be engaged in school work/productive activity and when they can have down time/access to social media. A written timetable which includes everyone’s activities may help.
- If you are not isolated for medical reasons then get out of the house when you can to allow kids to run around and take part in any extra-curricular activities which are still running but if you are confined to barracks and work is done then how do you keep them occupied? Involve your children according to their capacities in drawing up a list of things to do. Below are some suggestions beyond watching screens:
- Get the kids involved in cooking their lunch/supper etc.
- Put music on, give them a broom or dustpan and a prize for the kid with most in the pan.
- Play Uno or other board or card games.
- Hide and seek/sardines/build a den
- Have a picnic, even if it’s your own garden or on a rug on the floor.
- Even if you have a tiny garden or balcony, seeds are great and grow fast! Watering every day is a good discipline.
- Jigsaws or Lego. If you can leave it on a table and keep going back to it that’s best.
- Read a book with them–use it to inspire drawing pictures, dressing up and acting out the story
- There is no doubt that kids, and adults, will get frustrated at being unusually cooped up together but you can present this as a wonderful opportunity to spend positive time together. Maybe describe it as a ‘staycation’. Notice and comment on good coping strategies they show, any helpful suggestions they make, signs of tolerating things they don’t like (like their brother’s humming) or coping with missing things they enjoy. Descriptively praise them for keeping themselves occupied, for not moaning too much about life inside and for helping out with tasks that need to be done. Empathise with their frustrations at not being able to do what they want, see friends or run about and be understanding about their annoyance with their siblings. Regard this as an opportunity to observe all the good things your child does and let them know how much you value them.
Stay calm and keep washing your hands!