Looking after children during the Coronavirus outbreak
If you’re a parent or a carer, not only are you having to manage your own mental health and time right now, but you’ve also got yourselves a fulltime job in the form of children.
While I don’t have children myself, several people on the team do, so I know the added strain and pressure that comes with having to think about others alongside yourself.
If you’re looking for some support during this time, I’ve crowdsourced some answers and tips from our team; most of whom are also fully qualified coaches, so you know you’re in good hands 🙂
P.S – I’ll be using the term “children” to cover anyone not deemed an adult – I know there may be specific advice that ranges from young children to teenagers, and I’ll touch on that in here where necessary. But for the most part, a lot of the advice below will apply to all age groups in some form.
P.P.S – there’s no one set blueprint for how this all works, it’s obviously a new, crazy time for all of us and every household is different. With all of the below – take these as more general guidelines, and then of course use your own judgement based on the age and behaviour of your children 🙂
Your own oxygen mask first
Before even thinking of how you can support someone else, make sure that you think about what your needs are right now.
The classic saying of “put on your own oxygen mask before helping others” applies here too.
If you’re not supporting yourself, you won’t be able to support others.
Acknowledge how your children are feeling
It’s important to acknowledge how your children are feeling. Both for yourself, but also in conversations with them.
Our children are just as scared and as anxious as we are now.
Their routine has been thrown up in the air and they know that things aren’t as they should be. They can hear everything that’s going on, and they can feel our tension, anxiety and uncertainty.
But, unlike adults, a lot of children aren’t yet old enough to be able to logically or rationally process this, or to even know how they need to best support themselves or their mental health.
Most of them don’t even know that mental health is a thing!
While the idea of no school may sound a little exciting, there’ll also be some trepidation floating around, what with them not being able to see their friends or knowing their parents don’t have all the answers.
So acknowledge these feelings – listen to what they have to say, and empathise with them.
And remember, the most important thing right now is to care for ourselves and each other. Contented minds are far more important than being productive at work or finishing off that piece of maths.
I may sound biased saying this, but mental health has to come first right now.
Which leads to the next point – how do you communicate all of this to your children? How much is “too much”?
You’ll need to use your own judgement depending both on the age of your child and also on the level to which you think they can emotionally handle certain information.
But, generally speaking, take the route of being honest with them, but not over-communicating is best.
Downplay fears, but don’t promise things that you can’t be sure aren’t true and don’t lie. Be realistic.
Try to shield them from your own anxieties or worries as much as possible.
As a CEO has to try and shield his/her team from the anxiety they feel about their business, so too must parents with their children.
Give them the permission to have a space to talk through big feelings and emotions, and share your own too. Let them know it’s okay to ask questions, but do tell them that you might not have all of the answers.
Limit their media consumption
Following on from that, you’ll want to consider their media consumption, both with the news and social media.
As a rough guideline, children under 10 shouldn’t be consuming any news – it’s too much for them to hold at such a young age when they can’t process it.
Older children, especially teenagers, can make their own judgements to a degree, but you may still want to have some restrictions in place.
Children, whatever their age, shouldn’t be allowed to sit in their room alone scrolling through media sources for hours on end. It can be hard for even adults to pull themselves out of this, so it can be even harder for children who haven’t yet learnt the need to exercise willpower or restraint.
Move the conversation on
It’s a fair point to say that the Coronavirus is absolutely dominating the world right now. There are few things that can be talked about without the mention of it.
So while it might be the biggest thing on people’s minds, don’t let it become the main topic of conversation for children.
Don’t dwell on the topic – try to move the conversation on. Find other things to talk about.
It won’t only help them, but it’ll help you too.
Handling feelings of guilt
Some children may blame themselves or believe something is their own fault if they’re too young to fully understand all of this. For example – they may feel that they aren’t allowed to see their grandparents because they’ve done something wrong.
Again, give them the space to air these things and talk about them, and then reassure them that none of this is their fault, and that children all over the world are having to deal with this.
Expect different behaviour from your children
It’s likely that you’re going to see changes in behaviour from your children, particularly a rise in behavioural issues.
They may be anxious, they may be angry, or they might throw tantrums.
Whatever it is, change is normal and even expected right now.
What kids need right now is to feel comforted and loved. To feel like it’s all going to be ok. Of course, don’t allow bad behaviour to run rampant, but this isn’t a time to punish where perhaps empathy and understanding could be more suitable.
Everyone is going to be confined in the same space for the foreseeable future, so leading with kindness, empathy and compassion will make it so much easier on everyone involved.
To schedule or not to schedule?
One of the biggest questions on parent’s minds right now – should you have a routine in place or not?
Don’t worry about a rigid, minute-by-minute schedule.
You might think that now is the perfect time to put in place an in-depth schedule of learning, of online courses, of experiments, of writing exercises, of tough restrictions on technology and so on.
But just as us adults are having to grapple with how to be productive while working from home, children will be having a similar battle of how to adjust to constant home life.
When this all started I told myself that I’ll definitely write that fiction novel I’ve always wanted to. Two weeks later I’ve accepted I probably won’t.
Know that it’s going to be a similar situation for your kids – so avoid the heavy schedule where possible.
That being said, many kids thrive on routine, so having a loose one in place can be a good thing.
Have an honest conversation with your children about what sort of routine you all want while living together.
There’s a great opportunity here to set routines that give children a chance to explore new things and get creative – this could be anything from learning how to make a proper cup of tea to playing outside. Kids are far more creative and resourceful than they realise, and so are we.
Bake cookies and paint pictures. Play board games and watch movies. Do a science experiment together or find virtual field trips of the zoo. Start a book and read together as a family. Build a duvet fortress or have a pillow fight.
Set a routine that gives you all a chance to switch off and get creative.
Keep up connection
Do what you can to keep up your children’s connection time with their friends and classmates.
Chat with other parents to arrange video calls with their children – anything to help them feel like they’re still seeing their friends and getting some playtime in.
Get outside if possible
Where possible, get outside with your children and give them a chance to exercise and have a play. The confined feeling that we adults experience will be just the same for children, and it helps to break up the day and tackle any feelings of boredom.
Be sure to follow current government guidelines on time spent outside.
Use timing blocks
If you’re setting blocks of time for your children to work or play, use timers to measure these blocks; things like egg timers or phone clocks. It can help if kids see exactly how long they have to work or play.
The younger the child, the smaller the blocks of time will be, but you can increase as you go on.
For work, break it up into chunks at various times throughout the day, rather than it being one solid block of time.
Don’t fret about their learning
Don’t worry about the fact that children aren’t in school learning. Of course, it’s not ideal, but every single child around the country is in the same situation.
It means once they do go back to school, things will be course corrected for everyone and pupils met where they’re at – teachers are experts at this.
Don’t set big chunks of work or cause arguments if your children are resisting work right now. Their mental health (and yours) are the most important things to think about during this period.
If children are worried that this has ruined their chances of going to Uni or getting a job, reassure them that this isn’t the case.
Be expected to adapt and change
The buzzword right now is “unprecedented” and at the risk of sounding like a politician, it really is an unprecedented time.
If we’re being honest with each other, no one has a scooby what the right thing is to do right now.
None of us have experienced this before, and there’s no textbook on how to weather the storm.
So it’s okay if you get things wrong. It’s okay to figure out the process day-by-day.
Every household is different, so it doesn’t matter what other parents are doing if you don’t think it’ll work in your household.
Be generous and kind to yourself – figure things out as you go and course correct when things don’t quite work out.
Perhaps have a review with your family at the end of each week where you can honestly discuss what is or isn’t working.
The important thing to say is that everyone is trying their best right now. This isn’t a time to shame, judge or criticise. Living in a confined space with each other, it’s best to avoid arguments.
Instead, lead with empathy, compassion and kindness.
Figure out a way that everyone can live together amicably.
Of course things are going to go wrong but life is never plain sailing, even on the outside!
Looking for something to do?
If you’re looking for something to keep both you and your children entertained during lockdown, Audible has made a huge range of their e-books free while schools remain shut.
In their own words, to help kids keep “dreaming, learning and just being kids”.