We are in crazy, unprecedented times. As adults we are feeling our way, struggling to reconcile Corona virus with some kind of weird new normal. We have to change our behaviour now. Anxiety amongst children and teenagers is already at such high levels. Now we add into the mix a virulent virus that causes a ripple effect from bodies, to worried minds, to our economy, to our education system, to our already overstretched health system. We worry about how we can protect our families and also our social responsibility to protect others. One of the things that I often share with parents is how important it can be to prepare children for impending changes that happen in life, things like puberty, like divorce, like moving home. But this Cornona is happening on fast forward. Baring the pace with which this virus is impacting our lives and the new reality we are finding ourselves in, I thought it is important to not only be thinking about how we must be trying to contain this virus but also how we can try and contain ourselves and our children as we go through this time together.
The new reality: Schools out…. The children are in!
There will be few children who will greet the news that all schools will be closed with bitter heartbreak! Let’s not kid this is a dream come true for many children. But we should not be fooled by the initial glee. Whilst school may not be every child’s favourite place on earth, they do also provide a consistent, structured and routine element in children’s lives. For many children it can be a safe space. Of course, for many it is not the safe refuge that it should be. My point is we should not lose sight of the fact that this is a massive unexpected change and so we need to hold and make space for what this means to our children.
If school is out…. This means the children are at home! This is a huge change for most of us. In our home we have had one day of ‘home school’ so far and I have already used the words tranquilizer and whiskey in too many sentences to my friends. This is a big change, it is going to mean managing and juggling so many things in small spaces.
So what can we do to help ease and contain the new reality:
Talk to kids
Always err on the side of talking. This means making space for everyone to share their feelings. This may include a mix of feelings that range from elation that they don’t have to go to school to absolute worry about Corona and death. Remember no feelings are wrong. No feelings should be diminished or dismissed and we cannot fix all their worries. Ask them what they know so that we can gauge what they think they know and what they are maybe oblivious to or worrying about. If our children express that they are worried about getting the virus, be careful to promise them that they will never get the virus. Be honest and keep it simple. What we can promise is that we will take care of each other as we do when we get sick. We can promise that most people get better from this virus. Some people don’t and that is awful but most people do. We can explain that if they get sick they could feel mildly sick or very sick. We can remind them of other times they have felt awful and have got better. Many parties and plans are being cancelled – allow children the space to feel and express these disappointments, they will be better placed to move forward if they have the space to feel what they are feeling.
For younger kids we can control their information sources but for older ones we can’t. It is so important that we demystify the fake news and help then access credible sources of information. This is a good one for teens and adults:
sacoronavirus.co.za/ or join the WhatsApp group on 0600 123 456.
This is a good one for younger kids on this page: https://www.mindheart.co/descargables
Through talking to kids we can also empower them with what they CAN do to try to prevent getting and spreading the virus, like washing hands and not touching their faces. We will have to repeat this a lot! But we also don’t want to create anxiety in how we teach them to do this. Remember they will sometimes get it right and like with most things they might sometimes forget and we will have to remind them.
Manage our reactions
This time of Corona is stressful and unknown but we need to be careful to not project our worries onto our kids. As parents we are thinking about how our families will work. We are holding worries about providing for our family, connecting with our family, making space for our kids to play and learn – all this in the context of Corona spread health worries. So we have to eek out ways that we continue to take care of ourselves. It’s the old “put the oxygen mask on ourselves first” thing. If that means waking up a bit earlier to meditate, to breathe, to exercise, to journal, to have a cry into our pillow, to drink a cup of coffee in quiet – whatever it may be to provide some self-care. If we do this we are better placed to show up for our family in a way that does not result in us vomiting our feelings onto our kids so that they have to manage their own stuff as well as ours.
Routines and structures
So now we have taken school out of the equation and yet we are not actually on holiday with some of the freedom and excitement that holidays bring. Having some sort of routine will be helpful. Of course, we can allow for a bit of flexibility but still maintaining a reasonable age appropriate bedtime and healthy bedtime routine is a good idea. Make sure there is some time built into the day for exercise and movement. This may require us getting creative, it may require us digging deep – here are some ideas -jumping jacks, skipping rope competitions, hide and seek, hop scotch, hand tennis, dancing, making skittles and throwing a ball – combining fun with movement is always a good idea. We can also build into the routine some free/play time and some alone/quiet time. If we are all going to be together for long periods, we need to try our best to find ways to respect each other’s space and time. If children have been given schoolwork to do, help them structure a timetable so that it doesn’t all get left undone and hanging over their heads. I don’t think burdening them with loads of work is a great idea particularly with added stress but giving them some space to focus on work will help them to feel less anxious and unprepared when returning to school. It is great to involve them in drawing up and negotiating the timetable.
This is a daunting time, but it is also potentially a time to connect with our immediate family. I am not living in an altered state to imagine this is all going to be fun and games and I don’t think we should market this as such to our kids. There are going to be huge losses and massive implications. But even through the fears and worries, allowing in some connecting family time can be a positive thing. If we use this time for everyone to separate and get stuck on their own screens (sometimes feeding our worries with too much news) then we are losing out on something potentially good. We can watch a movie together, we can make an indoor tent and camp, we can draw, play cards, dance, do shows, play charades, play a board game, eye spy. If we are going to be stuck together then we can at least make sure we hang out together a bit.
We are all finding our way through this time together. We will probably, as we do with most things in parenting, – have our good and our bad moments and days. Here’s to parenting together in the time of Corona, in a way that helps us and our children try to feel safe in very shaky times.