With the outbreak of COVID-19 we suddenly find ourselves having to adjust to a “new normal”. Parents are encouraged to keep their children home from school and their usual activities have been cancelled.
Understandably, some parents are worried about how they and their children are going to cope with increased time at home. Having worked with children and families for 30 years, I wanted to share some evidence-based ideas for keeping kids happy and entertained that I hope you will find useful during this challenging time.
1. Schedule daily activities
Children value consistency. Knowing what to expect makes them feel safe and reduces anxious feelings, so continuing your family’s usual daily routine as much as possible should make it easier for your child to adapt. For example, get them dressed for the day when they get up in the morning – try to replicate your usual before school routine.
Of course, you’re going to need more than that. A good idea is to create a daily schedule that includes time for schoolwork, meal breaks, relaxation and fun activities – it can be a fun idea to let your child contribute their ideas to the schedule. Once the schedule is developed, stick it to it as much as possible so it quickly becomes familiar to your child. You can find plenty of daily timetable templates online if you need a bit of inspiration.
You can use this temporary period to teach your children some useful life skills, like letting them help you cook, planning next week’s timetable, writing a shopping list or having them read a book to you and the family.
2. Keep things as sociable as you can
Make a plan to stay in touch with your child’s friends and family members via phone or video – this could be part of your weekly schedule. If you can, try to use technology where your child can see their friend or family member, like Facetime or Skype, to ensure the most human connection possible, otherwise over the phone is fine. This is all about keeping social connections happening.
Also, encourage them to create drawings, share photos and help them to write emails to members of their family and close friends, so your child understands that these social connections are still important.
For younger children, daycare and primary school age, a social connections map could also be useful and is a lot of fun to create. Have your child write their name or draw a picture of themselves in the centre of a large piece of paper, then draw some lines out from it. Name or draw members of your family, friends and other important people in your child’s life at the end of each line. While you’re doing this, ask your child questions like: “Who do you want to make a special effort to stay in touch with while you’re not at school?” “Who can you go to if you’re feeling sad about not being able to play with your friends at school?”
Asking these kinds of questions along with developing the social connections map will help your child see their support network and understand that they have people around them who care for them.
3. Time to talk
Creating opportunities where your child can share how they are feeling, their joys and worries, can help them feel safe and secure when their world is changing. You can build this time into your everyday routines, like dinnertime, bedtime, or doing chores together, just try to make sure it’s an activity with limited distractions.
Kids will have varied responses to what is happening at the moment, they might be happy to spend more time at home and with you, or they might be sad that they can’t play with their friends. Whatever your child is feeling, it’s important to create opportunities to listen to and understand what’s going through their mind.
4. Look for positives
It can be hard to stay positive for our kids when we are worried about our families, our jobs and ourselves. You might find yourself or your kids thinking in negative or critical ways, focusing on what could go wrong and bad things happening.
It is helpful to identify this negative thinking and challenge it. Some ways of challenging negative thinking include focussing on the big picture, checking the facts, exchanging absolute “always” statements to more realistic “sometimes” statements, avoiding blame, remembering the positive exceptions and things you have to be thankful for.
Remember to be kind to yourself and communicate your feelings with friends and family.
5. Physical exercise
Exercise helps us physically as well as emotionally. It can have a positive impact on moods like nervousness, frustration, anger, as well as anxiety, depression, and behavioural problems. For parents as well as children, appropriate exercise can help alertness, focus, concentration, and lead to a good night’s sleep, which has its own stress-management benefits.
If you can, and being mindful of social distancing and other restrictions, go for a run or walk, ride a bike, skateboard or scooter, walk the dog or play ball games with your kids in the park. If you have a backyard, schedule in some outside active playtime several times a day. Exercise can be done indoors as well. Think about accessing video or online exercise or yoga classes. You can always dance around your home singing with your kids!