By Dr. Lindsay Israel, Medical Director of Success TMS in Fort Lauderdale
1. Keep School Hours
Maintaining a routine in general is always recommended. It allows you and your kid to have some consistency and a way to plan your and your kid’s day.
The human brain prefers repetition and routine; it learns best this way.
If your child’s school starts at 8am, then plan to eat breakfast prior to that time (this is imperative) and have your child in front of the computer when the proverbial “bell” rings.
Depending on your student’s age, their teachers might be having live class meetings or they might be posting lessons online each day. Either way, beginning at the usual time regularly will likely prevent your child from missing any necessary information and will keep their learning brain limber to absorb the information at a prime time without fatiguing too early.
2. Have Recess
If you are keeping a regular school schedule, then your child should also be allowed time for fresh air and exercise.
Take this as an opportunity for yourself as well. Go outside with your child and engage in an activity that gets your heart rates up for at least 20 minutes a day.
While maintaining social distancing from others, your family can do some in place aerobics, take a brisk walk around your block, make an obstacle course to conquer and compete for the best time.
Anything that gets your pulses elevated and gives you some exposure to the sun (skin protected with sunscreen of course) can help you stay healthy and active and improve your immune system that will keep you protected and keep you sane from cabin fever.
3. Keep Bedtime Hours
If you and your child are keeping school hours and exercising, then you might as well sleep regular hours.
The first two steps (school + recess) will help improve your quality of sleep for you and your child.
Continue your usual sleep routine and maintain good sleep hygiene. This will allow you and your family to wake up the next day refreshed and ready to go with school with better energy and concentration.
Sleep also helps improve mood, so no one will get too cranky or irritable while home together.
4. Do Chores Together
Now that school is done at home and online, you might find the school day ending sooner.
With the extra time to fill, consider getting your kids involved with the daily household chores.
I know when I take out the spray bottle, my kids are jumping to use it all over the counters. Engage them to clean with you.
Especially now that your kids are home all day, they are likely making more of a mess at home. Instead of getting frustrated with this, use it as a teaching tool.
You and your kids can:
- Fold laundry together
- Do some gardening together
- Mop, sweep and vacuum the floors together
- Empty the dishwasher together
- Do some spring cleaning together
In fact, you can structure a reward system for helping with the daily household chores. Perhaps they can earn increments of extra time on their electronics.
Another chore that you could enjoy together is cooking, which can be fun at any age. Let them pick a recipe and create it together. For the younger kids, you can teach them about measuring and fractions and volume and evaporation, math, and science all rolled into one fun activity.
5. Find Some Calming Activities
The App Store is full of all kinds of calming, stress-relieving activities that are free to download.
There are instructions on yoga that you can incorporate your kids into, or online storytelling programs you can sit with your child and listen to together.
Also, this might be an opportunity for you to have some calming alone time, which is helpful for you and your child. Give them an activity that is safe for them to do alone, like a story-time app, while you do some yoga on your own, or take a warm bath.
Decades of research has shown music can be very helpful to improve mood.
If you find you or your child getting stressed out or crabby, put on headphones and listen to music.
My family and I have turned on our Alexa and listened to all genres of music, jamming out, dancing together and had a lip-syncing contest. You can rewrite the words to a popular song that describes your family quarantine experience; this should bring some healthy humor to your home.
6. Stay In Touch With The Outside World
We are blessed to have such advancements in technology that allows us to travel virtually and be with friends and family, even if we are not physically there with them.
Reach out to family members.
My two boys have been virtually meeting with their cousins in Denver each day, and playing games together. They have done scavenger hunts, played bingo, created their own board games and even played Twister together.
Set up a virtual play date with your child’s friends. This will keep them engaged socially and seeing someone else face other than just yours.
The same goes for you!
Meet up with your friends and have coffee together with a simultaneous sip. This will also give you an opportunity to commiserate with each other, exchange ideas and get a good laugh about your similar struggles.
7. Communicate With Each Other
Depending on their age, your child may be very confused and anxious about the sudden changes that have taken place in their life.
Behavioral changes such as mood swings often reflect how they might be feeling
Don’t forget that your kids might not be asking you questions to express how their new reality is making them feel. Get them to use words to communicate by initiating the conversation yourself. Let them know it is normal to be worried, but reassure them of how and why you know they will be okay.
Children and young adolescents are developmentally self-centered, and therefore likely won’t think about or reflect on how this major disruption has affected you as well. Don’t be frustrated by this. Instead, use this as an opportunity to model the importance of communication and offer them your perspective on how this has changed your routine too.
This change in our lives does not have to be a pause in their development, but rather a shift, for now, in the manner they continue to grow. This does not need to be a traumatic experience for them or you.
Studies have shown that the best way to prevent anxiety from developing in children is when the parents remain level-headed and communicate openly with their children in order to transmit a sense of calmness to them.
8. Make Memories
Whether you realize it or not, you are creating important memories for you and your children.
We all have memorable moments from our own childhoods. We recall where we were, who we were with, what we were doing at the time. The context in which we place those memories, pleasant or unpleasant, reassuring or anxiety-provoking, depends on us as the parents.
I remember when I was a child living in South Florida during Hurricane Andrew, sleeping in my parent’s bed with my parents and two younger sisters because their room did not have windows near that could harm us if they blew out during the storm.
However, I don’t have a sense of fear or despair when I think of that night when the hurricane hit. My parents made it fun, referring to us all laying there “like sardines.”
Though it could have been a dangerous situation, which my parents as the adults did recognize, they did not project that sense of fear on their kids. Now, as a result, I can have a smile on my face when I recall that night, without a racing heart or feeling of dread.
Now that I am the parent, and I realize that these COVID-19 times can be very disrupting and unsettling for my children. The responsibility is on me to make this time in our lives as a period we live through with happy memories.
In fact, take this time to record your memories.
Sit together on the couch and look back through past family photos, vacations or birthday parties or milestone events together on the couch. Then, start taking pictures at home during this time. Take snapshots of cooking together, video your kids during recess, or sitting at the kitchen table/new school desk doing their online classes. Video your family quarantine activity time.
If your child was supposed to have a school milestone, like a graduation, recreate one and record it at home.
This is such an opportunity for us all to make cherished memories with each other and have it documented and saved for us to be able to reflect on, proudly, in years to come.
These tips will not only help you cope with the current stress of staying and learning and working at home, but it will also help your children.
Your reaction to this does matter to your kids, and impacts their ability to tolerate and cope with this change as well. This does not have to become a gap in their lives, nor yours, but a temporary redirection, still maintaining forward movement and the same trajectory.
In fact, if you use these strategies and get a little creative, you can make this change in routine smooth and memorable for both you and your children.