By Megan McQueen
Along with you, my family is in quarantine to prevent the spread of the nasty Coronavirus. Our work and school lives are disrupted, our anxiety is heightened, and we are missing our social connections. I am reminding myself of how I can help my family best through these next few weeks; creating, and noticing the small moments of joy in our days together.
Emotions are high right now as we navigate the ever-changing news. We are worried for our health and safety, for our family members, our bank accounts, and our most vulnerable in our society. We are flooded with information. As we all navigate a new challenge together, we may need a little extra help from one another so that we don’t feel alone as parents and caregivers. Here are a few strategies to try along with me.
Protect yourself. Beyond the necessary health precautions that we are learning, take steps to protect your emotional health as well. Stay off your phone for the first hour you are awake to avoid starting the day feeling overwhelmed. Instead, read a book, meditate, snuggle with your children, take a walk, or sneak in some quiet work at home time if that is an ideal time. Avoid “panic scrolling” through social media and news headlines. This is a wonderful time to begin or restart a gratitude practice for yourself and with your children. Give yourself grace. You may be grappling with balancing working from home and parenting at the same time. Be gentle with yourself.
Reassure your children. Depending on the age of your children, provide helpful news for them. This npr comic may be helpful, or this BrainPOP video (K-3). Older kids (3rd grade and older) may appreciate the Newsela site. Be honest about what you know, but keep it simple. Acknowledge the fearful feelings they may have and empathize with them. Let them know all of their feelings are okay and share your feelings as well. Be sure to talk about how you and they can manage those feelings (e.g., “When I feel worried, I think about what we are doing to help others. Sometimes I don’t want to talk about it, but I might want a big hug.”). Also share ways in which people are helping each other through this. As I talk with my partner, I am careful to save dire information for when my kids are out of earshot. When I hear positive stories and find fun videos of people making the most of their quarantines, I share those with my kids.
Create fun moments of joy. Do not feel the need to begin full-fledged homeschooling right now. You may be working from home, going to work, or caring for someone. Take this pressure off yourself. Many school districts are sharing resources to continue learning at home and some are even starting to support children and youth through distance learning. Build some of these ideas into your days. Also, brainstorm a list of things your family would like to do. Bake (why didn’t I buy Nutella at the store?), hike, play a family game, read a book together, build a fort, watch a movie, have a dance party. My kids pulled out the sidewalk chalk and filled our street with art. Later, as I was walking my dog, neighbors told me that seeing their artwork made them smile.
Design a routine for your family. Kids (and adults) thrive on routines. This quarantine is a bit uprooting for us. If your children are old enough, they can help create a routine. I made a list that had several required items (caring for pets, chores, outdoor activity) and my 9 & 12 year-olds filled in the table with the times they would like to complete these tasks. There were choices for other projects such as creative time, academic time, and screen time. Their learning is self-paced and initiated by them. They may research someone they are interested in, work on a science project, jump on an online academic site, virtually visit a museum. We try to keep up the reading that kids are missing during their school day as well by building in some reading routines before bed, after lunch, before naps, or during breakfast. Self-paced or self-directed learning may not work for other children, depending on their age, energy level, and learning needs, but you might find that your children like to choose some of their own activities each day, too.
Connect with friends and family. We are social creatures and isolation is difficult for us. I love the idea of friends cooking the same meal (over Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime), sitting down at the same time and eating “together.” One of my kids wandered around the house, chatting about nothing with their friend on FaceTime. We are missing the chatting and small talk with our friends and colleagues. We may connect online for professional meetings, but remember to build in the time for bantering as well. My parents and children usually FaceTime weekly, but I imagine this will become more frequent. We are also going to take advantage of being able to connect with our family that lives in other time zones much easier now that we are all home throughout the day.
Help each other! Some of the most challenging parts of this quarantine is our disconnection and the feelings of helplessness that may come along with that. Having social support is one of the biggest predictors of resilience. We need others to talk through challenges, brainstorm, and problem-solve. We can become anxious when we lose or have a change in our social lives to some extent. But, we can be creative about how we help each other. Do you know a mom who has young kids and a partner who is a healthcare worker in quarantine? Leave some fancy chocolates on their doorstep. Offer to pick up some items at the store for an elderly neighbor or a friend who has young children. Your children can also benefit from finding ways to help. Mail your kids’ sweet artwork to cousins and grandparents. Paint rocks to leave out on neighborhood walks. Send thank you cards to hospitals and grocery stores. If your kids are old enough, perhaps they can walk a dog for a neighbor, mow their lawn, take out their trash bins, or weed their garden.
This is our opportunity to slow down our lives a bit and make choices about how we spend our days. Take advantage of this time to strengthen your family. Most of us cannot and should not go out in public. We can still find ways to connect with each other and spend quality time with our own families and networks of friends. Minimize the time you spend offline as much as possible to help your mental health and stay present with your family. How else are you helping your children and your family navigate these days?
Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and puppy.