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Families and Stay-At-Home

The mental health effects of shelter-at-home orders are impacting all of us. Some groups are struggling more than others. Parents with small children are having a particularly difficult time. Many parents are working from home while their children attend school. Further, remote school requires parents to take a larger role in their child’s daily education.

This has tensions running high and patience running thin.

How can we help these children and families?

First, it is important that we remember that as hard as this is for adults, it is harder for children. Children are less able to cope. For example, as compared to adults, children understand the situation less, struggle more to keep their cool under stress and are more distressed by confinement. We need to set realistic expectations for our kids.

There is no easy one-size fits all solution to help them. But here are some suggestions toward positive outcomes that make the best of a hard situation:

1. Express a lot of understanding for what kids have lost

Be understanding that kids are missing out on their youth! Sports, prom, dating, clubs, social interactions etc. Express that as understanding. For example, “I know you are really disappointed that you can’t be on your baseball team this year”.

2. As adults, we need to model calm reassurance

The more stressed we are, the harder it is to remain calm and reassuring. Children look to adults to figure out how to react to a new situation. For example, if a school aged child falls and scrapes their leg----whether or not they cry often depends on how the nearest adult reacts. As compared to a panicked adult, a reassuring adult will help them get up and start walking. Apply that rule to your children during the crisis. Encourage them that this is hard but that we are getting through this together.

3. Monitor how you describe the situation

Choose your language carefully around kids and don’t hide the reality of the situation but don’t over share more than they need to know either. For example, rather than using words like sick or ill. Use language such as, “we need to be home so that we can stay healthy”. Cable news is scary now, limit how much it is on.

4. You will lose your temper and kids will have meltdowns

Obviously, use your best parenting skills. But we are all imperfect. You will yell and lose your temper. Kids will have tantrums and meltdowns. Use that as an opportunity to get closer. Reconnect with your child, validate what they are upset about and apologize for losing your temper. Offer them a chance to have a “do-over”, where you can both try again.

5. Create a daily schedule (with pictures) for each person in the household

Transitions are hard for everyone. Post this schedule on the refrigerator and review it in the morning with all family members. The schedule should include days of the week, major activities such as work, meal times, and special events. Include small chores too. Then, at the start of the day, as a family spend 10 mins reviewing that schedule. This will ground and contain everyone in the household so they know what is expected of them that day and who is available when.

6. Speak to their teachers to find out how much they should be learning each day

School aged children, and even teenagers, are not learning continuously while in school. They have lots of breaks and even their classes are broken up by procedures such as attendance and chatting with peers. Speak to teachers to get a reasonable expectation of how much they should be learning each day. Most likely, parents will find there is less pressure for their kids to learn all day.

7. Encourage your children to find time to be with their peers

Make sure your kids are spending time with their peers. This may mean loosening up on restrictions for screen time. For many children, screen time is the only way they are communicating with their peers.

8. Your children are still learning

Remember that while life is different, your children are still learning and growing at home. Older siblings are learning to care for younger ones. Teach your children to cook, maintain a household or fix things at home.

9. Look for what positive things can come of this

Being home has some advantages for children and parent relationships. It is a chance to make them stronger. For example, have a more leisurely lunch and dinner with your family everyday. Ask children about their days and what they are learning. Have your kid plan family time together, such as board or card games.

Your children will still learn and grow during this time. But they may learn different things such as life skills.

Lastly, remember this will all end at some point and in ten years, when your kids are all grown, what would you like them to remember from this time? Try to shape your behavior to promote that image!

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