Surviving COVID-19: The Family Lockdown Guide

Earlier this morning our premier, Doug Ford, declared a state of emergency in Ontario. I have never experienced something like this in my entire life.

And it definitely is unsettling.

Latest COVID-19 developments from yesterday include the government asking movie theatres, dine-in restaurants, night clubs and gatherings of 50 or more people to shut down. Several retail stores and small businesses including WellNest have gone online.

Most office buildings are closed, including the closure of all University of Toronto buildings to the general public, by 11:59pm on March 17, 2020.

NOW, this is a day I definitely did not think I would see. My fellow UoT goers, you know EXACTLY what I'm talking about.

With the world progressing towards isolating, it is safe to say that most of us are likely working from home as this would help "flatten the curve".

Flattening the curve is a concept that is being discussed a LOT. What this refers to is isolation measures from the community in order to minimize exposure, thereby keeping the number of COVID-19 cases manageable for our medical practitioners.  

Parents are wondering how they will survive social distancing with their kids.

I don't blame them, it can get exhausting being in the same space with minimal stimulation from the environment.

Human beings require ongoing stimulation, whether it is through novelty or through other experiences/people.

So what can families do to survive from COVID-19 and each other?

Luckily, there are a few strategies that might help you weather this storm.

Disclaimer: It goes without saying that the age of the child will factor in the type of activities that can be done. Toddlers will require a different level of attention than a teenager.

That being said, the commonality between the toddler and the teenager is that they can both throw tantrums.

Important note for parents

Being isolated at home can be stressful for the mind, body and soul.

Parents - it is very important to remember to go easy on yourself and set realistic expectations, as things are changing by the hour.

I know it is tempting to plant your kids in front of the TV so you can get some work done, however, this is not a sustainable long-term solution.

I get it - the idea of spending 24/7 at home with the kids can be extremely overwhelming. I could barely make a weekend with my 2-year-old niece.

Parents - Before you pour your energy into your children, I suggest you start the day by prioritizing your own coping strategies first.

Whether this means you start the day by exercising at home, a mindfulness activity, having a coffee and a solid breakfast. This will give you a good boost to start your day.

If you do not incorporate the coping mechanisms into your day, by noon you will likely feel burnt out.

Remember - you cant pour from an empty cup!

Human beings are creatures of habit. When a global pandemic disrupts our routine, it is natural for us to feel out of place.

Currently, the situation as it stands is that we also have to be in close quarters with people for a prolonged period of time.

This ends up being the perfect combination for- CABIN FEVER.

According to parenting expert Professor Lea Water, self-isolation can impact 3 critical components of our mental health:

  • sense of autonomy
  • sense of being connected to others
  • sense of feeling competent

What can I do to survive my kids?

1. Set up Routine And structure

Children respond well to structure in daycare and in schools. Maintaining a routine for your children will be helpful for not only your sanity but also for their transition back to school.

Mind you - the routine does not have to be strict, rather, just a simple framework of what the day looks like.

A routine can help ease the stress of having to constantly parent which can lead to a high chance of conflict with between you and the kids.

If they have a schedule to follow, the tasks are laid out aka reduced parenting for you.

I also suggest involving your kids when creating the schedule, as kids are more likely to follow choices they made, compared to choices made for them by their parents.

When setting a schedule, be sure to incorporate a fun activity after an ''inactivity'' such as studying. Ask the kids to make a list of fun activity options, and incorporate those into the schedule.

TIP: be sure to schedule things that can be grounding such as listening to relaxing music, coloring and reading a storybook.

And since they are home, why not keep them busy by getting them to help with the household chores?

Get your teenager to vacuum the floors, or cut up some fruit

Get your tween to water the plants

Get your child to gather all the toys

Get your toddler to...well I guess not throw a tantrum

Finally, a big part of a routine is making sure that mealtimes and sleep times are as consistent as possible.

And as with any plan, revisit this schedule after a few days to see if it needs readjustment. This is often something I do with clients, i.e. revisit and readjust goals as needed.

Setting realistic goals that are achievable is a win win for everyone!

Routine for you can look like:

  • Waking up
  • Showering
  • Making coffee
  • Changing your clothes
  • Going to your work station (hopefully, this isn't your bed)

Routine for your kid can look like:

  • Waking up
  • Showering
  • Having breakfast
  • Getting ready
  • Starting the day with a fun activity (craft, exercise, audiobooks)
  • Learning (inactivity)
  • Another fun activity (time on iPad)
  • Learning inactivity)

I know it is tempting to rely on screen time, and in this case, it won't be catastrophic if they used it more than usual. However, note that the novelty of the iPad can wear off quickly.

2. Physical Activity

I know this sounds like a tough one. How can I keep my kids active if I cant go out?

When kids don't have spaces to be physically active, it can lead to increased irritability and frustration for both parents and the kids.

Do not fear! there are creative ways to keep the kids moving within the house.

6 ways to keep the kids moving indoors

1. In house yoga session. Put on a video on youtube, and follow through

2. Get some skipping ropes and skip away to your favorite song

3. Set up an indoor hopscotch using masking tape. This will keep the kids busy for days

4. Jumping Jacks

5. Hoola Hoops for everyone

6. Indoor dance party!

GONOODLE has free movement, yoga, and mindfulness videos, downloadable curricular activities, and off-screen home activities. Check it out!

3. Get things done as a family

This can include things like:

  • Planning an ideal family vacation (is there such a thing?)
  • Planning an upcoming birthday
  • Rearranging the furniture at home
  • Building something together
  • Decorating a space in the house

4. Personal Space

Having a full house can feel overwhelming, even if it's with your nearest and dearest.

While we discussed the things you can do as a family, it is equally important to create some space for everyone to decompress as well.

This can include things like:

  • Taking an extra long shower
  • Praying
  • Reading a book in your room
  • Napping
  • Sitting by the window and drinking coffee- my personal favorite

5. Staying in touch

Self isolating does not mean cutting ties from the world.

Schedule time for the family to video call with friends, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles.

It is not every day that one might experience the entire world pausing.

I know for me, this is the first in my life, thus far.

Use this time to your advantage and reconnect with friends and family who you have not spoken with, in a while.

It is very important for kids to connect with others and this can mean allowing them to connect with their friends on video chat, Instagram or Snapchat (under parental supervision of course).

The big question - how do I get work done?

Lets face it, this is going to be a tough one.

Working with kids at home is hard.

Sometimes you want to play with them

Other times you want time away from them

It is a constant dance between giving them enough attention while also meeting the demands of your job.

What makes the current situation more difficult is the fact that there is a lot of uncertainty around COVID-19.

Supports are limited, with daycares, libraries, and grandparents not being an option due to the high risk concerns.

I often tell clients, you wont always be presented with an option thats a win. Many times life gives us the sh*t and the sh*ttier options.

4 strategies to work from home with your toddler

Set a timer of 20 minutes and give your kid an activity. That should give you 20 minutes to script that email and maybe even send it!

If you are going to plant your kid in front of the tv, be realistic about it, and use this time wisely. At some point, the novelty wears off.

I suggest saving this one for an important task/meeting.

Let them know you will play with them at a certain time and go back to actually do it. This will validate that you are not ignoring them and you will be back shortly.

You can also try to get them to set up the play area during this time. This will keep them occupied as well as build excitement!

If your partner is working from home, take turns. One option can be that one parent is on duty from morning noon, and the other takes over from noon till workday is over.

Given how things are moving, it is common that productivity and many businesses will be impacted.

This is true for you, me and most people in the world.

While you may not be able to do the most ideal job balancing your kids' needs as well as the demands of your job, setting realistic expectations for yourself as well as your kids will serve everyone best.

Some additional FREE resources if you are increasing screentime:

Khan Academy offers free courses for all age groups.  

Scholastics.ca has free access to audiobooks, resources for parents and a wide list of activities to keep the kids busy. 

Here is also a list of educational YouTube channels for kids, including online field trips they can take "around the world".

Conclusion

With no direction of what will look like in the coming weeks, having a routined schedule and structure to your families day will bring a sense of control.

Balance those schedules with activities + inactivities + social interaction and most important - coping skills for you and your children.

What are some strategies that have worked for you and your family so far?

Finally, I leave you with this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mh4f9AYRCZY&feature=youtu.be

Until next time,

Sarah Ahmed electronic signature

Sarah Ahmed
Co-founder
WellNest Psychotherapy Services