How are we all doing? During the lockdown I have been asked by many about how to cope with the kids at home along with maybe working from home, and in addition no opportunity to get out and about. I have to say there is lots of good advice on line and I am not sure I can add value, but for what it is worth here's my contribution.
The first thing to remember is that we are all in the same boat, regarding the shock of the lockdown, the immediate changes that none of us could really plan for, and indeed many are in deeper, as they are front line carers and workers who are helping to make our lives a little more bear-able and in some instances saving lives. Any kind of shock feels awful simply because the brain has very rapidly scanned for past similar experiences and has prepared us for this reaction. It is quite normal. However usually, the shock passes and we adapt quite quickly but this confinement brings for most of us a prolonged new way of living that we just aren't used to. There is potential for us to become very stressed and eventually threaten our mental health. So what can we do?
The phrase 'keep calm and carry on" is not perhaps that useful here, because the carry on' conditions have all changed - the routines of getting up and preparing for work and school, or meeting friends and attending toddler groups, trips to the parks - all denied to us in this moment.
So let's deal with the 'keep calm": Do you remember the mirror neurons I wrote about some time ago - with the monkeys' brain cells imitating the researchers' actions of licking an ice-cream? This is a good image to hold in mind when we are in full view or hearing of our children. It obviously depends on their age, but at the cellular level, all children pick up on' our behaviour and imitate, even if only within the brain it-self. Children are directly affected by our response to this crisis. So maybe think of it as a teaching and learning opportunity - the way we react or respond will start to give them coping mechanisms for when they face a crisis - they will indeed face a crisis since life is just not that fair!
It is therefore important to stay calm, to show our children that we've got this- 'if you like hold the space for them'. We may well be anxious and frightened ourselves, but pointing our children towards what is being done to keep them safe is important rather than catastrophising the situation. This needs to be truthful as children have an uncanny knack for spotting if we are faking- so we can remain calm but then respond by choosing our words carefully - maybe saying 'I feel uncertain too, but we know that staying at home keeps us safer and we also help others to stay safe". The website NASP has some useful guidelines on how to talk with our children. Share your emotions associated with the feelings with another adult at a separate time.
I would like to emphasise the authenticity of our calm responses. If we pretend that we are certain, it can lead our children to learn that it is not right to show our true feelings. Keeping 'a stiff upper lip' can only invite problems later for them in life. So we model a measured response rather than a reaction, we breathe and depending on their age, act in a calm but truthful way. Older children will enjoy discussing their feelings more broadly. Acceptance is key to leading a healthy life- it is what it is and all the wishing in the world that it were different will not be helpful in this actual situation.
Do attempt to make yourself more fully available for the children. This maybe a challenge if you are trying to hold down a job too, but put down the phone, turn off the TV if they come and ask questions, sit down beside and share together.
Be mindful of the school agenda in sending you work home for your child to do. It is their job to cover the curriculum in a certain time, but it does not suddenly make you a teacher of all curriculum subjects. You are their first and most stable teacher throughout their lives, so remember that and stand firm in how you want to approach this. It is not the end of the world if your children do not complete the work-sheets each day. They will have anxieties about so many things that in a way it seems cruel to put school work on top. For some personality types and certain ages, the school work will be welcomed- great, facilitate that for them, but for others trying to have a mock classroom' at home just simply doesn't work - so leave it. Encourage them to share new projects with you, get them to research the science and politics be-hind the pandemic if they are older, or if younger to design their own type of ideal school. See if they are interested in cooking, cleaning, helping with the accounts!
Next week I will discuss how imagination can be tapped through this crisis, but for now I will end with a link to a webpage offering suggestions for indoor activities for toddlers. I have been following the Body Coach along with 995k others! A great PE half hour at 10.00 on YOU TUBE that is best done with parents and I have to admit I struggled! Being active together is crucial, modelling what you want for your children, keeping calm and doing something different. Good luck!