It has been an extraordinary end to the spring term and an extraordinary Easter break now beckons.
We have shared a wealth of ideas with the girls on how to cope whilst at home and Mrs Bingham’s latest blog post includes 50 ways to bring a little Mehr Licht to family life whilst isolating. Below are some further suggestions from Rayna Shock, one of our school counsellors, which we hope you find helpful.
1. Create some structure to the day for yourself and for the family
All of us, whatever our age, need structure to thrive. In these unusual times, when we have lost the structure to our day imposed from outside, creating our own schedule is important so that we maintain our motivation and sense of purpose. Any plan, which you create with your children, however, should not be too rigid. Now is the perfect time to strengthen family bonds. It is also a good time to teach the skills of negotiation, particularly with your older children, and co-create rules and boundaries with them.
Younger children will normally need you to help structure their day – although even they may have their own ideas of what they want to do. Older children and teens require more autonomy and choice, while maintaining necessary boundaries, of course.
2. Divide your time between work and play
At first, your children may just want to stay in bed and have duvet days. It is fine to allow this to a limited extent. It is ok for your children to recharge their batteries; but there needs to be a balance between staying in bed and keeping active. After a time, not doing anything with our day leads to a lack of motivation to do anything productive and can, ultimately, lead to depression. An anxious child, in particular, needs some routine to give her a sense of control and of safety.
This being said, parents need to model a balance between work and play for their children. It can be tempting to lock yourself away because you need to work; but you need to avoid working too hard as an avoidance strategy, to the detriment of time with the family.
3. If you are working from home, timetable some time with your family and, if possible, time for each child individually
At the best of times, it is advisable to give time to your children and, wherever possible, make each child feel special by spending time with each individually. While you are all at home, it may be a little easier to allocate time for this. If there are two parents, each could alternate giving time to the children. For single parents, allocating time may be trickier, but it is still possible.
4. Co-create a list of activities which you can do as a family
The list should include a mixture of work, creative activities, exercise and play. There are plenty of interactive activities for all ages which have sprung up online, to keep us all connected, exercised and our minds active, including the teaching of new skills for those who need a challenge. A walk once a day outside is important to maintain good mental health also.
Children can be given responsibility by helping with looking after any pets, helping with the cooking, gardening and/or other chores, to help give them something helpful and productive to do with their time. Again, any chores need to be negotiated, so that your children are happy to do them.
It is worth being a little more flexible than usual with time spent on video gaming, watching TV and on social media – but within healthy limits of course and, preferably, in agreement with your children.
You can organise family film nights, play board games, play cards, do jigsaw puzzles and other puzzles, draw, paint, sing, dance, go for a walk or run, exercise – there are so many ideas to make your time as a family more fun!
5. Communicate effectively
As you will have already gathered, the secret of a conflict free life, while you are all cooped up in a confined space (and for a conflict free life in general), is effective communication. Talking with each other more, listening fully to your children (if you allocate individual time to each child, you can more easily understand their needs), being interested in their lives, what they do and what they think, trying to understand how they feel, asking children, who are sufficiently mature, for ideas of what to do, negotiating the boundaries with them, where possible – and explaining why you want them to do something – are all ways in which you can strengthen family bonds and maintain a happy household.
A word about conflict: there is bound to be conflict at times and that’s ok. Having an argument from time to time is normal. The key is not to shout and throw insults at the other person, but to remain as calm as possible: listen actively to the other person’s viewpoint before insisting on voicing your reply; learn to express what you want to say in an assertive but non aggressive way; and listen to own your own feelings.
A useful formula is: ‘When you said/did/…….., I felt… /it upset me a lot’ etc.
If that doesn’t work and the argument gets heated, walk away from the argument and go to your room. Come out again and discuss the issue after everyone has calmed down.
6. Give each other space
It is very important that you have time for yourself individually and have time with your partner without the children. It is equally important for your children to have time on their own to do what they want to do without parents intruding. If everyone feels that they have time built in to get away from each other without fear of being interrupted, it will help enormously. It will lessen any frustration any of you may have; parents can recharge their own batteries and can meditate, do some yoga, read, go on social media, watch TV or just chill for a time to get in a calmer mood to join the family once again.
7. Look out for vulnerable and/or elderly neighbours
Finding ways to make a difference to someone else’s life and thinking about the needs of others can have a positive effect on your own mood. Making sure that neighbours have sufficient supplies and someone to talk to – on the phone, or face to face at a 2m distance – can be a useful way to feel productive and provide a sense of accomplishment.
8. See this time of self-isolation as a gift
How many times do we wish we had more time? Time for ourselves, time for our family, time to learn new skills, time to sort paperwork, time to do the cleaning, time to exercise, time to cook, time to see our friends. If we see this enforced time as an opportunity to do all the things we say we would do if only we had the time, we would see this as a once in a lifetime opportunity rather than as a penance to be endured. It is about being productive in new and creative ways.
9. Learn to slow down!
We spend our lives rushing from one place to another, meeting important deadlines and generally leading stressful lives. Slowing our pace is a rare gift and an important, healthy skill to master for everyone who leads such busy lives.
The internet is our lifeline at a time like this. For those without technology, it is the phone. We can still meet our friends or reconnect with old ones on FaceTime, WhatsApp, House Party, text message or email.
Reading for pleasure, playing music, writing a blog or journal, sorting our files and our house, exercising, cooking new recipes and gardening are all great ideas to pass the time while cooped up at home.
Most importantly, look after yourselves and each other. And stay safe.