There’s a little chaos and anxiety in many homes around the world. After many countries closed schools and extended spring breaks last week to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, parents are left scrambling with what to do with their kids - and how to talk to them about the unprecedented disruption COVID-19 has caused around the world. And then there are the kids: Teenagers are cringing at being stuck at home with parents who are now working at home or out of work. Young children are climbing the walls. And others are worrying about what the future holds with their parents out of work.
Here are some ways Craig A. Knippenberg, a licensed social worker and others say parents can take care of their and their children’s mental health and make it through what could be a long and unexpected disruption:
Don’t throw out structure. Knippenberg says: “Sit down with your children and map out how the days will flow. Set up specific times for reading/homework, chores, independent free time, mealtimes, family time and bedtime. Like every teacher, write it down and post the schedule.”
Free play. While officials are asking people to distance themselves from others, getting outside is still allowed and encouraged. Outside time and fresh air has huge physical and mental health benefits. While children might complain about not knowing what to do, they will quickly find something to explore or create while outside, says Knippenberg. If there’s room in the house for one room to be set aside for unbridled free play, do it. Zoom sessions for your children and their friends are also available. This is also a great time to break out old hobbies and jigsaw puzzles. That said, playdates may not be such a great idea right now. Guidance is mixed but it will be important to keep to family units as much as possible.
Get out all those old-fashioned board games. Watch TV together or share an electronic game or two. This would also be a great time to watch old family videos. Connecting with happier times is always good for our mental health.
Stick to a sleep schedule. While it might be tempting for your older children to stay up late every night and sleep late every morning, that’s not going to be beneficial to their physical and mental health. You’ll also be left with very moody children the next day. Stick with your bedtime schedule. Don’t forget to enforce no screen time an hour before bed, Knippenberg recommends.
It’s OK to loosen screen rules ... a bit. Knippenberg typically recommends that families have a limit of a half hour of gaming during the school week and several blocks of gaming time on the weekends. Given these circumstances, he says he’d probably go with weekend rules just to help you and your kids survive. The same is true with TV and Netflix. While binge-watching might be an appealing alternative, you’ll pay the price in your child’s moodiness after you pry them free of their screens. Several one-hour blocks a day is better than binge-viewing.
Stay in touch with your community. Rather than being on the phone or social media all day long yourself, try to schedule set times to check in with your adult friends. You can also consider setting up a Zoom community of friends where you can have a designated time to check-in with each other. Have grandparents do regular videocalls with the kids. Engage in a little virtual babysitting. Millions of parents are wondering if playdates are acceptable. The answer right now is yes, with some “significant limitations.”
Limit the news. For your own mental health, and the mental health of your children, titrate the intake of news. Constantly following the latest coronavirus news will only increase the entire family’s anxiety.
Give kids an outlet to discuss emotions. Journaling is a good way for adolescents to process their feelings in this uncertain time. You can also set aside a time to talk as a family about how everyone is feeling and coping with the outbreak. Knippenberg suggests doing this at the dinner table or after dinner. It’s important to acknowledge their anxiety but also their loss and grief about upcoming trips and school programs on which they will be missing out. Then turn to your family game time and your usual routines.
Plus here are some fun game ideas to play: 70 Things to Do with Kids Now That We’re All Stuck at Home