Families are now into the second week of confinement, trying to work at home while managing children and worrying. The following are some tools to help navigate this strange new world we find ourselves in. We are a retired clinical psychologist and minister, and a developmental psychologist. We are long married and proud parents of three and grandparents of one darling baby girl.
First, take a deep breath. This is a new experience for everyone, and it will take time to find a sustainable rhythm. Expect to make many course corrections along the way. Your activities will depend on the ages, personalities, work status and needs of your family members.
Our second suggestion is to approach this extraordinary time with a sense of challenge, even adventure. Although it is important to communicate with your children about their worries, do not let anxiety rule.
Most of these suggestions are common sense, but we hope they will spark other ideas for you. Although it is important to try to maintain a life-as-usual approach, there is no denying that the world as we have known it has changed. Embrace it as an opportunity for the family to connect and grow together.
1. Establish a work/play/sleep routine. If it works, stick with it. In general, work before play. Complete schoolwork before screen time. Try to keep your usual sleep schedule. Everyone is anxious and stressed; healthy eating and sleep help our immune systems and our ability to cope.
2. Enlist your children’s input in creating the family routine. Ask what they are willing to be responsible for. Even preschoolers can have some kind of small job to help the family that is appropriate for their developmental level. Engage older children in meal planning, and give teens full responsibility for periodically preparing meals.
3. If there are very young children in the home, parents may need to supervise the kids in shifts. Work when they are sleeping. Create a designated work area, even if it’s just the kitchen table during work hours. No room for a work area? Hang a sheet from the ceiling to visually block off space.
4. Schooling is going to be tough, but it’s important to help children do whatever their teachers require. Encourage reading — any reading. Enlist extended family to help tutor your kids via video chat. Grandparents and friends who are not working love to help when they can.
5. Use this time together to teach your children life skills: cooking, cleaning, exercising, laundry, gardening and mending. You can also learn something new together from the internet.
6. Schedule quiet times within the house, and alone time for everybody. This could be simply a stroll outside or an hour with everyone in different parts of the home. Allow yourself time to relax and read or binge watch a TV series. Everyone needs regular breaks from one another.
7. Go ahead and relax your screen time rules during this time. Use media to engage your children, but guide them to more educational programs and games for at least a healthy chunk of their screen time.
8. Make sure you all get some outside time every day to let off steam and play. Just be sure to keep the six-foot distance from others. Best to avoid any public surfaces and playgrounds because they may be contaminated or closed. Better to bring your own toys outdoors. Try taking a walk in the rain.
9. Use this time to learn to play card games or other games with your children. Connect with your children in ways you haven’t before. Have fun with them.
10. Children need time to socialize with their peers. Help young children set up virtual play dates and encourage older children to regularly video chat with friends (after their work is done).
11. Get to know your neighbors — at safe distance. BYO coffee and chat for a while. Lots of people are now walking in the neighborhood.
12. Keep in touch with extended family members and friends. Make use of virtual social hours, internet game sites, or one-on-one video chats.
13. Now is the time to reach out to your family and friends with kids. Get advice on what is working.
14. Neighborhood social groups, such as
Nextdoor, are already set up to help you. You can trade needed items, communicate with neighbors, ask for help.
15. Counselors and other mental health professionals are offering video calls during this time. This can be very helpful.
It appears we will be sheltering in place for some time and the adversities may well increase. If you find yourself stressing out, take action: go for a walk, exercise, or talk to a friend. Don’t take it out on your children or your partner. Be kind to yourself, your loved ones, and your neighbors. Have some fun at your new camp.
Anne Cameron is a retired clinical psychologist and minister. She is owner of TisseDesigns.com. George W. Holden is a professor and chair of the Southern Methodist University Psychology Department. They wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.