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Surviving and enjoying isolation with kids

26 March 2020

Having kids at home for extended periods

One of the difficulties many parents will be facing right now is coming up with ideas to keep children busy and engaged in learning if they are at home. 

With the usual ways kids engaged – through libraries, sport, playgroups, shopping centres and other public places - now cut off, families will need to be innovative in the ways they interact with kids in the home. 

“Children may have heard the adults in their lives talking about the virus for some time now. It’s hard to avoid the impact it is having on the world and children will be noticing that things are different. They may be a little confused, scared, and stressed without having a good understanding of what coronavirus actually is. It’s important to explain to them in simple terms exactly what the virus is, and how we can keep ourselves healthy”.

Peta Nichol, Save the Children's Family Support Technical Advisor

We spoke to Dr Julia Parsonson, an Educational and Developmental Psychologist, with over 10 years experience in the education and psychology sectors. Her advice for parents and kids? 

How to keep kids engaged and parents sane

  • Keep a routine. Giving children a structure to each day will help them feel more secure, and it gives parents and caregivers a routine to work around. Make sure you do the things you would normally do, including your showering/bathing routine, keeping consistent mealtimes, and restricting access to screens as you would at other times. Allow plenty of uninterrupted playtime and transition between activities. Remember you can still walk around the block as a family (but not meet with other families), and so consider using this as a ‘commuting’ time between work/school and ‘home’ time.

  • We’ve all heard the old adage ‘all work and no play’, but what about all play and no work? Make sure each day you have a balance of learning activities (including games, creative tasks or reading), relaxing activities and exercise. Keeping children entertained is a full-time job but there are loads of online groups popping up to help parents out with ideas to keep their young ones busy. Museums and zoos all over the world are live streaming, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is streaming concerts for free and lots of learning apps are providing free access right now.

  • Ensure that everyone in the family has time and space to retreat and have ’alone time’. It is challenging to be in a confined area with the same people for extended periods of time. Maintaining your mental health is important at times like these. 

  • Where possible, find time for children to get fresh air and sunlight. This may be as simple as spending some time in the backyard or balcony. If you live in a place where you can’t get outside, open your curtains and windows if you can, and let the natural light in.

  • Use Zoom, Facetime, or Skype to keep in touch with family and friends, both local and overseas to stay social, and maintain friendships and relationships when you can’t be together. 

  • Try to squeeze in some family exercise each day. There are great yoga, dance and workout videos available online. Or use a skipping rope or run around the backyard to make sure you can stay fit and active.  

  • Being at home can also be an adventure. With little ones, your imagination can run wild. You can pretend to be pirates stranded on a deserted island, or a royal family locked inside their castle. This period is a wonderful time to reconnect with your inner child. Make up silly games or ways to exercise. If you’re really creative you may be able to find a fun way to get them to tidy their room…

  • Could this be time to learn a new hobby or delve deep into a topic of interest? Find out what’s been capturing your children’s attention at school and devote some time to expanding their interest. 

  • Be prepared for your days to be messy. There may be days when the home becomes a messy play area, or working parents rely on TV more than usual. In these unprecedented times, a little chaos is to be expected. 

  • Right now there is a lot of uncertainty and change. This may cause an increase in anxiety. Make sure you are connecting with your children. Do not dismiss their worries,  but do not let them grow either. Normalise their experience, reassure them that you are staying home to keep everyone safe. Start talking to them about their worries by asking them ‘do you have any questions?’. If possible, set time aside each day to check in with each child on their own. In this time ask them if they just want to share, or if they want you to help them to find a solution. Children don’t always want advice, sometimes being heard is enough. If you or your children need further support, please reach out to a trained professional such as a psychologist, social worker or GP.

Children thrive on parental attention

During this crisis, it’s important to remember there are silver linings. Peta Nichol explains, “Parental love and attention is vital to children’s development and wellbeing. We know that when parents are attentive and interactive with their children, the children feel more secure and are more socially connected generally. This outbreak and enforced isolation may be a real chance for parents to reconnect with their children in the family home.”  

Developing a strong parental and child bond through shared activities over this period may end up being a real asset for children as we navigate our way through this crisis.

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