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. Try to do the things you would normally do, including your showering/bathing routine, keeping consistent mealtimes, and restricting recreational access to screens, having at least some screen-free time each day, 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? Aim to 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, many orchestras are streaming concerts for free and lots of learning apps are providing free access right now.
- If possible, 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.
- Find time for children to get fresh air and sunlight. This may be as simple as spending some time in the backyard or on the 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. It can be challenging to connect over screens after a day of working from home and screen-based learning, but online trivia, online games or doing a cooking class together can help bring fun and spontaneity back to these connections.
- 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…
- Having a sense of positive purpose can bring both adults and children joy. You could do a huge cook-up at home and deliver it to friends and neighbours (where allowed). Or think of other ways you could give back to the community – hint, Peppa’s mindfulness challenge may be just what you need!
- 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. While lockdown continues for the next few weeks or months, a little chaos is to be expected.
For both parents and children, it’s important to remember, the lockdowns won’t last forever. This period of time may be difficult, but it will pass as Australia speeds up its vaccination rates, providing protection for those vaccinated against hospitalisation and death. With strong vaccination rates, we can be confident into 2022 that we can protect the most vulnerable members of society.
Right now, there is a lot of uncertainty and change for children. This may cause an increase in anxiety. Seek to connect 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 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.