There’s no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic is having a huge impact on family relationships.
Many of us are at home with babies, toddlers, children and/or teenagers. We might be balancing work and caring responsibilities and/or supporting our children’s education.
Some of us will be shielding, or vulnerable. Some of us are managing alone with our children, or co-parenting.
Some of us are key workers facing the need to go to work and leaving our children either with partners or at childcare hubs.
Whatever our circumstances, this period may be tough on our mental health, and our relationships. Whilst there may be challenges – around routines, missing social contact, staying in, and behaviour – there may also be huge opportunities to get to know our children better, to learn new things together, and to be together as a family.
Whatever your circumstances, this period may be tough on our mental health, and our relationships
Whilst there may be challenges – around routines, missing social contact, staying in, and behaviour – there may also be huge opportunities to get to know our children better, to learn new things together, and to be together as a family.
We are spending a lot of time together at the moment. It can sometimes seem like there is only one setting for family – everyone together.
However, there are a lot of ways to split that time so that we are able to have quality time with everyone we have in the household, as well as with ourselves. Outside of our immediate family, we can also keep in touch with friends and relatives using the phone and internet.
Remember - It’s OK to take personal alone time as a parent
All parents or carers need personal alone time and it’s OK to find and take it. If there are other adults in the household, enabling each other to have personal time is a huge gift we can give.
It’s especially important with babies and toddlers – although hard - if at all possible, try and use nap times to recharge rather than clean or work.
If you have a partner at home, spending quality time together is also important.
How to help children build their own spaces
Children also need time alone, as well as time with other members of the family. If there’s more than one child in the house it can be great fun when they spend time together – take note that each child needs their personal space too.
It might be appropriate to help your children each identify and make a space that is their own. This is hard to do in small flats – do what you can to create space perhaps by building a den on their beds.
Try to keep connected with friends and family
Social time within social distancing rules is also important. Phone or video calls and games with friends and relatives can be a good way to keep in touch and have a different input – and letter writing for children and adults could be a nice way to surprise someone you are missing.
We may need to temporarily relax rules we may have on screen time so that we can all get quality time with each other, and with ourselves.
There’s a huge amount of free, exciting content being developed at the moment for TV, and online. From virtual museum tours and theatre shows, to new content on streaming platforms and new games, there’s a lot there that can be good for our mental health.
As with any screen time – it’s good to know what your kids are watching and doing online, and to keep talking about it.
Helping children with schoolwork at home
School work at home is hard – you aren’t a teacher – you are a parent doing your best to keep you children’s brains going. The type of work and support schools have set varies between local authorities and up until Easter there has been a lot of trial and error.
Although schools set work, it might be easier to get your children going with projects that relate to their own interests. That’s OK too. If you work at home, you’ll know that the rhythm of the day is different, what you can achieve varies, and that some days you have to cut yourself some slack and do something else. It’s the same with supporting schoolwork at home.
Try and define a couple of sessions in the day for primary age children. For secondary age you can encourage a longer session of study – perhaps sharing some of your tips if you are working from home too.
Go easy – and encourage them to share worries and disappointments.
Recognising and managing stress
It’s important that we are able to find ways to recognise and address stress we are feeling – both in relation to parenting and in relation to work, family and other challenges.
Try and make time for ourselves
It can seem counter intuitive or impossible to make time for yourself, to think about yourself or practice self-care at the moment, but this is the time when you need it most.
Try not to judge or compare ourselves and others
It can be very easy to judge ourselves as parents based on what other people are doing that we aren’t, on what people post on social media, or through a lens of what we don’t have or can’t offer.
It’s really important to cut ourselves some slack. Right now, today you are giving your best to your kids – and hopefully there’s enough left for you. If there isn’t you need to find a way to replenish yourself.
At the first sign of misbehaviour try and divert onto something else – suggesting a game, a call with a relative, or your walk if you haven’t been out yet for your daily movement.
If redirecting doesn’t work and you can feel your temper fraying, try to take a 10 second pause. Take a few deep breaths and come back to the situation in a calmer frame of mind.
Parenting expert Sarah Ockwell-Smith recommends the mnemonic PETER to help
P = Pause. Don’t react immediately.
E = Empathise. Try to understand how your child is, or was, feeling and their point of view.
T = Think. Think about different ways you could respond and what would happen as a result.
E = Exhale. Take a deep breath, breathe out, relax your shoulders and picture your anger leaving.
R = Respond. Now is the time to respond to your child, not before.
It’s great if you can acknowledge the emotion - showing that you understand how they're feeling that it is (likely) a reasonable reaction to a strange situation, and that even so, it needs to change.
In summary, each and every one of you are trying you very best.
Stay Calm, Have Patience and most importantly ensure that you are spending time on yourself. Remember children look up to us – lets be the role models they deserve.
Peace and Love to you all,