Dear Dr. Debbie,
Whew, this is hard. For the most part, my family is doing okay with sharing space in the house, two laptops, creative kitchen combinations, and our little bit of a yard day after day. But the seven-year-old will tease the three-year-old who erupts into screaming, which upsets the twelve-year-old who criticizes my parenting, which interrupts my train of thought.
This derails whatever brief planning ahead or worry for the world I might be momentarily involved in. How do I keep a stuck-at-home family on track?
Who Made Me Conductor?
Let’s see. There’s an ongoing pandemic, uncertainties about what the summer, or the rest of the school year, or even next week might look like, and your children can’t seem to refrain from “sibling” each other? Sounds reasonable. A useful strategy for conducting good behavior is to consider P.I.E.S., that is, the Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, and Social needs of each of your children.
Make it a priority for everyone to have adequate sleep, nutrition, and exercise every day. In some ways daily scheduling is easier because there are few alarms to set, few appointments to keep. But a totally unstructured day, with a hazy bedtime related to no real reason to get out of bed at a particular time in the morning, could throw off a body’s rhythm. Meals, too, should be structured into the day’s routine, making sure that all nutritional bases are covered: fruits and veggies, whole grains, a variety of proteins, and adequate water and other healthy drinks. Meal planning can indeed get creative due to the current challenges in acquiring groceries, so take the opportunity to invite suggestions from the children based on your inventory. Healthy sleeping patterns and good nutrition are the starting point for meeting physical needs to assure pleasant company.
Prior to the Stay-at-Home order, it was easier to work a workout into the day – walking to and from school, participating in group sports or taking a dance class. Check the weather forecast to plan out good days for long walks in the neighborhood or to drive to a nearby park for a trail hike. It seems like an eternity ago, but around Groundhog’s Day, I was recommending outdoor activity as an antidote for feeling cooped up. This definitely applies to the present situation.
Hopefully your older children are on track with their e-Learning. If not, communicate with a teacher or classmate to straighten things out. Anne Arundel County Public Schools has pointers on their website, too.
In between schoolwork sessions, and especially for your preschooler, investigate Chesapeake Children’s Museum’s posts on Facebook for stay-at-home activities. Turn a regular piece of paper into a 3-D sculpture with just scissors and tape. Create a restaurant for the next family meal. Organize a neighborhood Seeds and Seedlings Swap. Put together a Corona Chronicles to document your family’s experiences during this historic event. Find new ideas for games, crafts, and easy recipes each day.
Chesapeake Family Life has oodles of ideas for online events, which, within your reasonable allotment for Shelter In Place Screen Time, could encourage timely completion of schoolwork.
But don’t stress about filling all their time with activities. A little bit of boredom might motivate a child to pick up a book, renew interest in a forgotten hobby, or ask to join you in one of yours. Are you finding unexpected time now for: gardening, home decorating, bird watching, astronomy, clothing design, woodworking, or fruit preserving? You may have a willing apprentice. Then there’s always housework. Offer to help one child at a time sort through clothes to see what’s outgrown or out of season. Toys and books can also be categorized into keep, giveaway, or recycle.
This unusual situation is certainly stirring up emotions for everyone. In response, Sesame Street has come up with “Caring for Each Other,” a series of videos and other resources to address the concerns of preschool children. Your three-year-old might sympathize with Rosita’s frustration at not being allowed to play with a friend since that could violate Social Distancing rules. Rosita will lead your child in some relaxing Belly Breathing which may come in handy for other inevitable frustrations.
A school age child might enjoy making a glitter jar (which can be made with plastic pony beads instead of glitter, if you prefer). The idea is to use the jar as a way to express how mixed up our thoughts get when we’re excited or upset. Christopher Willard, Psy.D., author of Growing Up Mindful, further suggests, “Ask the children what kinds of things will make the glitter in the jar swirl. Encourage answers that reflect distressing events (fights with siblings, losing in sports) and positive ones (getting a good grade, making a new friend), events in the foreground (sick siblings) and events in the background (scary stories on the news). With each event they name, swirl and turn the jar, demonstrating how it becomes difficult to keep track and see clearly what our thoughts, feelings, and urges are.”
The child can then practice calm breathing as long as it takes the beads to settle on the bottom.
The Foundation for a Mindful Society offers a variety of short, guided mindfulness sessions for quieting the emotional noise of older children and teens as well as adults.
For the time being, your children’s interactions with anyone outside your household are restricted for everyone’s own good. This is a tough concept for children, and some adults, to accept.
Balance your fervent wish for the siblings to get along with each other against their strong need to interact with their friends. Digital screens can serve as welcome tools for helping friends stay connected. If your children have ample time to “see” their friends, it will be more tolerable for them to be with the people at home.
It sounds cliché but it is very true – we’re all in this together.
Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist with degrees in Early Childhood Education, Counseling, and Human Development. Workshops for parents, teachers, and childcare professionals can be found at: www.drdebbiewood.com.
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What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com