In the midst of the worldwide coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, parents everywhere are trying to figure out how to manage long days in quarantine with kids who are bouncing off walls and wondering what is going on. Here are five things families can do to help get work done while supporting each other and keeping spirits high.
1. Adjust perspective. Think of this unexpected time together as a gift. Under any other circumstances, discovering that your family has uninterrupted time to spend together would be a pleasant surprise. Think of it as a gift and brainstorm ways you’d like to use it. What are some things you enjoy doing at home with family, but don’t always have time for? Play games, watch movies, bake cookies, take naps, read books and ask kids how they would like to spend this unexpected gift of togetherness.
2. Stick to a schedule. It might feel unnecessary, but kids thrive in structure, so plan your days and keep to a schedule. Write it down and post it where everyone can see.
“We made a schedule so the kids know what’s going on and what’s coming next,” says Solana Beach mom Amy Holbrook. “It keeps them from being bored and wanting to snack all day.” Holbrook’s 7-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter can check the schedule to see when meals and snacks are coming and how long before they switch to the next activity. It reduces stress for everyone by eliminating the “now what?” questions that parents often field from bored children.
Here’s the fun part: you can include activities that aren’t part of your family’s ordinary life and give regularly scheduled things a creative twist.
3. Make the ordinary extraordinary. When my adult daughter Emily worked as a child guardian on the Broadway tour of Matilda, it was her job to keep 15 kids, ages 9–15, focused, calm and happy. I asked what advice she has for families during this time of quarantine. “Don’t cling to rules and perfection,” Emily says. “Let kids do something special once a day and plan ‘exaggerated’ activities.” That means injecting fun into everyday things, aka making ordinary activities extraordinary.
For example, Holbrook created menu boards with options for breakfast, lunch and dinner, complete with a list of side dishes. While selections are the same as any other day, “The kids feel excited they get to choose,” she says.
Other ways to make everyday activities special:
- Let kids eat dinner on a blanket in the family room.
- Take a bubble bath in the middle of the day.
- Break out paints, glue and glitter and create signs for the bathrooms, reminding everyone to wash their hands.
- Have a pet parade when animals need attention.
- Make breakfast for dinner and invite the family to eat in their pajamas.
Emily also suggests making up games around ordinary things, such as cleaning up toys and doing other chores. The kids will have a ball learning the words to “8 Silly Songs to Get Chores Done” (find the songs at www.sandiegofamily.com/parenting/preschooler/silly-songs-to-get-chores-done).
Even simple rewards for good behavior can improve cooperation and make daily routines more enjoyable.
4. Invest time in helping others. One of the best ways to shift your focus is to think about what your family can do to serve those who might be feeling especially vulnerable and lonely. Reach out with notes, calls, text messages and other creative ways you and your kids think will brighten their days with encouragement and hope.
5. Create space for each other. One of the biggest challenges of all this togetherness is, well, too much togetherness. With parents trying to get work done, older kids trying to do homework (or teens wanting to be alone), and younger kids needing attention, you might wonder how you’ll all survive.
Instead of trying to do everything everywhere, set up stations throughout the house for parent work, the kids’ schoolwork, and zones for play and crafts. Use the zones in conjunction with scheduling and reward self-discipline and self-directed play with praise and verbal high-fives. Explain that by honoring boundaries for work, school and play, everyone can get things done so your family will have more time to enjoy together later.
Above all, remember that this temporary interruption in daily life presents families with a unique opportunity to grow closer while lifting each other up. By making the most of this unexpected gift of togetherness, parents and kids will feel stronger and more connected when life returns to normal and you’re, once again, wishing for more time together.
Jody Lee Cates is a local mom and award-winning writer who blogs about healthy relationships at www.jodyleecates.com