Focus on what is within your ‘circle of control’ rather than what’s outside of it!
This is not what we imagined the start of 2021 would look like.
Back at work and most kids are not in school.
For me personally, going into national lockdown doesn’t feel nearly as shocking or difficult as it did the first time round. At the start of lockdown back in March, I was already very unwell with the virus, all 4 kids were off school, I couldn’t get any supermarket delivery slots, my son’s A levels had been cancelled and elderly people in my community were actually dying. It was an overwhelming, scary, uncertain time.
This time ‘lockdown’ feels much more familiar and we have already made so many adjustments to our normal way of life. The biggest difference for me as a mother of 4 is that my kids are actually where they are supposed to be: at school and university!
Nevertheless, a dad this week on my group parenting course asked for some top tips on creating a harmonious household during lockdown, so here are my thoughts.
Take some time to prioritise and be clear with yourself, your family and your work colleagues what your boundaries are. When are your slots for working, being with your children, taking care of the household and time for yourself? If you don’t create conscious boundaries, all your various responsibilities merge together and you may feel like you aren’t doing anything properly.
Use ‘Emotion Coaching’
If you don’t know what this is, there are lots of blogs about it on my website. We will all be experiencing a huge wave of different emotions. For your children, partners, wider family, friends and even work colleagues, the best way to listen is to empathise. Especially with children, all they really want from their parents is to feel heard and understood.
Drop the guilt
Feeling guilty is a huge waste of energy. If the house is a mess, the sheets aren’t ironed, your children are spending too long on screens, remember we are living through a global pandemic. These are not normal times. We are striving for ‘good enough’ not perfect.
Communication / Solution Time
We can all feel like we are going a bit stir crazy spending so much time together at home, especially now that it’s Winter. When something is bothering you about your partner or child, set aside time to talk it through. Explain how you feel with ‘I statements’ not ‘you statements’ and talk through possible solutions together, without blame or criticism.
Focus on the positive
‘Descriptive Praise’ is the most powerful motivator I know. Rather than constantly telling your children what they have done wrong, take the time to acknowledge and appreciate even the smallest things your child or partner does well. The magic ratio is 5 positive comments for every negative. This positive mindset truly has the power to change the whole atmosphere in your home.
Division of labour
Mothers in particular can feel a lot of resentment building when everyone is at home and they are bearing the brunt of childcare, cooking, cleaning etc. Sit down with your family, work out what needs to be done and how you can share the load. Ask yourself “What am I currently doing for my child that they could learn to be doing for themselves?” Write down a timetable for the week, outlining who is responsible for what.
We can very easily be in the same home with our children all day but still not be really with them. Schedule frequent, predictable 121 time to spend with your child irrespective of their age, with no agenda. It doesn’t need to be more than 15 minutes at a time but be truly present.
It’s good for children to be bored. Your job is not to be their entertainment director. Brainstorm with them some ideas for ‘boredom busters’ and talk about what they could do at home when the screens are off.
I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again. If you are not looking after yourself physically and emotionally at a basic level, you will struggle to look after your children or be productive at work. What do you need to stay sane and how are you going to give time to yourself so you can meet those needs?
Some children may be anxious about the prospect of returning to school. Here’s how you can talk about it:
After a period of several weeks in lockdown where many families have been living, working and schooling together all under one roof with limited exposure to the outside world, it’s understandable that we might all now be feeling anxious at the prospect of transitioning back to the new “normal” when lockdown is eventually lifted.
Many children, including infants and toddlers, will be feeling a heightened sense of awareness, or even anxiety, at the prospect of being separated from their parents when nurseries and schools reopen.
Despite the global crisis and all the change it has brought to our daily lives, one thing has been constant for children throughout, and that’s the presence and support of their parents; their physical presence, rituals and routines, their nurture, love and comfort.
For this reason, it is natural for them to perhaps have become more clingy than normal, more reliant on your support and more used to your constant presence. The prospect of suddenly being taken out of this safe bubble at home can therefore be quite a shock for both children and parents.
For parents of toddlers going back to nursery, it is important to tell yourself that your child will be ok. When babies develop a sense of object permanence, they know that parents still exist when they are out of sight and this can cause separation anxiety. It is developmental, but it does not make it any easier for parents to say goodbye at the door.
Just as adults, children are innately social beings. Remind yourself they will enjoy the interaction of other children and engaging creatively with staff at nursery. Recognise that your worry will naturally be increased due to lockdown and acknowledge that your sense of worry will often be mirrored by your child’s behaviour and responses.
For children who are old enough to understand, talk about the changes that are going to happen through storytelling. Discuss with your children how they might feel going back to school or nursery.
Try to name their feelings so you can validate their thoughts and emotions, recognise they will move and change. Acknowledge that they may feel worried about saying goodbye at the nursery door. Talk about what you do when you feel worried as this too is a supportive strategy. Notice how challenging and courageous they are being.
Always be consistent in your promises about returning, even if it means agreeing to bring the exact snack that was requested when you pick them up later. It helps with emotional containment and a sense they feel listened to.
Most importantly, notice your responses to their anxiety and what it awakens in you. Children are incredibly intuitive and, if you can, model supportive strategies so they will know it is ok to say “see you later”.
Finally, for children and adolescents, the sense of being parted from their friends, which makes up such an important part of their lives, is tremendously challenging. While they may feel angst about returning to school, they will also be grappling with the sense of urgency to be among their friends and peers.
The united individual experiences of lockdown and loss will have impacted hugely on adolescents and, therefore, their need to tell their story will be so important. Parents can rest assured that schools will be aware of the very great emotional needs of their pupils and will no doubt be offering additional support at this time.
Hannah Abrahams is an educational and child psychologist and a valuable member of the Educating Matters speaking team
We are living in one of the most unprecedented times in living history and it is important to recognise how exceptionally resilient we have been during the last 8 weeks in lockdown. Take a moment to reflect upon that statement. Yes as humans we are naturally creative and incredibly adaptable beings.
Without a doubt, there will have been times of fear, of anxiety and of hopelessness and despair, but amongst the tidal waves of raw and very big emotions, there will also have been moments of success, of hope, of love and laughter and togetherness.
You will already have been using tools from within your emotional toolbox in order to navigate these uncertain days, but I hope that I will be able to awaken your sense of skill, as well as suggest some new and creative ideas to support you and your families
What happens to our bodies when we’re stressed?
In times of crisis, uncertainty and stress, our brains and bodies become dysregulated leading us to be in a fight or flight mode. We are waiting for the “bear,” and these days illness, to come around the corner and our concentration and ability to focus, as well as our productive and creative brain, will be significantly impeded.
Previous traumas, losses or anxieties may be reawakened in us and our behaviours and responses to our children and our own needs change or old unwanted behaviours become ever-present. If this happens, allow yourself the time to notice, to stop, to listen to yourself and your responses and reflect upon how best to help yourself and your children.
Remember that emotional responses will feel even bigger right now. That’s ok and to be expected but it is so important to remember that this too shall pass. I often like to think about how emotions change for adults and children alike during the course of a day just as the waves change as they reach the shore.
We are under incredible strain as parents and employees trying to navigate working from home in a crisis while “home-schooling,” we need to dig deep. Learning to manage these uncomfortable emotions is a lifetime’s work but being conscious of them will help you to feel less overwhelmed and stressed.
In times such as these, we need to be mindful of our mental health needs in order to meet the needs of our children. It’s a case of putting our own ‘oxygen mask’ on first. Unless we do this, we’re going to feel very dysregulated much of the time. You need to nourish your own basic needs (such as food, water and sleep) where you can get it, in order to successfully meet, contain and validate the needs of your children.
Check-in on yourself
Notice how your body is feeling. If you can, do a body scan.
- Are you feeling really tense? Where does the tension sit? In your hands? In your heart? In your toes?
- For children a body scan can be completed in a very visual way – draw around their bodies either in chalk or pen and get them to label different parts of their body that feel feelings- for example does their heart feel love? Where do they feel anger? Hurt? Excitement or worry? Activities such as these open up opportunities for discussion and growing emotional awareness.
Place your hand where you’re feeling most angst and try and ground yourself in the moment. By this, I mean STOP, DROP AND BREATHE
- STOP in the moment
- DROP everything you’re doing
- And take 3 deep BREATHS
This activity can also be used for children and helps to regulate yourself and them, before reaching volcanic explosions and responses
Choose one thing to do every morning that will help you to feel grounded or have a giggle – such as doing a dance like no one is watching or stretching, going for a walk and standing and listening to the nature around you
Notice and validate big emotions
This applies to our emotions and the emotions felt by your children. During these times, it’s to be expected that sometimes your emotions will overwhelm you and that of your child.
Remind yourself it’s Ok to feel these big emotions and this too shall pass. Be compassionate with yourself and your children.
Resist the urge to run away from the emotion, just BREATHE. Expect the emotions that you’re feeling, notice how they move and change. By doing this, you will be helping to regulate your brain activity and reduce the flood of cortisol.
Every time you work through these big emotions, you are emptying your emotional rucksack. By developing your resilience, your children will mirror you and therefore you are doing an amazing job in developing their emotional regulatory behaviours too. Things won’t always go right, its ok and being reflective with yourself and your child about the less successful emotional moments is important too.
Find activities you enjoy
To be expected to learn a new language or expected to clean and tidy our homes in Marie Kondo style is not necessary right now, but it is important to give yourself permission to do something that you love for a few moments each day.
Encourage your children to think about creative ways to nurture their interests too. For example:
- Plant sunflower seeds and water them daily, watching them grow
- Create an obstacle course on the street using chalk on the pavement
- Grab a paintbrush and some paint and just let the strokes of your brush flow. It’s amazing what your unconscious can tell you through this activity. See where your painting flow takes you.
Don’t think too far ahead
Our brains like to live in the moment. As soon as we start thinking about what ifs and what next, the little almond sized part of our brain known as the ‘amygdala’ starts flapping away. It controls the emotional response panel in our brains, and it doesn’t know how to navigate the future.
It’s very much about trying to bring ourselves back to the present moment, which can be so difficult during such uncertain times. But psychologically, we know that our amazing, creative, productive and resilient brains work best when we are in the moment.
For so much of this time, we have been navigating the sense of stress and worry that lockdown has brought to us as a nation. That said, we are incredibly adaptive beings and you will notice that over the course of the weeks your sense of heightened worry may have diminished slightly with time. Recognise your and your child’s amazing adaptability and whilst we continue to experience waves of emotion, congratulate yourself that you have come this far. Remember what you’re doing is good enough and hold on to that in the toughest of times.
If you would like a webinar to support the Mental Health of employees during this period of Covid-19, please be in touch for some ideas.
I feel overwhelmed by the amount of articles and suggested resources coming through my inbox and across various social media platforms, on every possible topic related to getting through this Covid-19 crisis.
There is one great post that I didn’t write and the author is ‘unknown’ but of all the things I have received, it really spoke to me as a parent, so I wanted to share it with you.
Child – “How old are you, Grandpa?”
Grandpa – “I’m 81, dear.”
Child – “So does that mean you were alive during the Coronavirus?”
Grandpa – “Yes, I was.”
Child – “Wow. That must have been horrible, Grandpa. We were learning about that at school this week.
They told us about how all the schools had closed. And moms and dads couldn’t go to work so didn’t have as much money to do nice things.
They said that you weren’t allowed to go and visit your friends and family and couldn’t go out anywhere.
They told us that the shops and stores ran out of lots of things so you didn’t have much bread, and flour, and toilet rolls.
They said that summer holidays were cancelled. And they told us about all those thousands of people that got very sick and who died.
They explained how hard all the doctors and nurses and all essential workers worked, and that lots of them died, too.
That must have been so horrible, grandpa!”
Grandpa – “Well, that is all correct.
And I know that because I read about it when I was older.
But to tell you the truth I remember it differently…
I remember playing in the garden for hours with mom and dad and having picnics outside and lots of bbqs.
I remember making things and fishing with my Dad and baking with my Mom.
I remember making forts and learning how to do hand stands and back flips. I remember having quality time with my family.
I remember Mom’s favorite words becoming ‘Hey, I’ve got an idea…’
Rather than ‘Maybe later or tomorrow I’m a bit busy’.
I remember making our own bread and pastry. I remember having movie night three or four times a week instead of just one.
It was a horrible time for lots of people you are right.
But I remember it differently.”
Remember how our children will remember these times.
Be in control of the memories they are creating right now, so that through all the awful headlines and emotional stories for so many that they will come to read in future years, they can remember the happy times.
Author unknown 💕
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