The reality of the Covid-19 pandemic is hitting home for those of us in Canada. In my work with children and families I am quickly seeing the depth and breadth of the impact of these challenging days on families with school-aged children. Beyond the regular parental stressors, children are now potentially going to be home ....possibly for the next 5 months!
Families who have adjusted to school day schedules during the fall and winter are going to have to adjust to the drastic changes brought about by school closures - everything from securing reliable child care (at a time when day care centres are also closed) and keeping children more than just "entertained" on a day to day basis.
While schools are planning to offer resources to parents to support home based learning options (possibly online) there are other aspects of this transition that will make this move challenging. Parents whose children attend school on a daily basis will be faced with the new reality of having children home with seemingly nothing to do. While feelings of overwhelm can be hard to manage, feelings of boredom can be equally distressing and uncomfortable. And all this "together time" can lead to even more conflict and, ironically, disconnection.
So what's a parent to do?
Take charge! Knowing that an adult has "got this", helps children to feel safe and secure so, consider the following 5 steps to help you get there:
Step 1. Host a family meeting. Bring your family together and have a good old fashioned round-table discussion about what to do with all your time. Establish clear parental expectations for the balanced need for time for play and work and self-care and rest; for time together and time apart; and for quiet activities and energetic ones.
Step 2. Write up a schedule of activities for weekdays using the ideas that were shared at the family meeting. This helps to create some sense of structure, routine and predictability - all very important to help children function better at any time! The schedule may be "timed" (so that everyone knows what time activity 1 ends and activity 2 begins) or simply sequenced (so that there isn't a time restriction, but everyone knows that once activity one is complete, activity two starts). You could try either timed or just sequenced and see what works best for you and your family. Ideally, your schedule should include what time everyone is expected to be awake and ready to start the day! Include meal/snack times and rest times!
Step 3. Post the schedule in a centralized place so everyone can see what's happening now and what's happening next. Having a visual representation (in either words or pictures) helps everyone to stay on track and "on schedule"! Using a white board may be helpful so that you can erase when it's complete and everyone can clearly see what's "next".
Step 4. Implement the schedule. This may require setting alarm clocks, timers, reminders on phones or other smart devices. Ideally timers that allow children to see how much time is left along with a sound at the end are going to be most useful for time sensitive activities. If timing is less important, look for other ways to know that it's time for one activity to end and the next to begin.
Step 5. Evaluate your plan and make adjustments at least weekly. How are things going? Are mornings rushed? Are activities in the morning too quiet and afternoon activities too energetic? Does the sequence of activities seem to make sense? Do some activities require more time than you had originally thought they would? Would it better to have more time per activity and fewer activities per day? Is there enough of a balance between physical and mental activities? Between creative and structured activities? Between work and play?
Your needs will vary from family to family. Make your schedule make sense for YOU, YOUR children and YOUR circumstances. Be as "structured" or as "flexible" as your family needs you to be - this may not be as "structured" or as "flexible" as YOU as the parent need them to be, so this may require some negotiation. This will definitely give you all a chance to get to know one another really well, so enjoy the process and stay healthy!
Over the period that I wrote blog posts on a regular basis (in 2019 - which seems like decades ago!), I had written several related to anxiety and fear (with my apologies for some overlap in those search results!). Those seem apt in the current climate of caution that is being exercised with the COVID-19 outbreak and the resulting school closures, business shut downs, and travel restrictions.
As I have sat with my feelings on the current state of affairs, I was left with a need to put fingers to keyboard once again to consider my perspective - perhaps to ease my own mind and heart as I write.
March has been a challenging month for many years, for oh so many reasons, in my family. Many losses in March with the occasional sprinkling of joy. But this year, it was hard for me to discern whether my building sense of dis-ease was related to "March as usual" or something more.
Having taken the time to reflect, I can say that this is "something more" that sits heavily on my heart. I cannot shake the feeling that we are living through an historic global challenge with far reaching ramifications - the health and wellbeing of everyone and everything on the planet seems to be on the line. Climate change with its fires and floods; tyranny on our doorstep; a financial crisis that could mean the most vulnerable of us will experience the kinds of struggles we'd only read about in history books; and Covid-19 to challenge our capacity to care for the collective...and because we needed one more thing to manage. The Gods MUST be crazy!
And while humanity has faced other excruciatingly trying times in the past, we have never had the ease and speed of knowing (or seeming to know) what is happening everywhere in the world in such intimate detail in real time. Typically, we've had to wait for the history books to write of the trials and tribulations of people outside of our traveling range and only imagine (or wait for the Hollywood blockbuster to portray) what their experiences must have been like. But in the Information Age, we have the awesome privilege of knowing so much about so many in real time. It feels overwhelming.
And if I feel overwhelmed with this state of knowing, I can only imagine what our children must experience in the space of NOT-knowing, but still sensing what the adults in this world are holding. The sensitivity of children to the emotional realities around them cannot be underestimated and needs to be seen, heard, understood and cared for. It is my hope that those of you with children in your lives are able to hold space to listen to, validate, and empathize with their concerns whether as anxieties or fears and respond to their underlying needs for comfort and reassurance in a way that is courageous, wise and compassionate. They need to know that we, the grown ups, have "got this!"
With best wishes for health, hope and safer days ahead.
Sandplay Therapy is a form of non-verbal therapy that allows people to express their feelings and needs without words. To watch a wonderful video about Sandplay Therapy, CLICK HERE.
How honest can you be with your child when you need to give them feedback?
When you think they've royally messed up and need to make things right. Or you know they haven't done their best work. How honest can you be with them and still not start an argument? Or not say something mean or unkind?
What is your policy on honesty? If you're not sure, how can they be?
If you don't model for them how to offer honest feedback in clear but kind ways, how can they learn how to do that themselves?
How do you deliver difficult messages in clear, kind, loving ways?
After some technical difficulties on the last parent talk on Thursday evening (I think I've solved the problem!), the two remaining talks for 2019 are posted (click here for more information) and open for registration. The final two topics - hosting family meetings and improving sleep for school-aged kids - are hopefully going to help you settle into winter (which is coming!).
Beyond prepping these and sorting out technical difficulties (I think I logged in the "wrong" way!), I am getting lots of confirmation for the idea that parents need to be seen and heard for the hard work they do. While every day may not be a "challenge", there is always the possibility that it could be and we can go on emotional rollercoasters with our children, at any moment, often without notice. Frankly, even if we're prepared for the roller coaster, we may not always be able to manage it the way we'd like.
I think of a time I decided that perhaps I had been contributing to my daughter's emotional distress in a specific (predictable) situation, because I was usually hurried and harried. So, I decided to try something different and actually focused on MY "self-care" so my "stress" was no longer a contributing factor, before stepping into that scenario with her. As I stepped into the situation, I was in a GREAT mood - serene, happy, and definitely unfrazzled. I was a beacon of calm and serenity.
Let's call what happened next a "learning moment". You see, I didn't manage to stay calm. My disappointment at the effort I had put in not creating an immediate shift in HER emotional presentation was palpable, and so I contributed to increasing her frustration. What I neglected to remember was that, just because I was calm, didn't mean she would magically be calm too - my being emotionally regulated didn't mean she would be calm just by being in my presence. Essentially, I hadn't planned on needing to STAY calm...whether or not she was...and offer her the kind of empathy and validation she needed. Ofcourse, I apologized and we were able to laugh at how ridiculous my expectation was...afterwards.
There are so many layers to that experience, but, the key take away for me was, "parenting is hard work" and we don't get things right even when we're doing our best. But perfection doesn't matter as much as the honest effort we put in.
"Taming Tantrums Together" (TM) is a 5-week program scheduled to launch in January 2020. Designed for parents, this program is being offered as a "pilot" to allow me to learn how to best use web-based technologies to teach the ideas and ways of doing things I have helped parents learn in face-to-face contexts - individually and in small groups - in recent years.
The "piloting" approach fits with the self-management approach to learning I teach parents in my free parent talks and other workshops. Essentially, you set a goal, you choose a strategy, you give it a try (a pilot!), you see how it goes, and solve the remaining problem - the gap between where you are and your chosen goal - by making appropriate adjustments from there. I am using this approach to learn to offer these learning opportunities "online".
So, if you or a parent you know is struggling to manage the chaos and conflict caused by their child's emotional meltdowns - ideally children between the ages of 4 and 14 - this program may be just what they need. Please let them know!
Pre-screening is required for parents to register in this program to ensure that the intensive program is likely to meet the parents' needs. I really don't want to waste anyone's time!
If you have any questions, please get in touch!
It can be tough to get on the same page with our parenting partner - even if we all live under the same roof.
Each parent in a two-parent household comes from their own unique family of origin with their own unique "ways" of doing things. Throughout our upbringing we learn the implicit rules for how to "be" in a family. How to parent. How to father. How to mother. What expectations to place on our children.
And, remember, it's IMPLICIT...which means we may not even really be able to articulate what it is we know to be our truth. Like riding a bicycle :). That is, not until it bumps up against our parenting partner's "different way" of doing things. (Okay, okay, when we bump into it we actually call it the "wrong" way, but, let's be fair!)
In these moments, we may not even know what to ask about why or how our partner is making the choices they're making. And we may not even be able to say why or how WE are making our choices.
What we can do, is discuss our differences with curiosity, empathy, and respect and move towards creating your own way of being a family with some raised consciousness and due consideration.
My daughter introduced me to a YouTube channel, "Smarter Every Day", particularly a video called, "The Backwards Brain Bicycle". In this episode, the YouTuber demonstrates the journey he has been on to learn how to ride a bicycle that is engineered to require him to steer in the opposite direction to the direction he wants to move. It took him 8 months. It took his 5 year old son 2 weeks. It's worth a watch!
The video demonstrates 3 important things about how we learn:
- "knowing" what to do in order to do something does not mean you actually CAN do it - learning takes deliberate, repeated pratice;
- it's easy to slip into 'old habits' and patterns of behaviour that we are trying to move away from, even when we're really keenly interested in changing; and
- because children's brains have more neuroplasticity than the grown-up brain does, learning happens easier and more quickly;
So what does this mean for parents trying to learn to parent with empathy and (reasonable) expectations? It means that just because you know what to do, doesn't mean you will know "how" to do it or that it will be easy to do it - you will need deliberate practice and you will make mistakes and slip back into old habits - that's a normal part of learning. However, the real bonus of your efforts is in how easily your children can learn from you! As you model different ways of discussing and addressing problems that provoke emotional outbursts, your children will learn, likely more quickly than you!
Tantrums are hard. Whether they're the 2 year old variety - crashed to the floor, screaming with arms flailing - or the 12 year old approach - eye rolling, insults and door slamming - they're frustrating to have to deal with, typically resulting in parents losing their cool. The impulsive drive to "DO something" about the outburst usually results in a back and forth pattern and one upset leads to another. Together the struggle grows.
So what's a parent to do?
Much like putting on your oxygen mask on an airplane if the cabin loses pressure - put your oxygen mask on first before trying to help those who depend on you.
That means starting with self-care and then self-awareness of your half of the dance.
Apologies for the 4 day pause in blog posts. Apparently, that 3 day break was just an opportunity for the sinus cold to really take hold! A longer pause was in order, so I took it.
I did this when I was in grade school too. Thankfully, my parents were okay with my taking time off when I was sick.
Sometimes, though, I played hooky...with my parent's permission! Yes, I took the occasional "mental health day" with my parents' permission when I was a student, once I was old enough to be home alone. If there were too many "mental health days" in a row, however, they picked up on that fact and insisted we talk about why I was avoiding school.
Now, to be clear, they didn't hassle me for wanting to stay home, but they did insist we talk about it. And they listened. And if there was a problem to be solved, they helped me address it...and then promptly sent me to school! They balanced empathy with expectations, and helped me solve problems.
To be clear, they weren't perfect - but I didn't need them to be. What I needed was permission to take a self-care break when it was needed and their presence and understanding when I was giving them signals that I needed their help.
How does your child tell you they need your help? What signals do they send your way?