Thoughts on fostering growth through empathy
- a blog for parents -
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!