As we begin to accept the new reality that we are facing regarding the social distancing and self isolation, many of us are struggling with how to handle having everyone at home all day, every day. This is not what we do, right? We are used to sending our children to school for the day, while we go to work. We don’t think about filling every minute of their day. Quite suddenly, our kids are home with “nothing to do” and we find ourselves with a new parenting challenge: finding ways to keep them busy, entertained and not killing each other for what will surely be weeks (and maybe longer).
No doubt that many of us are counting the minutes until bedtime when we will not have to hear “I’m hungry”, “She’s bothering me”, and of course, “I’m booorrred!”
So, how do we keep everyone from going crazy? And, perhaps more importantly, how can we help our children to grow from this experience?
When school was cancelled, I’m sure that many parents witnessed a unique kind of happiness that might have included jumping in the air, huge smiles on their faces while popping bottles of champagne.
“No more school! We can do whatever we want!”
While children may be have been excited about this at first, very soon are complaining that they are bored. The whole day watching movies and “doing whatever we want” isn’t as awesome as they thought just a few days ago. And the reason for this is simple. Children need structure.
Children thrive on a proper schedule that is predictable. And when our children thrive, we all thrive.
Children often fear the unknown. Changes and stresses impact a child’s life and sense of security. These things can lead to long-lasting negative effects.
When a child (and the whole family) has an established routine, comfort due to familiarity is present in the child’s life, no matter what is going on around him. With the uncertainty that we are experiencing right now coupled with the social distancing and isolation, this is so important now more than ever.
The antidote to bored – is a structured routine. A schedule to follow that maps out the day will go a long way toward calm and peace in your home. When children know what to expect from hour to hour and from morning to afternoon, their stress and anxiety are reduced considerably.
Having spent over a decade as an addiction counselor and life coach, I helped many of my clients overcome addiction and self-destructive behaviours by helping them set a proper schedule for themselves. A schedule that helps occupy their day with activities that are productive and enjoyable can get someone through the toughest of times. The same hold true for anyone in the midst of an experience that is unusual, uncertain or uncomfortable.
Here are some tips on how to create a schedule for each of your children.
- Sit down privately with each child and explain the importance creating a schedule
- Ask what types of fun activities he/she would like to include daily
- Ask what types of learning are important to keep up with (your child’s school has likely sent schoolwork or have online classes set up for part of the day)
- Explain the importance of sharing the responsibility among all family members to keep the house in order and ask which daily chores he/she feels they can help with.
- Schedule all mealtimes together with the whole family. Most families are not able to sit down together for meals in our normal life, so this is one of those silver-linings. Now is our opportunity to enjoy quality time sitting down together as a family.
- Add a time slot for a scheduled family game.
- Include time for exercise. This might be as simple as going outside (even if just in the backyard) and getting some fresh air or it might be finding classes online. There are so many different options for fitness classes being offered right now and it’s a great time to try something new.
- Find out if there is a hobby that they would like to take up. Take the opportunity to learn to play an instrument or learn how to draw cartoons. As above, there will be great resources online to tap into for just about any hobby you can imagine.
Set up a phone time for your child to call at least one friend every day…video or voice chat. Keeping in touch with their friends over the phone can help prevent them from feeling socially isolated.
It is important to involve the child as much as possible in the decision-making process and creation of their own schedule. Doing this allows the child to buy into the idea. They are not being “forced” into this, but rather it agreed upon schedule that they have “made themselves”. The sense of ownership (and hopefully pride) will make it more likely that they will follow it.
Print up the schedule and hang it in a place that they can always refer to when they want to know what comes next.
Offer incentives for keeping to the schedule. These do not need to be expensive or lavish gifts, just something they can look forward to that they have earned. You can add boxes next to each item on the schedule and have them put a sticker in each box when they complete it. When they look back and see a completed chart it will encourage them and give them a sense of pride in what they have accomplished.
If you have any questions on this or would like help in creating schedules for your family, I would be happy to set up a time to talk over the phone. Just send an email to [email protected] and we can schedule a time.
Shmuel Rosenberg is the Supervisor of the Chai Lifeline Canada Family Services Department. He helps lead the team of case managers and the volunteer department. As a case manager himself, supports families as they navigate the struggles of dealing with serious illness in the family and advises them on how to discuss it with children.