I’m writing from my quiet home in Washington DC, where I’ve been steadily working on responses to the COVID19 Crisis for our clients and families. On Tuesday evening, I sent my husband and kids away for some much needed playtime in the country. Knowing that we will likely be sheltering at home for an undetermined stretch of time pretty soon, we opted to make the most of our kids’ impromptu spring break schedule.
While I’ve stocked our house full of food and supplies, I’ve been thinking through some of the changes that we will deal with as a family of six in the coming weeks.
- We will have classes at home in our kitchen and online rather than at school from 8:30-3:30.
- We will have virtual playdates instead of building forts in our family room with friends.
- We will hike in Rock Creek Park with select friends following similar social distancing practices instead of playing on our local playground after school amidst our community.
- We will cook and eat all of our meals at home, INSIDE, TOGETHER!
- The adults in the home will share schooling, feeding and entertaining activities for the kids while trying to be productive in their jobs during our country’s biggest financial crisis in the past century.
- We will work to manage our worry and fear about our families, our loved ones, and perhaps friends or family who have already become ill due the virus or are especially vulnerable to the illness.
- And, we will try to do all of that without losing our cool and maintaining our sanity~
As a family therapist in Washington DC and Bethesda, MD, I am especially aware of one of my main jobs when I work with families—I try to help parents have a framework and plan for solving problems. This job includes a few goals—to help them develop structure for managing conflict and chaos, to create opportunity within problems, and to soothe themselves and their loved ones in the midst of fear and pain. So as I prepare my own family for a month of schooling and sheltering at home, I’m offering some of the tips that I’ve gathered from friends, colleagues, and my own research and experiences supporting families during times of crisis.
- Parents—Stay connected to your support systems! Call you friends and mentors. Take those necessary walks or exercise breaks. Reread your most calming book. Take time to enjoy food with your partner. Have Virtual Tea, Coffee or Happy Hours with your friends. Cuddle with your pet. Talk to your therapist (virtually).
- Visually Post a Daily Routine–Ann Dolin, President and Founder of Educational Connections, published an e-book on 7 Ways to Keep Your Child on Track During COVID-19. This suggestion is one of her top recommendations for schooling at home. We will share it here and on our FB page for all to use. You can find more information about how they are supporting parents/students during this crisis at www.ectutoring.com
- Parents–Give Yourself a Morning Routine! Do not just jump right into emails and work as soon as your feet hit the floor. Try to give yourself a few moments to focus your energy positively. According to all of the mindfulness research, it only takes 1-27 minutes. 1 minute is good enough, 8 minutes is helpful, and 27 minutes is optimal.
- Assign Adults Schedules & Tasks According to Their Strengths: Divide and Conquer! Parents are struggling to do the job of parenting while they are trying to hold onto their actual jobs. Pick what you do best and own it. For instance, I’m a morning person and I’m good at organizing things and people. So, I get the early morning virtual office hours and the mid-morning schooling shift. My husband will share the transition times around meals, and he will do the outdoor playtime, 1-3pm. My sister will take the afternoon slot for projects, art and adventure. If you are limited to only 1 or 2 adults, you can supplement the learning time with some online activities or take your daily walk in the afternoon slot during your kids outdoor time. You might have to schedule more work time during the kids’ reading or nightly fun time.
- Manage Anxiety—What Now? vs. What If? Our anxiety expert for teens, Amanda Good, LICSW, teaches her anxious adolescents to change their anxiety feedback loop. She instructs her teens to notice how anxiety causes them to ask repeatedly “what if” questions, which causes their thoughts to get stuck in a negative loop and keeps them anxious. She coaches them to Approach (rather than Avoid or Attack) their problems by asking “what now” questions. By asking “what now” questions, teens begin to formulate a plan to deal with their problems and worries rather than stay stuck in their anxiety.
- Think Like a Teacher: Teachers are masters at organization, educational props and creating learning environments. We can borrow from teacher’s examples and create learning environments at our dining room/kitchen tables (ideally not bedrooms) by gathering our materials.
- Educational Props: Timer for Ann’s 25/5 Strategy, Whiteboards, Paper/Pens/Pencils, Laptops for Online learning, Learning Packets, Individual Trays/Boxes for Each Child’s Supplies and Work, Earphones or Noise Machines if necessary.
- Social-Emotional Props: These tools help adults notice when kids need a break or need to change the learning activity to match their energy level or behavior. Printouts for Zones of Regulation, Emotions Posters/Printable Worksheet or Emotions Cards. Quick Games for learning breaks (i.e. Uno IQ Puzzler or IQ Fit, Kanoodle.)
- Assess Your Child’s Anxiety & Behavior: Use this time as a way to get to know your child better. If you are concerned with how your child is coping, you can try doing some home activities to address anxiety or perfectionism to see if it helps. This is a good book series.
- To Structure & Support Your ADHD Child: Focus on using Structured activities to support your ADHD child’s learning. When in doubt, make it visual. Use repetition with verbal, visual and written instructions. Here is a list of suggestions that might help.
- Try doing a Morning Map to start your school day.
- Create a 3-Part Plan to solve a problem that your child encounters while working.
- When your child is stuck in a negative mindset about an assignment, write down 3 school/home-work choices and have him/her roll the dice to choose.
- When your child is frustrated about a mistake, give him/her at least one Do-Over.
- When s/he is seeming impulsive or angry, s/he can rate his/her feelings on a thermometer drawing and do a Feelings Checkup.
- When her sibling is feeling annoyed by the ADHD behaviors, have her do an Empathy Check where s/he identifies what the other person might be feeling.
- Check out this workbook for other activities to do at home.
- Lasty, if you are struggling or need more support, know that you can access it. Call a counseling agency or practice and ask for a phone consult to rule out whether you or your child could benefit from some online-counseling sessions. Therapists all over the country are responding to this crisis by shifting to virtual sessions for children, teens, and parents. Professionals are pumping out support and information by the hour. We are there to help provide information and referrals should you need it.