I have been thinking a little bit this morning about what possible advice I could give parents /carers during self-isolation. Here are my thoughts:
1) Look after yourself.
May seem an unusual first bit of advice but you must look after yourself. You play a central role in your child’s life and they will be looking for you for love, security and reassurance.
Your children are like mirrors of your mood and feelings. As we spend more time together they will begin to notice your changing moods, stress levels and anxiety. Talk to your children about how you are feeling and share with them the powerful message that emotions are part of life and it is good to talk about them.
If you need a break then have 5 minutes break whilst your children are engaged in something and safe. Find someone to talk to on the phone and try and focus on the day to day and enjoying time with your family. It is has always been part of my philosophy to focus on things in my circle of control. So try to avoid social media and the confusing and contrasting information on there as much as possible. Focus on your children, your family and your friends. Think about what you can to support your family, extending family and friends and then others who may need your help. Check in with people via phone or message to make sure they are ok.
2) Do not put pressure on yourself
This is not a competition for “best parent/carer of the year” and none of us are absolutely perfect parents at every moment. All you can do is try your very best and be there for your family. That in my opinion is all you need to do. Be the best you can be and support all of the people around you.
One of the key thinkers behind my philosophy and the ethos of Busy Bodies is Abraham Maslow. He created a theory of hierarchy of needs which you can see below. You need to achieve one stage of the pyramid before you can move up to the next one and the goal is the top of the pyramid – Self Actualization. When you look at the Hierarchy of Needs you quickly discover that for your child to learn and develop and be the best they can be; as parents we can not forget the simple things. Are your children feeling physically and emotionally safe? Have they had enough to drink and sleep? Have you spent time with them and told them how much you love them today? Have they spoken to their extending family or friends and family via Skype or Messenger? Lots of things to think about but start at the bottom of the pyramid and work your way up.
3) Maths, language and learning is everywhere
Let your child take the lead when it comes to learning and activities. That is what we do at Busy Bodies. At home I have created a very similar ethos to what I have created at home. We have 1 or 2 focus (adult led) activities each day like a task or craft. This can be anything from painting and craft activities, to garden games, cooking, going for a walk (if safe to do so), or anything. Spread these activities out during the day so you are not doing everything in the first hour and then run out of things to do. The other key way my home is now like Busy Bodies is that I let my daughters lead and explain what they would like to do. My one daughter has all of sudden got into garden birds and we are trying our best to tempt them into the garden so we can see them and try to work out what type of bird they are. As I do not know anything about birds we have been researching on the internet all the different types of birds we might be able to find. We are making a bird feeder and a check list for the birds (hopefully) we are going to see. That is just an example, but whilst you are at home sit and observe your child. What are they currently focused and interested in? Build on this and join in.
Another thing I recommend is developing long term projects. This could be a big piece of paper that you can add drawings to every day. This picture will then grow and develop over the days and by the end you will have a lovely big piece of artwork. Also Lego projects are great and can be continued over multiply days. The advantage of these is that they provide an activity that children can work on day after day. It means they focus on something and consider what they did yesterday and what they might do tomorrow.
You do not have to be teaching all of the time and especially at a desk (unless that is what your child has chosen). Learning happens anywhere and everywhere as long as your child feels safe, secure and loved.
In the bath, garden, whilst we brush our teeth, cooking dinner, everywhere and at any time of the day you can be widening vocabulary and talking about a wide range of different subjects. I have learnt more about garden birds in the last two days than I thought imaginable and so has my daughter. We are learning together and whilst it may not have been on the school curriculum it is still learning.
Remember – you are, and always have been, your child’s primary educator. You know your child better than anyone so be flexible and adaptive. I would not recommend making an hour by hour plan as this is to rigid and adds pressure that you do not need. What we have is a to do list. We sit down in the morning and discuss as a family what we would like to achieve or do that day. We then all work together throughout the day to achieve what we have put on the to do list but if we don’t achieve it we can just move it to the next day.
4) Try and get outside as much as possible
Being outside has so many health benefits and is great for both physical and mental health. If you are lucky enough to have a garden no matter what size it is then try and use it. The possibilities are almost endless in a small garden. Just let them explore and play. Also encourage big movements and physical activities where possible. Being stuck in the house all day does not allow for much running, climbing, jumping so get outside and do these things. You can find lots of activities and things online and on YouTube you can find exercise classes and yoga (Cosmic Kids). Take the tablet outside and you can all do some exercise or yoga together.
5) Check in with your child emotionally
If you think how anxious, stressed and uncertain you feel at the moment remember that your children are feeling some if not all of the same things. They have had a sudden change of routine and now doing things differently. They may not be able to do the things they used to enjoy doing (swimming lessons, going to the forest, etc) anymore and they do not understand why. Nobody knows your child better than you and you will recognise the signs of when your child is not quite right or struggling. Depending on their age and development, some children may be cuddlier, some children may want to be alone, some children will ask lots of questions or say they have a physical problem (such as a poorly tummy) to signal they are not feeling right. Be there for them emotionally and support them through this unknown time. It is easy to spend time with someone without actually connecting with them and being there for them emotionally. Being in the same room is not the same as being there for someone. You need to be using your active listening skills to really listen to what your child is saying and therefore feeling.
Check in with your partner and wider family (via video message) in much the same way. We have all gone through some big changes in a small amount of time and we are all dealing with it in our own unique ways. Check in with others to ensure they are ok and check in with yourself from time to time. Be honest and open about how you are feeling and recognise when you need help or someone to talk to. Look after yourself.
(Finally) Enjoy the time with your family.
In these crazy times it is easy to focus on the negatives and think about what we can no longer do. Instead what you can focus on is one of the few positives and the one thing you can do. That is spend time with your family, day in and day out for the foreseeable future. You can do all the things you have not had time to do before and you can spend hours and hours with your children and family. When we get through this we will never forget this time we spent at home and I want my daughters to remember it as fondly as possible. We are making memories every day and becoming closer as a family every moment.
Let your focus be on taking care of each other, love and supporting each other and do not forget to take care of yourself ... physically, emotionally and mentally.