Having close family relationships has been found to lower rates of depression and disease throughout a lifetime. Therefore, family wellbeing is essential during this time of uncertainty. When looking at the emotional wellbeing of the entire family it is important to consider if everyone is comfortable, happy and healthy. This is a situation where it is easy for family members to feel alone and overwhelmed, therefore, family gatherings and conversations are vital.
As a family it is beneficial to set routines. Routines allow children and teenagers to feel safe as they know what to expect. However, while routines help to reduce stress, routine is not enough to create connections and feelings of support. Gathering together allows us to juggle many demands including child-care, self-care, financial and professional responsibilities, in addition to health-related anxieties. Together we can make this time manageable.
Whole Family Time
As we are limiting movement, many families are finding themselves home more often and interacting with their partners and children more than ever before. We are balancing many demands, including adults working and children learning from home. This can be very stressful; however, it is also an opportunity to bond as a family.
As this situation is unprecedented, below are some tips to interact successfully as a family in times of stress, regardless of family configuration.
- Have regular family meetings and check in with how individual members are coping. This could be a great time to discuss what is working for the family and what arrangements or routines may need to be changed. Indeed, we should encourage the sharing of feelings.
- Create routines as a family and work collaboratively to plan each day.
- Establish family rules around respect (of people and things) and cooperation, as in times of stress it is easy to push boundaries and focus on your own needs in that moment disregarding what is happening around you (especially for children).
- Explicitly explain that sometimes individual family members will have to work on their own and disconnect from others for periods of time. This does not mean that they have emotionally disconnected.
- Show your children affection, this could be giving cuddles, or simply providing eye contact and smiling.
- Tell the family that you are proud of how they are handling the situation. Express gratitude daily.
- Show interest in what the family has achieved each day (e.g., completing school tasks) and be aware of each other’s ongoing needs.
- Plan regular one-on-one time with children.
- Ensure you and the family stay in touch with friends and extended family during this time.
Working & Learning from Home
- Ensure children are organised with activities for times when parents or older siblings are busy working, so that they can play/learn independently.
- Clearly explain that breaks from work will happen during the day and that children can have parental attention during that time (rather than interrupting work meetings).
- If there is more than one adult in the house, try to take turns working so that children have time to connect and get their needs met. Alternatively, try to take breaks at different times to ensure adult supervision, even if for a brief period.
- Praise and encourage children when they are independent throughout the day.
- Set up dedicated learning areas to increase children’s productivity and organisation.
- Remember that play is a vital learning tool for children (e.g., roleplaying can assist in giving and following instructions and early mathematic skills depending on the roleplay).
- Reading as a family is also highly valuable in bonding and the development of language and critical thinking.
- Monitor your children to ensure that they are learning but continue to encourage independence.
- Check in with children regularly to ensure they understand school expectations and learning tasks. Be curious about what they are learning and suggest working on difficult tasks together.
- As always, monitor what your child is doing online.
Conversations Around COVID-19
Children can experience high levels of anxiety during the pandemic. While it is tempting to shelter children from the negative things, it is important that children have a safe space to express their emotions and understanding of the world around them. Below are some tips for talking to children about coronavirus.
- Talk to children often and reassure them.
- Stay calm and keep information simple.
- Remind children that while staying at home can be difficult, they are helping the global situation.
- Find out what children already know and allow them to guide conversation about what they want to know or any questions they may have.
- Ask questions and listen to your children to determine how they are feeling and encourage them to talk to you.
- Be aware of any signs of anxiety or distress. This can be difficult as anxiety appears in various ways; this includes anger, difficulty sleeping, defiance, difficulty concentrating, avoidance, over planning, negativity, or extreme mood swings.
- Focus on what we can control (e.g., hygiene and staying indoors)
- Be aware of what children are overhearing – shield young children from news or conversations that may cause anxiety. Avoid having ‘adult conversations’ around children (e.g., about finance, health risks and job security).
- Translate any news into language that young people and children can understand (e.g., a child will not understand what ‘flattening the curve’ means).
- Acknowledge the facts but remain positive and honest.
- Regularly check in with children to determine their understanding and emotional state.
Family conflict is common – siblings and partners fight during everyday life. During an anxiety provoking time this conflict is likely to increase. However, this is a perfect opportunity to practice problem solving and social skills in a way that will make familial relationships stronger.
- Set and remind children of family rules (e.g., “we breathe deeply if we are feeling mad”)
- Praise children when they get along with others and work together
- Allow your children time to solve their own fights, but step in if the fight becomes verbally aggressive or physical.
- Engage children in reflection of the conflict – discuss what the next steps are or what they can do in the future
- Pick your battles – think about whether the argument is truly worth it (e.g., is it worth your energy to ensure that your child makes their bed every day, compared to other activities).
This is a stressful time; however, we have a golden opportunity to connect and bond as a family that we did not have before. By focusing on family, we are modelling to our children how to cope in precarious situations and how to make the most of things.