We know parents and carers might be worried about balancing working from home with family life, from creating structure to coping with difficult feelings. Below are some tips and advice to help you and your family during these times.
As a parent or a carer, it is tempting to try to shield children from finding out about frightening things. But, the chances are good that they have already heard about Coronavirus – and it’s important to try and answer their questions as honestly as you can, without causing fear or anxiety.
If your children haven’t asked any questions about Coronavirus, you can try to start a conversation with them, allowing them the opportunity to talk to you about their concerns. You could ask questions like: “Have you heard anything about this new bug that is going round?”. Remember to keep your tone casual and light, and try to keep the worry out of your voice and avoid anxious facial expressions. Start by finding out what they know – and by this, we mean, what they think they know. Ask open questions such as “What are the kids at school saying? What do you think about it?”
Listen to your child and try to keep your focus on answering the question they are asking. For example, if your child asks how you catch Covid-19, it may be a good time to talk to them about how germs get on our fingers and into our mouths – and how important it is to wash our hands. If your child asks a straightforward question about the risk of dying, it’s important that you try to give them an honest answer. If you avoid the issue, they could make up an answer themselves and chances are it will be worse than the truth. A good answer might be: “Most people will be just fine, but some people get very poorly and need to go to hospital and sadly, some people will die.”
In particular, make it very clear that children and teenagers are unlikely to get very ill – and could likely suffer with a cough or a sore throat. However, be wary of giving absolute guarantees. For instance, it is very tempting to say “Oh Granny and Grandpa will be fine, I promise!” The chances are that they will be fine, but if they are not, then it might be difficult for your child to trust your assurances in future.
Let your children see that you are taking steps to control the situation – feeling that your parents know what they are doing is very reassuring. An example would be to take your family’s temperature in the morning, and remind everyone in the home to wash their hands regularly. But, try to do these things calmly so that the situation feels under control. Letting your kids get involved in preparations will help them feel in control, too.
Currently, most families are experiencing a lack of routine and structure – and this can make children feel anxious or upset. It can be challenging to find a routine that works for everyone, especially if you’re juggling working from home with taking care of children. A rota or timetable can help to alleviate some of this anxiety. Structure can help children see what’s happening next in the day, look forward to rest of the week and differentiate between weekdays and weekends.
Home is very important right now for working, learning and spending time together. But you don’t have to turn it into a school. Don’t put pressure on yourself to create the perfect curriculum or fill every hour with schooling. Be mindful of what you see on social media and remember that every family is different. If you’re struggling or finding things challenging for any reason, reach out for support and help.
Talk to your children about how they’d like their day to be structured and how that might work with your own responsibilities. Encourage your children to talk about their interests and passions and think of ways to incorporate these with learning. Reassure your child that their school and teachers are there for them, and that they’ll carry on teaching them – but just not in the normal school situation that they’re used to.
Encourage your child to talk to you – or another trusted adult – about how they’re feeling. Remember, this doesn’t always have to be face-to-face – they might find it easier to write their thoughts down. One idea that has worked well with parents, is creating a ‘feelings box.’ Throughout the day, write down any good, sad or difficult feelings that your child experiences, and put them into your box. Take each written feeling out at the end of the day, and talk them through with your child.
For younger children, play can be a great way to help them talk about their worries or give them a good distraction when they’re upset. But not being able to play with their friends can be hard. Now is a great time to set aside time to play together and have fun.
You might notice some changes in your children’s behaviour. Younger children may start thumb sucking or bedwetting and older children may have mood swings and be irritable. You might also notice changes in appetite or sleep patterns. These can be ways your child is experiencing stress. It takes time to adjust to the new “normal” and children may need lots of support and reassurance to help them through it.
Your child might have a very real fear of the people they love and care for dying or getting seriously ill. It can be difficult but it’s okay to have conversations about death. Some young people might be anxious about topics like whether there will be enough food during the crisis. Have conversations about how what they might see in the news or online doesn’t always reflect the reality of the situation. Involve them in food shopping and be mindful of conversations you might have with other adults about your current frustrations around buying food.
News and social media can cause a lot of anxiety. Remind children of the facts and explain what false information is. It’s important to allow your children to ask questions about the things they see online. And if you don’t know the answer, letting them know that some things aren’t certain or known yet, is totally okay.
It’s important to understand the huge impact that missing family, friends and schoolmates can have on children of all ages. Let your child express these emotions and don’t minimise their feelings. The benefits of alleviating anxiety by staying connected to friends and family cannot be underestimated. Technology can be a great way for children to keep in touch with friends and family and can help with feelings of isolation and anxiety. It can also help to take pressure off you as the main carer when you’re trying to balance childcare and work.
If you’re working from home with children, it can be difficult to find a good balance and feel productive. Speak to your employer about flexibility and find out if it’s possible to work different hours. But remember, it’s important not to overstretch yourself, and you should always take care of your own mental wellbeing. Make sure you know about family friendly policies in the workplace that can help to spread the load.
Find a suitable place to work while being close to your children to supervise them. Having a set work space helps the family to know that you’re working. Take regular breaks to rest and relax. Whilst it’s important to have routine and structure, be prepared to adapt and be flexible to suit your family needs.
One of the biggest challenges can be supervising children appropriately. Some older children can be left on their own, but younger children and babies cannot. When your children need you, take time off and return to your tasks later. Give yourself permission to take care of your family and don’t feel guilty for doing so.
Use online resources to help plan your child’s day and take some of the pressure off yourself. Read advice from organisations who are there to support you and your family:
Finally, if you have read this, you are clearly a good parent, and are making your child’s wellbeing a priority at this difficult time. Remember, when they have caring parents, children are incredibly resilient.