This article has been written by Claire Holmes, Head of School Counselling, Tanglin Trust School
The news of school closure will land differently with each family. The scenario of who is at home and in what capacity will vary. This will undoubtedly bring some lifestyle changes. There may well be some bumpy moments but also opportunities for family unity. This article shares strategies for maintaining wellbeing and making the best of this interim period.
The importance of modelling
Children take their lead from how we deal with situations; they need us to be their steady anchor. Being calm yourself and talking positively about the school closure is important, even if you are not sure how it’s going to turn out. Think about how you can reduce your stress levels to be most helpful. If you are still going to work, let your children know how you are taking care of yourself and staying safe.
Talk to your children about the reasons for school closure
Speak with your children at a time when you feel calm. Let them know that by closing schools we are practicing our community responsibility to stop the virus spreading. Being present focused can be reassuring, saying something like “Everyone at school is helping each other at the moment, staying at home will help us to stay healthy.” Let them know that even though we are not physically together, our community is united in staying safe. Focus on the positives that this new situation may bring, more family time, a slower pace and discuss how time at home can benefit them. Promote peacefulness and cooperation, letting them know that by helping each other and staying calm we can get though things more easefully. Talk about home as a safe place; remind them of all the things that you are doing to maintain safety. You might like to make a family plan together to begin on the same page, discussing what you can all do to make the most this time.
Checking in with each other
The switch to staying at home may bring anxiety for your children. How we respond to worries is key in maintaining wellbeing. Let them know that it is okay to be worried and that they can chat to you about their concerns anytime. Keep the door open for those conversations. Making yourself available to chat when they need will help to reduce their anxiety. Avoid the temptation to tell them not to worry. This minimises their experience and may deter them from sharing with you and increase their anxiety. Instead, normalise, validate and empathise with whatever emotions they are feeling. It may be helpful to have a family ‘check in’ to hear what’s working and what’s challenging. You might like to weave in positive things that you have noticed about each other and sharing things that each family member feels thankful for.
Unwanted or unanticipated change may lead to feeling out of control even for the most flexible and adaptable of children. One way that you can help with this is to offer choices. This helps the child to feel in control in times of change. Try empowering the children with small decisions that impact them day to day e.g. creating their ‘work-station,’ meal planning, movie choices and the like.
Establishing routines will help everyone feel steady. Encourage children to include movement breaks throughout their day and things that help them to relax. Exercising in some way is important as the endorphins released break down the stress hormone cortisol. You might like to try designating zones in the house, a game area, a zen den etc…. and, of course, a dedicated study area which has good light and is comfortable to help with focus.
Choose exposure to news carefully. Select and stick to one or two reliable sources. You might like to view the feeds at the same time each day. Do avoid having news on in the background.
Moderate technology outside of the home learning requirements but be gentle on yourself if the children are having a bit more screen time than usual.
Weave family bonding activities to your routines too. These might be things like planning menus and cooking together, collectively reading a book, family mindfulness, yoga and board games. Find ways to laugh. Sing songs, create ‘learning from home’ playlists on Spotify. Head out to your garden to connect with nature for a wellbeing boost or if that’s not an option try looking after plants, watering, pruning or planting seeds in the house. You might like to create a ‘bucket list’ of things that you’d like to do together and tick things off as you go. Extending this purposefulness further you might like to try things like rearranging furniture, reorganising wardrobes and bookshelves and the like.
Child and parent one-on-one time helps our children thrive and co-operate. Schedule some special time with each of your children and experiment with siblings supporting each other with different tasks as well.
Acknowledge the importance of time alone. Help your children to identify what they can do in their ‘down time’ that helps them to relax. Remember the importance of everyone doing things that make them feel good. You might like to experiment with some new habits that you’ve meaning to try for a while. For your children, this will vary from child to child, some might like meditation, mindful colouring, journaling and reading. For others, art and crafts, spending time with their pets, playing games online may support wellbeing.
Connection is a human need, explore with your children how they plan to stay connected virtually with their friends and extended family members. Think about this for yourself too, stay connected with friends who help you to feel calm and grounded. Do seek support of an online counsellor if you need some professional support.
Making the best of it
It’s important to acknowledge that your work life might not be the same as it was before. Hold this as lightly as you can. Over this period, you may appreciate increased spaciousness and might not feel so guilty about not being busy. It may be that you and the family may even tolerate change more easefully from here on in.
Notice what’s working for you and your children and do more of it, spot times when you notice them co-operating, supporting each other and compliment them. When ‘bumps in the road’ present themselves, know that these are moments of learning about how to co-exist peacefully in this new set up. Be compassionate with yourself and know that it doesn’t all have to be perfect. There will be plenty of teachable moments when you can ask yourself “What can we learn from this?” Reflecting in this way helps you to navigate these ‘bumps.’
This situation may afford you the opportunity to look at what’s important for your family, to find some grace, emotional generosity and kindness with each other that will strengthen the family unit moving forward. This is a good time to remind ourselves of our shared humanity, to appreciate our communities’ resilience and strength in the face of adversity. There is something reassuring about getting though this together as a team.
Dr. Suzanne M. Anderson is a mental health counsellor and crisis responder and trainer in Singapore.