So, here we are. Unchartered territories. Over the last two weeks it feels as if the world has shifted on its axis. Phrases which we’ve never used before have suddenly become common currency; “self- isolate”, “lockdown”, “social distancing”. I find myself wondering whether I’ll need to rely on my children to help keep me up to speed with the latest terminology. This brave new world needs its own dictionary.
The work I was doing on Monday feels like a lifetime ago, even though it is less than a week. And the thought I keep returning to is that if I am struggling to make sense of this, it must be incredibly confusing and worrying for young children.
As a parent I have tried to have conversations with my children about the ongoing situation. They’re teenagers, so the conversations I have had with them have been very different from the ones I would have had in their younger years.
But I would still have discussed it with them. Because we know that children are more aware than we think, and they pick up on what is going on around them. Now that providers of all kinds are closing their doors to many, they are bound to be aware that this is not usual and we need to talk about it. If not, they will fill in the gaps for themselves.
So, before we launch into the best way you can support parents, I think it makes sense to talk about how we talk with the ones in the centre of all of this.
Think about their age and level of understanding and talk to them about the virus in a way which they will understand. Most children will have had some experience of being unwell that they can relate this to.
Talk to them about the reasons for isolating socially too and remember to reiterate that home is the safest place to be, and that is why we are staying in as much as possible. We want to keep them safe, but we also need to keep everyone else safe too. That’s why they can’t go swimming, to the party that was planned, or to their friend’s house.
Children may have heard the news or heard adults talking about the virus, and the number of deaths. If your child wants to talk about this, don’t shy away from it. Speak about it openly and honestly.
It’s really important you acknowledge children’s anxiety in all this, it’s a normal emotion in these circumstances. Talk about what helps you if you feel anxious, and ask what might help them. This will help children to understand that their response can be managed.
At the same time, you can ask children to think about what helps them to feel safe, and work together to create a space where they can find security. Extra cuddles and time together will comfort your child and help build their sense of home as a safe space to be.
Over the last few days I have been trying to support and advise heads, teachers, leaders and parents on how to cope in this rapidly shifting landscape. When advice and guidance comes from a range of sources and appears to change on an almost hourly basis, things can feel overwhelming. Here are a few things I have advised, which might be useful for you to share with parents and carers, and to think about for staff.
1. Be kind to yourselves
No one has experienced anything quite like this, on this scale before. And so of course, it will take time for you to adjust and reflect on what it means for you.
If your child is staying at home, you may feel compelled to start home-schooling first thing on Monday morning. I would advise you to stop and think about that.
Press the reset button. Now is the time to spend quality time with your children. They need reassurance and love. Play games, watch a family movie, ask them to help with the cooking, share books, do something new together. Normal rules don’t apply.
There will be time enough for that in the next few days and the coming weeks. So don’t feel compelled to rush it!
2. Don’t try to replicate early years provision at home
Turning a house into a nursery setting isn’t even necessarily desirable, and it’s certainly not possible.
Remember that when children are at school or in a setting, they’re part of a large group. If you try to replicate the kind of teaching which happens there, you’re going to end up putting enormous pressure on your child and yourself, when you are at your most vulnerable.
So take solace in the fact that your child is no longer one of eight, they’re one of two or three, or even a solitary learner and if you do have more than one child, your children will have very different needs according to their age and stage. Whatever approach you take should reflect that. Spend time over the next few days talking to your children.
Their setting may have sent home some work packages or they may be expected to work online at some point. So when you find yourself a minute, it might be worth drawing up a schedule to ensure these things happen. Which brings us onto…
3. Routine is important
Once you’ve taken stock, work with your children to draw up a routine. Don’t make it too rigid or intense. We don’t know how long we are going to be living in this way, so let’s try to avoid pressure and burn-out.
A routine which includes some activity time with a focus and some adult support and input, family time to enjoy shared activities, and some creative and down-time will be helpful. Build in time to talk to your children about how they’re feeling and what they’d like to learn about next.
That’s right, this is a great time to give your children the opportunity to develop their own project and learn about something which really interests them. Children and adults need to just be sometimes. It’s ok to watch children’s television while parents get on with some jobs or home working, and it’s ok for your children to paint and draw, play with their toys or sit with a tablet for a while.
And most importantly it’s ok for you to do this too! Remember to build in time for you, if you’re working from home. You have not failed as a parent if you’re not home tutoring your child between times of 9- 3.30. Routines are important but they shouldn’t be too rigid.
4. Make space
You are spending all your time with the people you love the most. What could possibly go wrong? Well, everything if you don’t allow yourself and each other some space to be themselves.
Allow everyone to have some quiet time as and when they need it. We are not used to being together for days and weeks on end, with very little to do outside the house. If at all possible, try to get outside at least once a day, whilst maintaining social distancing. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, get out into it.
Notice the seasonal changes if you can, find a space to run which is safe and where you can let off some steam. A change of scenery, whilst keeping to social distancing rules, will do you all the world of good.
5. Keep in touch
We may be socially isolated but that doesn’t mean we can’t reach out into the outside world. Make time to catch up on the phone, via skype or zoom, write letters. Let people know you are thinking about them.
Maybe now is the time to get in touch with those friends you’ve been meaning to call, but have been too busy with everyday life to get round to it. With help and support your children could use technology to contact relatives and friends. Staying in is the new going out! Arrange a virtual playdate via Skype or Zoom and let your children connect with their friend and share what they’ve been doing at home.
Above all, remember that this won’t last forever. It can be all too easy to try to see an end point, to think about the “what if’s”. The truth is, we don’t really know what’s going to happen next.
So, try to take each day at a time. Try to have a small goal that you want to achieve for the day. Maybe something as simple as completing a puzzle, tidying that drawer that everyone has in their kitchen (yes, you know the one!), drawing a picture, whatever you like. There are no rules! No one has ever done this before, so you get to make the rules. If you make them to suit you, and your family, and try not to worry about whether what you are doing is the right thing, you’ll probably find the situation much easier to deal with. Remember, we may be isolated, but we are not alone.
Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.