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How to prepare for extended school closings—and not lose your mind

There is no getting around the fact that this is an extremely stressful time for all of us. There are concerns for our health, of course. But it's not just that.

The ripple effect of the Coronavirus could be vast – impacting our daily life in profound ways over the coming weeks and months.

If you're the parent of a school-aged child, you've almost certainly become aware that the chance of your child's school closing for an extended amount of time is very real. Quite possibly your local school has already been shut down (I just got a call that our schools close tomorrow).


Liz Faria

My background as a social worker with children and families has given me some thoughts on how to best prepare for a situation like this (although the mom in me feels the stress like everyone else!).

For a lot of us, the thought of an indeterminate amount of time at home with our kids – perhaps unable to socialize much with others, and while many of us will be trying to work remotely – well, it's daunting to say the least.

These next few days are a good time to begin to wrap our brains around this likely scenario, and to come up with some strategies to cope with the stresses this will bring.

Here are my thoughts for making it through this quarantine with your kids.

KIDS THRIVE ON ROUTINE AND PREDICTABILITY

Children need routine and predictability in order to feel safe. This is especially important during a time of crisis.

It's one thing to be off of your routine for a few days over the holidays. It's quite another to be off of your routine for an unknown amount of time, without any of the familiar signposts to anchor you (which are readily available during the holidays, and completely absent in our current scenario).

So, this is very important: Create order, with some flexibility, in your days as soon as possible.

WHAT THIS LOOKS LIKE:

Set up a schedule that involves regular times for bathing, eating, school-work/learning activities, and socializing.

Maintain a set time for going to sleep, and the same bedtime routine your kids are used to.

This is not the time to let it become the Wild West at your house. In doing so, you will be taking away the structure and normalcy that will keep your child feeling safe.

There is room for some flexibility – you do not need to be running a military operation from your family room. But a general structure and flow to the day that the kids can expect will help you greatly here.

FOCUS ON SCHOOL WORK IN REASONABLE INCREMENTS

Depending on your child's age, they may have some academics they're expected to keep up with at home. My best suggestion here is to establish a certain time of day (not the whole day!) and a certain place for study at your house. A few hours AT MOST should be sufficient.

If your school hasn't sent home any materials, you will be able to find some great learning materials online. Sheppard Software and Khan Academy are examples of excellent online resources for kids.

Reading with your child, doing hands-on projects, even baking and playing board games can be educational. Again this depends on your child's age. Hopefully we will all be getting a bit of direction from our local teachers, if this quarantine goes on for any length of time.

LIMIT YOUR CHILD'S ANXIETY BY MANAGING YOUR OWN

This is a highly uncertain time on a massive scale. While kids will have varying levels of awareness about the scope of concern over the Coronavirus, they will for sure be picking up on our anxieties.

Talk to your kids about what is going on, without being overly dramatic. Fortunately, we can honestly tell our kids that most children are not becoming very sick from this virus, and that they should be OK.

You can explain to them why we are practicing "social distancing" and use this as a teachable moment in prevention. There is no need to unduly scare our kids, but they should have a general idea of what's going on.

If you and another adult are going to discuss the Coronavirus, be mindful of your child's age and emotional ability to process the conversation they may be privy to. Kids hear EVERYTHING. Except when you want them to listen, at which time they hear nothing.

BUILD IN TIME TO LET OFF STEAM

Let's be honest here, this is going to be stressful. You and your kids are going to be on top of each other, maybe for awhile. Nobody is used to this!

So find ways to let out steam – a loud dance party, a quick run around the block with your kids, a communal yell – whatever! Let. It. Out.

CUT YOUR KIDS SOME SLACK

This isn't the time to be on top of every annoying behavior. Give your kids some grace.

They will need it, and also it's been shown that sometimes the best way to deal with an irritating behavior from a kid is to simply look the other way. Not for the really egregious stuff, but for the small stuff.

Try to ignore what you can ignore, and save your interventions for when you really need them (which, let's be honest, we're gonna need them).

DON'T BE ON TOP OF YOUR KIDS ALL DAY

You will need space from them and they'll need it from you. If you can create pockets of the day for alone time, or quiet / independent time, please do.

TRY TO GET OUTSIDE

Liz Faria

If at all possible, find time during the day to get outside; in your yard, for walks, maybe on a trail.

This is not a natural disaster or war – we're just trying to create social distancing here.

So get some fresh air when you can.

IF YOU'RE WORKING FROM HOME, RELAX YOUR STANDARDS

We all know it is REALLY HARD to work from home when you have the kids with you. It can feel nearly impossible. But a lot of us will be working from home, and if this is a lengthy quarantine situation we have to find ways to make this work. So do what you need to do, here.

You may need to allow more screen time than usual. You may need to accept that the house won't be as clean as you'd like. You might make dinner more basic so you don't have to stress about prep or cleanup.

You have work to do, and that's going to be very challenging with your kids at home. So let some things go, within reason.

ASK YOUR KIDS TO STEP UP TO THE CHALLENGE

Kids like to feel that they have an important role. Help them understand that this is an unusual time and that we ALL need to pitch in to get through it.

If your kids don't have a few chores yet, this is a great time to start. Make it a daily part of their routine, and let them know that they're helping the family out by pitching in.

Also let your kids know that by sacrificing their social and school time, they are doing a great service to other more vulnerable community members. They are helping to keep people safe.

Be on the lookout for ways you and your child can help a neighbor – maybe an elderly person who needs groceries, or the kid next door who doesn't have a solid lunch. Help when you can, and let your child brainstorm ways to help.

This is a chance to model altruism, so take it.

FIND A WAY TO MAKE SOME SPECIAL MEMORIES

As weird as it sounds, there are actually some good opportunities here to make special memories with your kids.

We are in uncharted territory now. I'm almost certain that we will remember this time – and how we came together, or didn't – decades from now. So do your best to find some way to create special moments.

  • Maybe every night the kids get to put special toppings on an ice cream scoop.
  • Maybe you all read together in a tent with a flashlight, to create a sense of adventure and camaraderie rather than fear.
  • Maybe you watch a movie together as a family each night, knowing you can sleep in a bit later (unless you have toddlers, in which case good luck sleeping later).
  • Maybe instead of a regular nightly bath it's a bubble bath with glow sticks around the room.

You get the idea.

Kids love and appreciate magic, and anything that seems "special" or out of the ordinary. So do something to acknowledge that this time is different – and to allow a new, special tradition to take root in your child's mind.

These are the things childhood memories are made of, and despite the fear many of us feel, we do have an opportunity here.

THIS IS GOING TO BE HARD.

But we can do it.

In fact – we have no other choice! It's like being in labor that way. You can't really opt out, and it's going to hurt, but….well, it is the reality of our current situation.

As much as possible, try to think of yourself as a strong leader for your kids (even if you kind of want to puke right now). Step into the role you've been given. Every generation faces hardships, and it is too soon to tell what it is we are up against here. But we can do this.

Reach out to your friends, laugh when you can, and remember that this will pass. And let's help each other out whenever possible.

This article was originally published on A Mothership Down.

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