As we go into April 2020, families across the UK and indeed the world find themselves in uncharted waters as the lockdown continues. Our worlds have all been turned upside down as we batten down the hatches to wait for new developments on this global pandemic Covid-19. Parents across the nation are facing new challenges as they juggle home schooling, working from home or perhaps a complete loss of income. These new pressures have been applied over the space of a couple of weeks with no warning and the uncertainty stretches ahead with no definite end date. Fears about putting food on the table, paying the rent and the welfare of family members who live elsewhere are all compounded as our four walls become our only vista.
We Are All in this Together
At a time when we are told “We are all in this together”, for some, this could not feel further from the truth as relationships become strained with these new challenges at home. It is important to remember that the lockdown reality is a different experience for everyone. A family with four children stuck in a flat with no outside space will endure hardships and challenges far beyond that of a family in suburbia with a large garden. People’s financial situations are changing on a daily basis too, with businesses closing temporarily across the nation and the streets becoming eerily quiet.
So What Can We Do to Ride the Storm and Stay Sane?
We are lucky enough in this country to live in an era of advanced technology, with instant access to information and online communication possible for most. Our televisions and news feeds are swamped with ‘helpful’ advice on how we should all be managing this, but this can be overwhelming and unrealistic advice for a lot of people.
We know we should all be forming a routine, keeping fit from the front room and schooling our children with the patience of Mary Poppins. The reality of the past two weeks is that we may have all started with the best of intentions; beginning the day with a Joe Wicks work out with the kids at 9am (love him or hate him!), followed by a couple of hours of school work. Most of us are not teachers and the daunting task of solving a year 9 maths problem with a bored teen, whilst a younger sibling is firing nerf bullets at your head, have certainly worn a little thin. For some, you may be attempting to work from home too or perhaps your partner is a keyworker working long shifts on the front line. We all hold the fear that we or someone close to us will contract the virus and become very ill.
So, the point of this post is not to give you advice on the practical side of our situation, we feel sure you have had plenty of that. One of the key things we want to get across is the importance of nurturing and maintaining relationships, particularly with your children.
Communication – Listening to your Children
Whatever age your children are, if they are living with you or not, they need your listening ear and your patience now more than ever. Don’t make them feel like they are the problem, that they are reason everything is going wrong. Make the time to listen to them, allow them to express their fears and worries, answer their questions with a balance between sharing the facts without frightening them and explain things in a way that is appropriate for their age. This is not the time to enforce a new set of rules or devise punishments around their behaviour.
Children Aged 4 and Under
For younger children, aged 4 and under, there will be limited understanding of what is happening and why you are all at home. However, they will certainly pick up on atmosphere, your worries or frustrations over work and money will filter through to them and will cause confusion and emotions they don’t understand. There could be a tendency to play up or do naughty things to gain your attention, particularly if you are trying to focus on work and constantly shushing them whilst you are on the phone. They will miss the interactions with their peers at nursery and the trips to the park to meet with friends that are now out of the question. You may see increased tantrums in your children this age and the way that you deal with this must be with increased patience and understanding. Do not react with anger or shouting.
Children Aged 5 to 11
Children between the ages of 5 and 11 years old, will have more of a grasp on the situation, but with the increased understanding comes more likelihood of anxiety and worry. Children this age will miss their school friends and the routine of the school day. At the start of this, they may well have been excited by the prospect of school being closed but after a week or two this will have been replaced with loneliness and boredom. This age group will be likely to worry that a parent or a family member will catch Coronavirus and die, they will want to ask questions about death and may have fears over their own mortality.
Teenagers 12 to 18 Years
Teenagers may become more withdrawn and should be coaxed to join in with family games or activities, even if it is just helping to cook the dinner. If they just stay in their rooms glued to social media and screens they could become withdrawn and depressed.
For many teens they are also going through the added upheaval of having their exams cancelled. GCSE, AS Level and A level exams will now not be taking place leaving many feeling directionless for the next 5 months. Results will be based on a combination of coursework, mock results and expected grades. This age group will also be missing their mates; the get togethers, parties and outings that they would usually be enjoying.
Take the time to sit with them and talk about anything they want to, help them with school work that has been set and encourage them to focus on that for part of each day.
The Importance of Routine and Structure
Children of all ages thrive and manage the best when they have a structure to their day, this is purely so they know what is coming next. Whilst you will not be able to keep as tight a structure as a full school timetable, doing the same things at certain times of the day will help. At the time of writing this we are all still permitted some time out of the house for exercise with household members. This can be built into the routine and proves to be very beneficial for everyone’s mental health including the parents. Going on a walk after lunch as a family can help to blow the cobwebs away and get everyone off their screens.
Staying in Touch With Family and Friends
Children will find it comforting to stay in touch with Grandparents, other family members and carers with calls or video calls. You can make this regular and even play simple games together by setting up a video call with a board game or card game. Remember that this is also very important for grandparents too, who are most likely more restricted in their movements than others. Older children should be encouraged to stay in contact with friends and peers with calls rather than just texting.
Birthdays Under Lockdown
There is nothing worse for kids at this time than to have a birthday party cancelled. With a bit of creativity, you can try to help them celebrate; set up a Zoom meeting for them with their friends or perhaps contact parents to get them to send video messages from all their friends. Some people have arranged for all the neighbours to come out of their front doors and sing Happy Birthday at a certain time. Anything you can do to make your child feel they have not been forgotten will help to brighten up their day.
Many parents will also be thinking about rearranging parties for their children to celebrate when we have come out of lockdown. This will give them something to look forward to, buying online vouchers for experiences that can be enjoyed at a later date are also a good idea.
Separated Parents and Children With Two Homes
Many separated parents will be managing this alone with no other adult on hand to ease the burden. Some who practise shared parenting schedules may have found these routines have been disrupted by the current circumstances. This will be very hard on the children if their routine of seeing both parents is broken. Encouraging contact with the other parent is vital for your children’s mental well-being. This is not the time to take out anger and frustration on your ex and refuse them this access.
If you are managing to keep the children moving between the two houses, the communication between you as parents is all the more important. School work and books will need to be transferred and for younger children each parent will need to know where they have got to in the schedule of set work.
Whilst we are all cooped up together, it is easy to let tempers fray and frustrations get the better of us. Practising patience is probably the thing that will hold families together; find empathy for other family members or children and try to see that their behaviour might be due to the stress and uncertainty of the situation rather than just belligerence.
A moody and sullen teenager may be experiencing real emotional difficulties from being separated from a boyfriend or best friend, rather than just being ‘difficult’. A tantruming toddler will be confused by the change in routine and the tension in the house over money – be patient and be kind.
Families come in all shapes and sizes these days, with stepfathers and mothers parenting children with half brothers and sisters. Of course, there will be tensions at times, but try to stop and practise a pause before you react to something. Respect everyone’s own space, so if someone needs some alone time they can have it.
See the Positives
As hard as it may be during these difficult times, try to see the positives that these circumstances have brought us. Yes you will have financial worries, but if you are a parent who is usually at work all the time, see the positives that you can spend this time at home focusing on and getting to know your children better. You will never have had so much time to do things with them and help them with their schoolwork. If your children are pre-school age you can make the most of having creative play time with them. But this is not to say that you need to try to do too much, be kind to yourself too, don’t put to much pressure on yourself to make everything perfect or teach them as well as their real teacher would.
What they will remember from this time is how they felt. Did they feel a loving connection with you? Did they feel heard and understood? Did you all have fun and laugh together as a family?
Focus on what you can do together and not on what you can’t do.
Online Mediation Services
As professional mediators we understand the extra pressure on families and separated parents at this difficult time. Our mediation services are still available and we can conduct MIAMs and mediation via video link, Skype, Zoom and Whatsapp. If you are having difficulties in resolving differences on your separation or arrangements for children, then please do give us a call to find out how we can help you. Call Frances on 07889 039393 today.