Are you overwhelmed while being quarantined at home, with your children home from school as well? You’re not alone!

Parenting during this pandemic requires more than most of us have ever trained for.

So, if you or someone in your family is sequestered at home and is dealing with children as well, here are a few “tips and tools” offered by mental health experts.

It’s best to focus first on having both parents in agreement on a plan about how daily life will progress. Parental consistency at times like these is crucial. If you as parents have differing notions about the kids and home life, agree to set those differences aside for now. To foster that consistency, you might also have your older children participate with you in setting up a family plan. Here’s how to do it:

1. Parents — sit with one another and plan a daily routine for the entire family, addressing activities, relationships, and specific concerns. The focus will include specific, routine matters, such as Rise and Shine in the morning, and bedtimes at night. Other specific agreements will be about the use of the bathroom, kitchen, and TV, and of sharing computers, cell phones, and iPads, all taking into account the age and needs of each family member.

This plan shall also cover expectations regarding safety measures – such as social/physical distancing, touching and hugs, hand washing, and sanitizing surfaces and packages. These “rules” should be clear and applied consistently.

The family plan should designate which family member(s) and what methods will be used to purchase groceries and other household items. Agree how these items, along with mail and packages, will be handled; designate a staging area to be stocked with disinfectant wipes and delineate methods of cleanliness.

2. After parents and older children have devised the daily family routine, schedule a sit-down family meeting. Begin with acknowledging the difficulties everyone, including in this family, are facing in our world with a “Bad Virus – COVID-19.” Emphasize that men and women who are world experts are working to eliminate the threat of this virus. The COVID-19 virus is bad and scary. And we as a family are doing everything we can to stay safe.

We can stay safe only if we understand and follow the rules. We will begin with a new routine and we may learn things as we go along that require us change that routine as necessary.

Therefore, before dinner we will first share with each other everything we are grateful for in our lives, and that might include offering new ways to be kind and loving.

After dinner, we will have a Family Meeting every day to discuss how everything is going in this special time. We’ll have a special treat for each of us at each meeting.

3. In the Family Meetings, you’re encouraged to invite ideas and observations from each person and discuss them; have one family member take notes. Keep discussion going until there is understanding and agreement on the routine schedule.

Focus should include safety, privacy, school work and parent’s work, play time, TV time, movement/exercise time, game time, and time to just relax.

Encourage and demonstrate specific breathing exercises that everyone can do together or alone. At this time also discuss and schedule activities such as puzzles, making scrapbooks, journaling, playing outdoors, creating fun projects, having scheduled quiet time, and — very important — alone time for Mom and Dad.

4. It’s also valuable to identify and maintain important relationships outside of the immediate family. Plan and later report to each other the connections to those people made with Skype, Facetime, Zoom, phone calls, and emails. Also have children learn to send notes and handmade drawings to grandparents by “snail mail.”

Remember, parents, this is a time of impatience and struggle for everyone, kids and adults alike. In your meeting times together, allow plenty of time for each family member to share their worries and concerns, as well as moments of humor. And offer lots and lots of praise for the good behavior and creative thinking of your kids.

Ultimately, LISTEN, reflect back what you hear, and listen some more. It’s surprising and endearing that children, when given the chance, will suggest acts of kindness for others that are often more sensitive and insightful than we adults have thought of as we struggle with the huge and never-ending challenges of maintaining your family’s physical and mental health. You are heroes.

Francesca Moulinier, MSW, is a Retired R.N. and Director of Community Support Services for Accord Hospice of the White Mountains.

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