How to Keep Your Sanity and Continue Liking Your Kids While in Isolation

by Monette Anderson | Mar 24, 2020
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Learning that our school, and many others in the state and nationwide, were shutting down until the end of April to aid in the fight against COVID-19 was unsettling. I have the privilege of being able to work remotely for the coming six weeks. I realize others are navigating more complex waters to arrange alternate childcare while reporting to work, or managing kid’s schedules solo while a co-parent continues to work outside the home. With that said, like many parents, finding our household suddenly responsible for our child’s daily education, with little opportunities for outside social interaction, while maintaining our usual work output and productivity, left us reeling!

Luckily, I have a parenting ace up my sleeve. One of my close friends is Dr. Shirin Sherkat, a parent strategist, child-whisperer, and as her book suggests, an expert on how to Create Happy Kids. Unsure of how to proceed, and needing advice, I reached out to her for some tips on how to navigate this unfamiliar terrain. I decided to capture our conversation, knowing our community might also benefit from her advice.

MA: When we emailed this week you said you had five general tips you could share about how parents can survive isolation, and still like their kids. Will you share those with us now?

Dr. Sherkat: Create Happy Kids is about creating happy parents. I know these are stressful times, but with these tips, you can survive this crisis with less stress, and help your children become better off as well. I would note that these tips are mostly applicable to families with children between the ages of one to 12. I know there are many great resources right now focusing on how parents can manage their time working remotely and maintaining some productivity. My tips are meant to focus on the general well-being of your kids and helping families manage their stress during this time.

  1. Practice self-care and coping first. Managing and keeping your anxiety in check is important because children are uber-observant and tuned into their environments. It is important to model good coping and stress-management skills. So spending some time meditating, organizing, exercising, calling friends and family and other methods of self-care will serve as a great model for your kids. Have video chats with friends, for example. Social distancing shouldn't mean social isolation.

    To this point, I would also stress that it’s important to limit the news and media your children are seeing. Under the age of eight, most children don’t understand what words like pandemic, mortality, or fatality, mean. These words are being used liberally in the news and media right now, and children don’t fully understand what they mean, but they do understand the tone and dark images. They will have many questions, and it’s important to address these questions with age-appropriate responses. In general, protect them from the details and reassure them.

  2. Create quality and fun time. This is a great chance to reconnect with your kids, and make your relationship even stronger. Be sure your day includes play, games, and family time. Eat meals together, get lots of cuddling time in, and engage in fun activities. Get fresh air and get creative with arts and crafts. Cook together. Play music. Get silly!

     

  3. Create structure and routine. Why is it important to have a structured day and a schedule for kids? Routine provides predictability. Predictability gives kids a sense of security. Security gives them stability and hope. They feel as if they can predict, and in a sense, control some things when there is structure. We need them to feel stable and safe. For example, make a visual schedule for meals, some activities, play, schoolwork, chores, bedtime routine, etc. Working from home would give some parents a chance to model this. The kids see your schedule on the wall (or the fridge) next to their schedule and this may help them normalize the situation.

    Note
    : Please don’t go overboard with being too strict with structuring and scheduling. Some kids need more routine, some need less. If you and your kids stress more about sticking to a very strict schedule, that won’t be helpful. Use your discretion. Adjust and adapt as you go. Exercise some flexibility as needed. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing!

  4. Create new healthy habits. New rules and limitations shouldn't lead to extreme isolation and unhealthy routines. It is more important than ever to model a positive attitude and try to have fun and create a positive energy. This becomes more important the longer your family is social distancing at home.

    Even if you are teaching the new precautionary measures like hand washing, and social distancing, you can create fun and silly little games to demonstrate. With younger kids, sing songs for hand-washing (20 seconds long) and create other fun and silly games to take the edge off. You can use a reward chart for kids to help them follow those healthy habits consistently. If possible, video chat with people that your kids shouldn’t be seeing right now, such as grandparents and higher-risk family members.

    Outside time can be fun and does not need to be discouraged either! Kids don’t have to be limited to being indoors only. Children with access to safe outdoor areas are encouraged to play outside as long as all new precautionary measures are taken.

  5. Model responsibility. While working from home, your children may be seeing their parents in a new light. Having children schedule chores, and homework around overlapping times when you are working and attending meetings can be enlightening. It gives kids a sense of responsibility to see that everyone is working and pitching in. I think the most important thing you can do is create balance and manage your expectations. You are going to have to prioritize, pick your battles and realize that some things are going to fall by the wayside. This is a great opportunity for kids to also learn to prioritize and manage their time. With older kids, maybe age eight and up, this an excellent time to include them in charity work, such as making donations or shopping for the elderly in your community. If you are in a position to do so, find ways you can help others, and now is a great time to encourage kids to participate.

MA: This is all great. What are other references or resources I can look to right now?

Dr. Sherkat: Right now, there are so many good homeschooling references and virtual tours of zoos, museums, and gardens. You can take a virtual tour of the Louvre, Yellowstone National Park, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium! Taking a virtual field trip is a great way to break up the schedule and have fun in a new unexpected way.

MA: Let’s talk about space. I live in a small townhome and now have three people home all day! Do you have any tips for navigating that, how do we all maintain our own space in tight quarters?

Dr. Sherkat: We also have many multi-generational households! With the higher risk and safety concerns of grandparents or elderly relatives, your space may be more limited with family members further quarantined to areas of the home for their own safety. This creates even less space for kids to run around, but having their own space is important.

Psychologists agree that children love forts! I know it seems counterintuitive to create a smaller space within a larger space to give kids their own space, but a fort, from a child’s perspective, carries special value and security. Let your child use their imagination or find fort-building ideas online. They will happily spend time in a fort reading books, listening to music with headphones or watching a movie. Having a space just for them can be so morale boosting and creates a motivational tool for parents with time children can look forward to after finishing chores or completing schoolwork.

MA: What would you say to parents who are really worried about how to navigate screen time right now? I have seen many articles suggesting letting go a little, to help you get work done. Do you have any additional thoughts or tips on that?

Dr. Sherkat: I have three pieces of advice around this issue:

  1. Supervise them and ensure screen time is not including unsupervised social media. Being able to access apps without the Wi-Fi connected is a great solution. With older kids doing homeschooling and interacting with their computers during large parts of the day, it can be easy for them to access internet sites, YouTube, and other entertainment. Make sure you are supervising this. Some pop-up ads can contain imagery or links to content that is not age appropriate. As mentioned above, it also is essential to limit their access to the news at this time.
  2. Gauge your child’s needs. Every child is different. Limit screen time, balance it with other things, and be sure to integrate it with outside time or other activities to create balance.
  3. Use it as a motivator for when they finish less desirable tasks. For this to be successful, you have to have control over access! If kids have unlimited access, you can’t use it as a motivational tool. I would like to emphasize, if you find that safe, healthy, and educational entertainment is keeping them engaged and they are balancing it with other healthy activities (such as time with family, hobbies, being outside, healthy eating and exercise), then pick your battles and be more flexible. Giving them an extra hour might help you get your work done!

MA: What about those bad days, the ones where things are not going according to plan. I think of past prolonged snow closures where everyone hits their breaking point! What advice do you have for those days?

Dr. Sherkat: First, understand that it is normal, and it’s going to happen. It does not make you a bad parent any more than it makes your children evil offspring. Accept it, expect it and actually, expect more of it! Kids are good at noticing the level of anxiety and stress in their environment and this crisis is the mother of all stressors. This is a global level of stress and is beyond what most adults have ever handled. The most important thing you can do right now, is be aware of your own stress and anxiety level and manage your expectations. Bad parenting moments are going to happen. Cut yourself some slack, cut your kids some slack and show extra compassion. These are not normal times.

Your children might be confused by their own reactions, overreactions, or outbursts too! It is important that children have some outlet to talk about their emotions. Give them a platform to talk about it and if they are having trouble articulating, I cannot emphasize art therapy enough. Encourage some other medium of expression. Art and play can be invaluable to draw or express what they may be feeling to help self-soothe and process what they aren’t able to process verbally. You don’t have to be a therapist, doctor, or clinician to help your child have that cathartic experience through art therapy. You don’t have to analyze it, or talk about it, just let them create and process.

MA: I keep thinking, what about when we go back to “normal.” My son hasn’t been used to having both parents home all day and being out of school this long. Is there anything I can do to make sure the transition back to school and back to work goes smoothly?

Dr. Sherkat: Kids are more resilient than we think. If we tell them what to expect and talk with them about it, they’ll likely go “Okay!” and just move on. Going back to school will likely be something they will look forward to. Don’t let anxiety over what is going to happen later or down the road ruin what you have now.

Shirin Sherkat Psy.D.Shirin Sherkat, Psy.D., is author and founder of Create Happy Kids. You can contact her here.





Monette Anderson_web_150x224Monette Anderson is WSCPA Director of Membership. You can contact her via email or 425.586.1118.

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