Schools Closing? Tips on How to Promote Family Wellness

As our government and community organizations work to prevent the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 through the cancelling of events and closing of centres including schools, this leads to some losses in terms of how we usually spend our time.

Schools, community centres, and large group events have an important role in our overall well-being. They provide us places of learning, meaningful activity, socialization, and physical activity. All these things are important for both our physical and mental health.

As parents, we are now tasked with finding activities for our children to do during an extended spring break. This may be a significant challenge on several fronts including balancing home and work obligations and supporting children who may have some fear about the events around them.

Should you find yourself spending more time at home with your children over the next few months, we encourage you to plan what to do. Consider choosing activities that can replace some of the important elements school and community events offer to maintain overall wellness. A break from meaningful activities such as work and school, and the disruption of routine can result in feelings of sadness or low mood. So, consider adding elements that involve physical activity, using their minds, being productive, spending time with others, and being creative.

It is also important to develop and maintain a daily routine which preserves a sense of order and purpose. While it may be tempting to just let things happen or slide like sleep schedules, doing that can lead to increased mood difficulties, irritability, and then increased arguments. Routine, eating healthy, and getting enough sleep are important for all of us to maintain our well-being, not to mention our cool. Consider creating a visual schedule for weekdays that resembles the class schedule your children have at school. You can certainly include more fun and soothing activities within the schedule, but having one provides a sense of structure and security for everyone. Here are some ideas for elements to include in your routine:

Physical Activity

  • Engage children in some physical activity every day. Exercise is very good for their physical and mental health (and yours too!).

  • As long it remains consistent with medical recommendations, go outside in your backyard, for a walk, or to the park. Social distancing can be maintained in the great outdoors.

  • If you are able, take a drive to a favourite nature spot for a longer hike or adventure.

  • Some families enjoy geocaching together. Geocaching is like a really big scavenger hunt using your phone or GPS device.

  • Try some family yoga. There are many good online classes you could do together.

  • Dance or engage in movement games. Learn an online dance routine together, have a dance party, or play a movement-oriented video game if you have one.

Using Their Minds

  • See if your school can provide some material to be sent home. There are many online activities that can be used if the school is not able to send work home. If your children are old enough, they can find some material themselves. Self-directed learning can be particularly rewarding. Schedule a regular learning time for the children for them to do this work or other age-appropriate learning tasks. This could also be the time when you are able to do some work from home.

  • Provide them with learning-based games and puzzles. Having both physical games and puzzles as well as virtual ones are important as they require and develop different skills.

  • Older children can be given research projects and presentations to complete during their time at home. This can give them the experience of completing a longer-term project and developing the skills needed for a multi-step assignment.

  • Daily reading time is important for continued learning. While libraries are closed, you might be surprised by what you can find on your own bookshelves or what you can find for free online.

Being Productive

  • There may be projects around the home that you have been meaning to get to but just have not had the time. If your children are old enough, they can help you tackle these projects. Maybe it is cleaning out a closet, sorting through old photographs, or painting a room. This could be your opportunity to get something done.

  • Learning to clean is an important skill for all children to have. It also provides a sense of accomplishment. Think of a new household skill your children can learn this month. If they are not very enthusiastic, consider using a reasonable reward (e.g. extra movie, small toy) for their completion of the task to your satisfaction.

  • Decluttering and letting go of things we no longer use is also another important skill to learn. Kids can be involved in sorting through their rooms to remove anything they no longer need. If this is hard for them, you can give them a reasonable number of items they need to give away. Once they have that number, reward them with a favourite activity. (It defeats the purpose to give a toy as a reward in this case.)

  • Think of ways you and your children can practice kindness and care to those who may be struggling more than you. This can involve making or buying something to donate to others, checking in on older or more vulnerable people that you know, or remembering how social distancing and good hygiene are protecting those most vulnerable. Caring for others helps to make our world a better place and has the added benefit of improving our own mood and mental health.

Spending Time with Others

  • If your family is not in isolation, you can still spend time with others in small gatherings, as long as this remains consistent with health recommendations. Social connection and support are vitally important for our mental health. Before visiting with others, teach children about social distancing (2 meters) and practice what this will look like.

  • If social distancing is not an option that works for your family (children too young) or you are in isolation, use virtual ways to stay connected to important people. There are many options available including phone calls, text messaging, video chat and even group video chat. As adults, you may have many ways that you connect to others using your cell phone or other devices. Make sure your children have some of these options to communicate with their friends and family as well.

  • Do social activities together as a family such as reading a book together, watching movies, or playing games.

Being Creative

  • The internet is full of arts and crafts ideas for children of any age. Take this opportunity to try something new or bring out an old favourite.

  • Sketching, drawing and painting is something we can all try and helps us to use the creative parts of our brain. It can be helpful to focus on the process rather than judging the outcome. It is the act of expression that is important.

  • Making music is another important way to be creative. Continue with music practice if your children already do so. If you have one, pull out the old band instrument and teach your children how to play. If you do not have musical instruments in your home, find a craft that helps you make one out of household items. Then it’s family band time!

  • Writing stories, poems, or other works also activates the creative mind. If children are too young to write, they may be very happy to dictate their creative thoughts to an attentive scribe. Jointly writing a book can also be a fun family activity. This could take the form of each writing a line or some working on the artwork while others on the text.

  • After the story has been written, you may want to turn it into a video. Kids love to see and hear themselves on the screen.

  • Viewing and appreciating others’ creativity can inspire our own. Viewing or listening to the works of new or favourite artists can both improve our mood as well as inspire us to create works of our own.

Emotional Well-being

  • Pay attention to the emotions that may come up for children. Many may have worries about themselves, family members, or the future. It is important to first listen and provide comfort followed by giving accurate, age-appropriate information. Help them to focus on what they can do now and challenge catastrophizing (imagining the worst-case scenarios) thoughts kindly.

  • Be careful not to spend extensive time reading about COVID-19. It is important to stay informed, and certainly things change daily, but in order to maintain our mental wellbeing we need to attend to other parts of our lives as well.

  • As a family, talk regularly about the things you are grateful for. Consider listing three good things about the day at supper time or have an individual or joint gratitude journal. For younger children, this can involve drawing the things they are thankful for. Remembering the good in our lives and day has a positive effect on our mood and overall mental health.

  • There are many mindfulness practices and relaxation strategies suitable for children available as smartphone applications or web-based guided exercises. Both help adults and children manage the physical and emotional stress response. Mindfulness helps all of us keep our attention on the present moment rather than worrying about the unknown future.

  • While many of the above tips may be enjoyable for many people, make sure to take some time to do the activities that your family finds fun. These may not have made this list but are important to include. Having fun is an important part of our emotional well-being and it is even more important to make time for fun when life is stressful.

  • If not in self-isolation, provide extra doses of physical affection, comfort and patience to your children and each other. We are living in a challenging time and so all of us need to give and receive an extra ounce of “Tender Loving Care.”

References:

www.apa.org/practice/programs/dmhi/research-information/social-distancing

www.nctsn.org/resources/parent-caregiver-guide-to-helping-families-cope-with-the-coronavirus-disease-2019