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The Ultimate Lockdown Survival Guide for Parents

by Teresa Borg

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Daughter playing with mother

If you're feeling overwhelmed as a parent right now, rest assured you're not suffering alone, and there are many others like you yearning for schools and child care centres to re-open again. Self-isolation has put an extra strain on each and every household; daily routines are rattled and all parents and caregivers are stuck at home trying to retain their sanity and make things work. Don't let the current situation drive you crazy!

How can you work from home and simultaneously take care of your children? Families are now spending every minute of the day together and the only social distancing you're not doing anytime soon is from your kids. Thus, there definitely need to be some rule changes around the house. After all, these extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.

Here are the most important tips which family therapists from all over the world have been offering to parents in distress:

1. Communicate together

This is the key to survival. Speak up about your needs, the challenges you're facing and your expectations as a parent. Daily or weekly family meetings will help keep each family member on the same page and stress hormones balanced.

Do try to explain to your kids what's currently going on in Malta and around the world. If your children understand why they can't go to the playground or visit their grandparents, they'll be less frustrated and will show better behaviour.

2. Set realistic working hours

Working remotely may be more productive for some, but not in the case of parents who have children nagging them every couple of minutes. Be realistic about the actual number of hours you can work from home and make your boss aware.That way you'll be entrusted with a lighter workload. Parents may even decide to work in shifts so they won't need to split their attention between work and the kids. Taking it in turns will give one half precious time to get work done and the other half a chance to give undivided attention to the kids. 

3. Develop a routine

It's very easy to get on each other's nerves when locked inside a small space. You can reduce uncertainty levels and instil a sense of order in your household by setting a daily routine. Routine is something on which we rely a lot as humans, and while the current routine is totally messed up, a new not-so-strict plan needs to be established, both for the sake of the adults and the kids. Make sure you include a good mix of educational and fun activities, chores and downtime to keep boredom at bay and your kids as active as possible.

4. Opt for personalised learning

Don't feel pressured in taking on the teacher's role. Your first priority as a parent is after all to take care of your kids' mental and physical health. Although teachers are sending learning materials and it's a good idea to integrate them in your child's schedule, focus also on personalised learning. This time can be used for kids to learn through play and grasp fun skills, such as cooking and gardening. By accomplishing more things, kids will feel less frustrated and more productive!

5. Make chores a fun family activity

Since kids are at home all day, it's essential that chores are shared. One way you can get your kids to help out is by making them as fun as possible. Put on lively music, joke around, and your kids will start looking at chores as a fun family activity, not as a boring duty.

6. Let children play on their own

Don't feel compelled to keep your kids entertained every hour of the day. Put forward a diverse range of opportunities and let them experiment. Kids will learn to find new ways they can have fun using their boundless imagination when bored, and free play will also boost their creativity.

7. Organise virtual play dates

We're all social beings and even children feel the need to interact with others and retain their social connections. Set up online play dates with their friends and give them the space they need to interact without any interference from your end. Video calls with close relatives will also help them stay in touch with family.

8. Find new ways to stay physically active

While extracurricular activities are on hold, you need to find new ways your kids can maintain their physical and mental wellbeing. Hide-and-seek, dance sessions, bicycle rides on the roof or in the garden and family fitness classes will boost both the parents' and the kids' moods and hold off frustration.

9. Manage screen time strategically

Online games, TV, video calls… screen time can get out of hand if not managed properly. Identify those time slots in which you need to get things done or when you need to rest, and restrict time on digital media to these slots. It's not the end of the world if screen time has increased during isolation, but always make sure you set time limits.

10. Come up with a number of fun family projects and activities

Family fun is a great way to connect with each other and strengthen the bond with your children. Organise movie nights, cooking sessions, game nights and small renovation projects to keep your household as happy as possible.

11. Go outside

Although it's advised that you stay home as much as possible, immersing yourself and your kids in nature is a great stress-reliever. As long as you avoid public places and respect social distancing, a bit of fresh air is beneficial for everyone.

12. Find some alone time

This may sound impossible with a bunch of kids running around the house, but it's vital if you want to keep your sanity while in a full household. One way you can achieve this is by creating defined spaces dedicated for work, free play and downtime. Don't use this quiet time to clean or tidy up; do that together as a family. On the other hand, find an activity which refreshes your mind; be it a yoga session, a slow bath, or reading a book. Self-care is more precious during these demanding times.

13. Dedicate time for your partner

These times are stressful for each and every one of us. Working and living under the same roof can lead to intense disgruntlement amongst parents. Rather than being vexed, make an effort to do random acts of kindness, show appreciation and listen to each other to strengthen your relationship.

Practical tips from a Maltese mummy of 3

A busy mother of 3, Olivia Saliba Cauchi has shared with us some practical ideas on how she keeps her kids busy and gets things done around the house by getting them to give her a helping hand. Some fun activities she suggests for the kids include:

  • pairing socks
  • unloading the dishwasher
  • sorting the cutlery
  • washing the floor (i.e they throw the water and you wash) 
  • cutting the veggies while cooking
  • baking

Fun practices you can also introduce include:

  • fun baths with beach toys, lots of water and arm bands
  • dressing-up games 
  • family work-outs
  • painting and colouring
  • science experiments
  • plant care
  • pretend supermarket
  • magic shows
  • dancing
  • educational games with numbers and letters
  • storytelling
  • drawing with chalk on walls
  • singing performances on a makeshift stage 

Follow her Instagram account mummy_in_a_hurry and subscribe to her Youtube channel to learn more how you can survive this lockdown with your kids!

How well these practices can be implemented greatly depends on the age of your children, the layout of your home, the level of concentration your job requires and your child's general temperament. However, with the proper attitude, you'll surely make it work. View this as an opportunity, rather than a burden. All your life you've been racing against time, so see this as a chance to slow down, spend more time together as a family and feel connected after feeling disconnected for so long. Embrace this new adventure with a positive frame of mind!

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