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  • Writer's pictureDr, Vijayshree Patil

“Isolation” or “Suffocation”: Navigating Social Distancing with Children

It’s that universal problem: managing a house with kids or being a working parent; can we do both well? Cut to social distancing times and everyone now has to manage this sudden transition. There is so much uncertainty around the pandemic, its longevity etc. that we really don’t know how long these times might last.

Without schools, day care and household help, managing even basic things at home can be very difficult. Mostly, it is very difficult to work from home when so many tasks around seem pending and children are constantly demanding your attention or are bored. So many people living in small spaces might find it difficult to set their work routines at home amidst the chaos. Parents are also likely to feel guilty about not giving enough time to children. It is also hard to explain to children why social distancing is important and the magnitude of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a stay-at-home mom with a restless toddler and trained psychologist, I am writing this piece to offer some insights on how to handle this situation effectively.

Here are some tips for parents to work out their routines at a time like this:

Try and keep your work shifts short and more frequent if need be

Because of interruptions, you are bound to get forgetful or leave something a little incomplete. Shorter, more focused durations of work might be more helpful. Keep distractions while working online away.

Communicate with your employer to find solutions that work for both of you

It is difficult to manage everything perfectly, so prioritise your expectations related to your work. If you are facing pressure from your employer to finish a task within a certain timeframe, try communicating that you can do part of the task (maybe the ones that are important first) and complete the rest the next day. Employers also have stressors of their own at this time might understand. If they do not, reassess how much of your situation is within your control (and how you are managing it) and how much is out of your control (like your boss’ behaviour). Focus on what you can do.

Carve out a peaceful workspace at home

This may be a big problem in many urban homes; so try and find a time (preferably different times) where you and your partner can take turns to work while the other can manage other household duties and let you work attentively. For those with children, this is a good time to teach them your roles as working parents and how being home does not automatically mean you are available.

Prioritise household chores

Do you need to wash clothes every day? Probably not. Do you need to fold clothes or iron them every day? Probably not, especially since ironed clothes are not much in use now. Do you need to clean every day? Maybe just sweep once or do the rooms you use most often. Take turns with your partner in doing any essential outside work, so each of you get a chance to step out for short durations.

Use your weekends to plan

Think up simple meal menus for the week, email employers about what’s realistically possible, come up with games or tasks for kids etc.

Play to your skills and be creative

If someone else can accomplish something faster and more efficiently let the person do it, without attaching gender or age to it. This is a good time to relax some rules and just get the work done, especially if it has to be done right away. Communication and participation of all members is the key.

Stay clear of social media Social media can make us compare our lives to others and affect your mood negatively if you feel like others seem to be managing better than you. Limit your consumption at this time and focus on your home life.

Next, some strategies on dealing with children at this time:

Make time for home-schooling

Home-schooling is a challenge and it might be tempting to prioritize your own work over it but try and balance these tasks out as much as possible. Discuss what is realistically possible. If you are busy with your own work during the week, try and finish a bulk of it on weekends.

Set or maintain your children’s routines

If your child’s sleep and meal routines are disrupted, they will be irritable and demanding. It’s a good idea to set up a good sleep schedule that suits everyone. Regulate their daytime routines with a range of tasks related to school, games, chores and some physical activity. Organise tasks that require supervision according to your own schedule, so that you can give them the attention and uninterrupted time they need.

Take time to explain to your children what is happening

Older children might feel anxious about the unpredictability surrounding them, why their routines are different, how they are contributing by staying at home, and why their parents are home but unavailable. Choose mealtimes to explain how each of you is doing your bit and how everyone is doing a little more than they usually do.

Discuss their positive behaviours that have made the day more manageable. For younger children, give them your complete attention even of it is for short time periods (don’t multitask here, children understand when your attention is divided) and they will learn to play on their own too. When you feel guilty about not giving them enough time, remember they are too young to understand and cut yourself some slack.

Encourage social connection virtually

Let children talk to their friends on video chat or phone calls. They can use the opportunity to discuss what they have studied or learned or how they are occupying themselves. Let them speak to their grandparents and maybe get them to write messages, stories or poems to them. Social connections are most beneficial in times of anxiety and unpredictability.

Consider relaxing screen time rules

While you do not need to throw out all the rules, encourage more educational videos or videos with physical activity. It’s going to be difficult to get them off it later, but it might make the current scenario a little manageable if you are too overwhelmed. Discuss what they have watched and learned, even if it’s a film. If you are a reader, encourage children to read or younger ones to look at pictures and describe them. Audiobooks or just music is also a great way to keep them going. Some publications have made stories available online too. Describing objects in their entirety, describing pictures in the house and memories related to it, can also keep conversations going when you are cooking or cleaning (tasks that are more automatic).

Find ways to occupy restless children indoors

Channel that energy! DIY obstacle courses, treasure hunts, skipping, jumping jacks, yoga, dance, spot jogging, stretches can be some great activities. Sit-down activities like craft, art, music, organising can be done too. If your children can help with household chores like sorting out vegetables, cutlery, folding clothes, putting their toys back, making simple meals like sandwiches etc. this is a great time to teach them, appreciate and encourage them.

From my personal experience, if you are generally available for your child, at least listening in to them more often than not, they will understand how you function and how to work around it. It will take time for a child to understand your routine and your mood, but they do bounce off your mood. If you are irritable, they are likely to be irritable too. Children don’t have much control over what they do or how they behave; even if we just listen in, especially when they really need us to, they can take care of themselves.

Remember: “You are not working from home; you are at your home during a crisis trying to work.” You can look at this time of uncertainty as a “leadership challenge”. Can we rise to the occasion? We might lose our cool sometimes, but can we be a little ok with imperfections? Can we learn to plan a little better? This is holiday we never asked for. We can only survive this by staying connected and fighting it together. There is also no better time to show our grandparents and those who are ill, how much we are care. There is no better time to value the things we take for granted: work, family, teachers, healthcare providers and even the internet! This is our chance to teach children about altruism and lead by example. The unpredictability is hard to handle but remember, this too shall pass.

Guest Blog Credit Mrs Meghana Pradeep Quarantined Mother, Clinical Psychologist and Counselor

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