As the longest March break in recent history has only just begun, how can parents cope with, and dare I say, enjoy the extra time with their children? Many organisations are coming to the rescue with free online resources. Parents are reaching out to other families with ideas and inspiration. Social media is providing unlimited support. But how do we set ourselves up for success?
Part of the answer, I believe, lies in creating realistic expectations. In order for anything to be achieved, children and parents together need to be able to anticipate what each day, in a general sense, will look like and what their individual role is. Children who have a structured environment just seem to do better. There is built-in security in knowing what comes next and there is respect generated for the parent or caregiver who ensures everyone follows the routine. This is not to say one shouldn’t take advantage of great opportunities when they come along. If a parcel in the mail from Great Aunt Tuttie sends the kids on a mapping adventure by all means get out the compass, paper and markers! But adhering to mealtimes, even if it’s grilled cheese in a pillow fort, is important. Bedtimes and morning routines don’t have to change just because school is now at the kitchen table. And children won’t struggle as much when this is all over and we can once again safely put them on the bus or wave to them from the car.
Another crucial component to successful navigation in this upside down world is our own reactions to it. Children watch us very closely. They look to us to judge whether there is danger, if they should be afraid, how worried and anxious they should feel. If we are modelling anxiety and fear, they will pick up on it. If we can be honest with them and explain at their level what is going on and our plans to get through it as a family, they have a sense of ownership over their own reactions and are reassured that the adults in their lives can handle things. And we can. We can handle this. At the grocery store today, I noticed the empty shelves and the posted limits on items. But what really touched me was the kindness of the man who reached the last package way up on the top shelf for me, the good natured joking in the aisles, and the man who smiled and said we will be ok, we will survive. Even as I smiled back, I realised I needed to hear that. How much more do our kids need to hear it? We will be ok. We will get through this together.