Five Things You Can Do To Help Your Family During a Coronavirus Related School/Work Closing

Coronavirus has officially struck the US. Schools are closing, people who can are moving to work from home.  There are so many big emotions involved in this, and I recognize how challenging this can be in so many ways.  There are so many things to talk about, but I’d like share things that you can do and implement in your family to help this time run smoothly. 

1.) Answer Their Questions, But No More than That

Kids listen.  More than you know.  They pick up on our anxieties, and they hear conversations even if we think they aren’t listening.  If they are asking questions, answer them succinctly and in a developmentally appropriate way.  As grown ups we tend to over talk when we are anxious.  Be mindful of simply answering the questions they are asking, and don’t give them more information than what they are asking for.  This is exactly how we handle sex talks in our house.  When you ask me a question, I answer it.  If you ask another, I answer that one too. If you don’t, then I take it as a sign that you have gotten all of the information that you are ready for.  This works with all kinds of hard conversations. 

Kids want to know that you will be open and honest with them, but they also want to have a place with you that can be free of worry and anxiety.  Intentionally keep conversations about what’s going on in the world until after bedtime, or when they aren’t around. This allows them to still have the space to be kids.  

2.) Keep Up With Structure and Routine 

Kids crave structure and routine.  When things feel different and uncertain, it helps them feel comfortable and safe.  Make a routine and structure for your family while you are home together.  It’s completely okay if this routine is a little more lax than their typical school day, it’s impossible to keep up with something like that.  It should, however, still include a bedtime and time to work on academics.  We often have a loose schedule that we follow during the summer, so I have modified that idea for our family and will be including the following:

Independent Play-screens okay 

I make it clear when they have independent time if it will be screens on or off

Independent Play-screens off

Academic Work Time

Sometimes this will be working on the stuff that was sent home from school, and sometimes this will mean fun science experiments, baking or exploring virtual places online.  It also might mean art, music or fun reading lessons.  I’m hoping to find a balance between the work sent home, and fun projects.  We are lucky to have awesome teachers who I know have/will provide us with some guidance. 

Daily Chores/Picking Up

If we are all stuck in the house together, things are going to get messy pretty quickly.  Each kid will have a chore that they are expected to complete daily, and their will be a dedicated time to complete this and to help pick up. 

Outdoor Time

I’m hoping that the weather cooperates and this gets to be the bulk of our schedule.  This is a great opportunity for us to take a step back and reconnect with each other and the world around us.  We are fortunate enough to have four acres of land to explore.  Even if you are not that lucky, get outside.  Go for a walk, blow bubbles, use sidewalk chalk.  Get connected to the world, as it’s a powerful tool for self care.  

Self-Care Time

We talk about self care a lot in our family, and I want to intentionally schedule it into our day.  Time to just relax and do things that make us happy.  Sometimes that might mean doing Cosmic Kids Yoga, or playing on the swing set.  Sometimes that might mean doing our favorite things separate from each other.  Whatever we need to do to stay centered.

Meals and Bedtime

Kids love to help, and during the summer each kid is in charge of dinner once a week.  Obviously the level of “in charge” varies by age, but this is a rule I plan to implement as well.  We will have to get creative, as I hope to avoid the grocery stores right now, but any way I can get them involved, I will.  

Also, I very much recommend sticking to a bedtime.  Kids need a lot of sleep, and will be much easier to have around if they continue to get a good night sleep.  I don’t think anybody needs to be waking up to an alarm clock right now, but it will be helpful to stick to a semi normal sleep schedule.  This will also make the transition back to school a little easier as well. 

On that note, please strongly consider removing devices from kids room at night.  Charge them in your room, so that they temptation to sneak them is lower.  Kids do not have the ability to put the screen away and go to sleep.  They do not have the ability to not check the new messages or their social media if they wake up at 2 am.  Many adults struggle with this, and adolescent brains are not fully developed.  Do them a favor and take the screens away at night, so they can sleep peacefully without the distraction.  

3.) Take a Break

Let’s be real.  This is going to be challenging.  Especially if you are also trying to work from home.  Make sure you get a break.  Maybe it’s tag teaming with your partner so you aren’t the one who is “on” all of the time.  Maybe it’s a nightly walk by yourself, or a half hour scheduled in of “you” time.  Not only will you need this for your own sanity, it is a wonderful model to your kids on how to take care of yourself. 

4.) It’s Okay if There is More Screen Time, but Limits are Good

Listen folks, the screen time is going to increase.  There are going to be days where it saves you from losing it.  That’s okay.  But be mindful that it doesn’t become your baby-sitter all day.  Too much time on screens creates cranky, snarky, miserable kids.  Nobody wants to be stuck at home with that.  So be mindful of creating other opportunities for them, or even better watch as they create their own, but don’t beat yourself up too much if you need to lower your standards a smidge on this one. 

By the way.  It is completely okay to set limits on ANY device that comes into your home, whether it was purchased by you or issued by somebody else. 

5.) Stay Connected

We are so lucky to live in an era that allows us to socially distance ourselves, but still stay connected to our friends and family.  Encourage FaceTiming and connecting with friends and family.  Encourage virtual conversations (although always helpful if they are monitored!) so that your kids still feel connected to their friends. Do the same for yourself.  Reach out to your friends and family regularly, and stay connected.  This will help us all stay grounded and connected as we progress through this new and scary time.  

I fully recognize that many of these suggestions assume that there is a level of financial stability and support within your home.  This “social distancing” is going to be devastating financially and emotionally for members of our communities.  If you have the means to support members of your community in any way, this is the time to do it.  Buy gift cards online to local businesses, continue to pay daycare providers or other helpers and ask people in the service industry how you can help them.  If you don’t have the means, and need to stick to a strict budget, then do that.  Reach out to people instead, and see if they have a need that you can fulfill.  Even if we need to stick to our own homes, we still have the ability to come together and support each other through this challenging time. 

Renaming and Embracing January

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If you work in the world of education you dread the month of March. It is the longest, darkest, hardest month. Every year. Any one in education knows this. The month of January, however, can be equally has challenging, but it is not typically as expected as March. If we can learn to expect the challenges, and embrace January, we can learn to thrive in it instead of surviving it.

It has taken me 5 years to figure out that each and every January is pure and utter chaos. I’m not sure what it is. We think students are all hyped up for the holidays. We returned refreshed and rejuvenated, and then it starts.

I can’t put my finger on what happens. Last year I thought it was the weather. This year, however, it has been beautiful. It’s not just the students though. It’s all of us. Life seems to kick me in the ass each January. It’s probably kicking the students asses too, and we just can’t see past out own stuff to see it.

It’s probably a combination of things. There is something to be said about the post holiday let down. For me it’s about dealing with all of the stuff I put off until after break. Sometimes it can be really hard balancing real life and work life. Before the holidays I think real life tends to infringe on work life. There is only so much time in the day and as many times that work infringes on real life, the opposite is true as well.

So I put things off until I can refocus my brain, thinking January will provide peace, time and energy. Unfortunately, that never seems to be the case. When January comes along, the honeymoon is over. Students are sick of each other. Staff is sick of the same issues same issues day in and day out. And the days are dark….really dark. And cold.

It’s hard, and it sneaks up on all of us. We are used to the Christmas highs and lows, but January is supposed to be about starting anew. Well I’m just going to say it…it’s a farce. January sucks and we all know it. So let’s rename it.

Maybe Darkvember? Or Colduary? How about Countingthedaystospringuary? Okay maybe that’s too much. But in all reality, I think we need to pay attention to the misery that can happen, and embrace January for what it is, and look forward to brighter days.

February is also dark and cold, but it holds some promise. The days are getting longer, and I start seeing daylight when I get out of practice. This February has been an anomaly and the weather has been beautiful, which is helpful. In the education world, it often means a break, which is very much welcomed and needed. It also means it’s almost March, which means it’s almost spring!

So here’s to renaming and embracing January. In other words, recognizing it for what it is and looking forward to February and beyond. Thank you for existing February, if only because you are closer to March.

Mindfulness Strategies for Kids Everyday Lives

Mindfulness is definitely one of those trending words right now. If you only have a small connection to education or parenting you have probably heard this term, and are potentially wondering why it’s such a big word right now. Often times these trending words hit their high point, and then fall away as quickly as they came. Only to be replaced by the next new hot topic in parenting or education.

At the surface level mindfulness has the potential of being another gone by the wayside idea. I would argue, however, that it actually has more staying power than one may think. Reason being, it has already survived for thousands of years. It has roots in Hinduism and Buddhism, and has a deep history in these two religions. It is deeply grounded in Eastern culture, and the Western world seems to be just recently catching up.

In addition to its rich history, mindfulness is much more than a mental health trend. It is a lifestyle and a mindset. There are pieces of it that can be practiced on their own, with potential positive results, but it works best when it is adopted as a lifestyle. Embedding pieces of mindfulness can start from toddlerhood, which can lay the foundation for future practice and balance in one’s life.

It can, however, be quite intimidating for anybody to incorporate mindfulness in their life. Adults can struggle figuring out how to do this themselves, much less finding ways to make it a meaningful part of our children’s lives. My goal in writing this is to share with you simple, low stress ways, that we have found to incorporate mindfulness strategies into our children’s everyday lives.

Morning Moments

This is a new practice for us this year, and I am truly enjoying it. Mornings can be a STRUGGLE, especially during the week. I am on my own with the two youngest most mornings, and I can easily get worked into a frenzy. When thinking of ways for our morning time to improve, I immediately turned to more connection. If our time together is all about me being stressed, getting frustrated with my kids and pushing them to get ready, we are all going to feel disconnected and discombobulated. If my goal is to have my family feel loved and connected, then I needed to make it a priority.

So, with that in mind, we started a new morning practice. When wake up time comes, the three of us snuggle up on the couch. We all take a big deep breath and hug on each other. Then, I ask each kid who they want to send kind wishes to today. An important component of mindfulness is being intentional. I’m also working on empathy with them, so we take a moment to intentionally send kind thoughts to people in our life that we love. We then hug on each other one more time, and then move on with our morning.

Highs and Lows

We use dinner as an important learning opportunity. We eat together most nights, which is great for connection in and of itself. When our middle child was three (now five) we introduced our nightly routine. We would go around the table and ask each other the same questions each night. It started as follows:

What was something good that happened today?
What was something not so good?
How did you help somebody today?

As the years have gone by this has morphed a bit. Children have added suggestions, or I have wanted to add a new focus area. Right now, in addition to the three listed above, we also ask:

We will also, at times, add, “What are you thankful for?” We don’t do this one every time, as I feel as though it may lose its meaning. Therefore, we sprinkle it in every once and awhile.

In addition to mindfulness, these dinner conversations also practice listening skills, turn taking, and incorporate self-awareness, growth mindset, interpersonal interactions and empathy.

Bedtime Routine

Each night our kids follow the same routine, which ends with a song. They each get their own song, same one since birth, and we sing it together. This may not seem like a huge mindful activity at face value, but we make it into a practice moment. I model taking deep breaths, and comment on how my body feels before and after we sing. If I notice that they are having a hard time settling, we talk about noticing how their body feels, and things that we can do to settle our bodies down for the night. It’s a great time to connect, and we all look forward to it.

Managing Screen Time

There are so many debates regarding screen time, and I’ll be the first person to admit that sometimes my kids have more than I would like. We do, as a practice, have consistent limits regarding screens. One reason being is that we want our children to practice interacting with the world around them. For example, we say no to screens for car rides (unless it’s a trip) and in restaurants. This allows us and them to practice noticing the world around them. Again, I model, and then we have more conversations and interact more as a family, instead of all looking at screens.

In our mind, mindfulness starts with a solid foundation. If the foundational skills that we try to teach through these activities are an integral part of my children’s lives, then we can expand on this with more mindfulness skills as they grow. These are simple strategies, and are not the only strategies that we have embedded into our lives to help us, and our children, set the foundation for a happy centered life. So, go for it! Pick a strategy you read above, and leave me a comment letting me know how you incorporated it into your routine!