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A parent’s guide to surviving isolation with children

in Be Empowered, Latest News

Naturally, we’d like to spend more time with our children but a period of enforced isolation with no end in sight can test any parent. If you view it as an opportunity to embrace new experiences and forge stronger relationships, you may well be pleasantly surprised at how much you enjoy this time together.

School shutdown is also a chance to make better relationships with our children and teenagers. One-on-One time is free and fun. It makes children feel loved and secure, and shows them that they are important.

We’ve been speaking to Laura Hawkins, Psychologist and Team Leader – Children and Youth Services (North and East Metro) for her advice. Laura’s come up with some guidance to help you through the coming weeks.

Three children sit around a table with fruit in the middle of the bowl during COVID-19 isolation
Laura’s children gather around a table and enjoy some activities during isolation

What is your number one piece of advice?

Ideally try to keep your children to a routine. It’s good to have some consistent patterns. Keep their breakfast, morning tea, lunch and dinner at the same time. A consistent bedtime is a must. One of the strategies which I find really useful is to cut up fruit for my children to graze on throughout the morning. I put this in a lunchbox and then they have something to eat and I am not consonantly hearing that they’re ‘hungry’ or ‘starving’ which is interrupting me from getting things done.

Should we encourage children to socialise online?

Group of three young children sit on sofa and look at screen in front of them
Let children socialise with friends online

Absolutely yes! As much as there is a natural instinct within us to restrict screen time, it’s one way of allowing children to connect with one another right now. I wouldn’t class this as passive screen time because you’re child is being active engaged with interaction and I see that as a positive.

I really would encourage your children to catch up with friends even if it is online. This could be in what you may class as ‘recess’ or ‘lunch’. It’s also a good idea to keep them engaged with other relatives, especially grandparents. My husband is a FIFO worker so we are using the popular app ‘HouseParty’ so we can keep in touch with everyone. On this app they can play interactive games such as ‘Quick Draw’and other trivia games.

For tweens and teenagers, their peer group is the number one protective factor against mood disorders, so it is vitally important for them to be socially connected during a time when feelings of isolation and loneliness can easily surface.

Why is it important to get outside?

Backs of three children walking away into a forested area.

Now that most of us aren’t commuting to school or work, there’s more time to incorporate fitness and enjoy the outdoors. especially as the weather is still nice and sunny. I walk with my three children every day. They’re used to ‘morning fitness’ as they always used to enjoy a few laps of the footy oval at the school. Now we all walk together, enjoy the fresh air and the natural surroundings.

This is great as it means we can chat about what we did the day before, what we dreamt about, what they’d like to do today, what the teacher has asked them to do with their online learning.

Apart from this morning walk, I also like to spend time in the garden with the children, planting and tidying. I allocate jobs and they feel a real sense of accomplishment and pride taking ownership in their roles.

What about learning new skills such as cooking?

Absolutely, get your children involved with cooking. It’s a perfect example of an experience that also encompasses many learning opportunities. Choosing a recipe and reading the instructions (literacy), measuring out ingredients (numeracy), preparing the ingredients (nutrition/health) to mixing, stirring, weighing – all elements of fine motor development. Plus you’re incorporating a lot of vocabulary and learning new words. These so-called doing words, directional instruction, with the child listening and following instructions, it all contributes to speech and language development.

You can also encourage them to learn new hobbies. I find sewing and knitting can be very therapeutic and help with concentration levels.

Young lad learns how to knit with cat at his feet.
It’s the perfect time to learn a new skill such as knitting

What if your child can’t focus on learning?

Don’t lose heart. Remember this is a uniquely challenging time and being in isolation won’t last forever. Choose your battles. Your children won’t remember their curricular activities and staying on top of their class work. But what they will remember is the unique situation of spending time as a close-knit family and the incidental learning opportunities which arose.

If they are struggling to do school work at home, speak to their teachers and see if there are any strategies you can approach or compromises which you can make. It should be expected that some students may not be able to complete the same amount of work which they would complete during a typical school day.

Sit down with your child if they’re struggling to focus, and talk through any issues which may arise. Don’t be scared to set some boundaries around the use of devices. The important thing is to get the mix right so they have time to both learn and socialise.

Staying at home for an extended period may put a slight strain on family life but use it as a time for opportunity and bonding, that way you should stay sane.


Some useful links/play suggestions

0-4 years old

  • Investigate the Gruffalo Facebook page. Author, Julie Donaldson adds a weekly song and shares a book every Thursday. https://www.facebook.com/OfficialGruffalo/
  • Try out arts and crafts activities. Roll out paper in the back yard and let them finger paint and foot paint. It will be messy but fun!
  • Chalk drawings always add colour and can be washed away.
  • Make puffy paints. There are just three simple ingredients – white glue, shaving cream and food colouring.
  • Share a book together or sing some songs – these are always good at bedtime.

Junior years

  • Look at online physical activities to keep them active. Go Noodle is a series of web-based videos, games, and activities focused on introducing short bursts of exercise.
  • Author David Walliams has daily story sharing on his website available which are very enjoyable.
  • Experience Jamie Oliver’s ‘Learn your fruit and veg‘ online program. It consists of four lots of 30 minute sessions over four days.
  • Storyladder is an online platform which students can access during school hours for free during COVID-19
  • Street Science is an online portal of science experiments. Register for free and enjoy a free broadcast every day.
  • NASA at Home. Intrigued? yes there are rocket type experiences you can familiarise yourself with at home.
  • There’s lots to do with Lego. There are plenty of online challenges including the 30 Lego Challenge where you have to create some great models.
Ariel shot of two children and their parents playing with Lego on a wooden table.
Lego is a firm favourite across all ages

Teenagers

  • During isolation, let the children explore and download Skype, Facetime and HouseParty app.
  • Encourage them to challenge other friends to dance competitions on Tik Tok app.
  • Chess and card games. They may be old fashioned, but they are always hugely popular.
  • Learn to cook a meal from scratch using online resources to help, or experiment with a new skill such as taking up a new instrument.
  • If your teenager is older, encourage them to participate in online surveys as it is a way to earn extra pocket money.
  • Encourage bike rides as it’s a great way of them catching up with friends while still being physically active.

Don’t forget that during COVID-19, if you feel you need extra help get in touch with our Children and Youth Services team. Not only are we providing online therapy, we can also arrange an appointment for your child with our qualified social worker if you need extra support.