Be kind to yourselves and one another: Expert shares top tips for families on coping during lockdown

Parenting expert Jackie Riach says it's important to acknowledge that this is stressful for everyone.
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New Zealand is now in lockdown for four weeks and for many New Zealanders that’s a daunting prospect.

Being under the same roof 24/7 with the country in a state of national emergency will undoubtedly test relationships. On top of that many parents are still trying to work from home as well as look after their kids. Others have suddenly found themselves with no work and are worried about how they’ll put food on the table.

These are unprecedented times which have called for unprecedented measures.

To cope with the weeks ahead psychologist and parenting expert Jackie Riach from Triple P Parenting says it’s important to acknowledge that this is a stressful situation for everyone – adults and kids alike.

“And you shouldn’t dismiss that. Validate it, acknowledge it. We are all feeling elevated. Feeling stressed is a normal reaction to a dangerous situation.”

Here, we run through some guidelines that families can follow to cope during lockdown:

Parents, don’t make promises you can’t keep to your children

No matter the age of your child, you need to be honest with them about what’s happening, Riach says.

“With little kids often a simple age-appropriate explanation is enough, then answering their questions as they come up. But with older kids who are often online and reading all sorts of information you really need to keep open communication with them.

“Some kids will be feeling overwhelmed and some will catastrophise. Help them filter and decipher the information. Help them take a bite-sized piece.”

It’s equally important to reassure your kids, Riach continues.

“But don’t make promises you can’t keep.

“We don’t know exactly how this is going to unfold so rather than tell them that ‘we’re not going to catch it’ tell them you can see they’re stressed and you’re finding this stressful too: ‘But if we stay calm we’ll get through it. We know that staying calm in any crisis is the best way to manage it.'”

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Take care of yourself so that you can take care of your kids

“In all crises parents need to take care of themselves as best as they can,” Riach says.

“Seek support by phone from mental health services or family.

“Watch your self-talk. The first step is noticing it and then changing it if it’s negative,” she says. “Tell yourself, ‘yes this is stressful but we’re all in it together and we will get through this. We just need to stay calm.'”

Eat well, get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly, don’t turn to alcohol or drugs to help you cope – they will only exacerbate your problems, she advises.

Spend more time doing things that you enjoy.

“For me it’s gardening,” Riach says.

“And, equally, avoid doing things that cause stress – for many that’s spending too much time online or on social media.

“Try not to be constantly on your phone. While it’s important to keep abreast of the developments with Covid-19, don’t become obsessive.”

Tap into apps that teach mindfulness and breathing techniques, she advises. “And do these with your kids.”

“It can also be a great release just to dance or sing or play with your kids. I know some parents find it difficult to ‘play’ when they’re feeling stressed, but it can help.”

Keep routines going as much as you can

Adults and children alike feel safer when they know what’s coming next.

And as difficult and unpredictable as these times are right now, there are some things we still have some control over.

“Stick to your usual routines as much as you can,” Riach says.

While we’re no longer getting up and going to work and school every day we can still get up at the same time and get dressed and eat breakfast and start the day with some form of activity:

Painting, drawing, puzzles, board games, baking, cooking, gardening, journal-keeping, DIY projects, reading or catching up on professional reading, household chores are some suggestions.

Most schools are bringing the holidays forward and won’t be introducing online learning until mid-April, but kids can still do some form of learning in the morning such as internet-based learning programmes like Mathletics, or any of the activities above.

“Learning doesn’t have to be book-based and parents shouldn’t put pressure on themselves to try and home school their kids,” Riach says.

When it comes to fitting paid work in, Riach suggests working around your family’s natural rhythms.

“It may be that you have to adjust your hours so you’re working when your kids sleep or when the other parent – if you’re in a two-parent home – can look after them. Can one parent work in the morning and the other in the afternoon then swap over? Can you work in the evening? And if you know that giving your kids some screen time will give you an hour to get things done, do it.

“We all need to do what we need to do.”

Jackie divulges, “I actually found it hard to argue with my teenage son this morning when he said ‘why can’t I get up at lunchtime every day and stay up until midnight? I’m still getting the same amount done.’

“He has a point and science does tell us that teens’ circadium rhythms change during these years (teens stay up later at night and sleep later in the morning).

“They also need more sleep.

“So you could spend the morning nagging your teenager to get out of bed or you could get a solid three or four hours’ work done (or do something for yourself) before they’re banging around in the kitchen.”

Managing clashes at home

It’s only natural that family members will clash with spending so much more time together in the home, and in unprecedented and stressful circumstances.

To minimise run-ins Riach suggests sitting down together as a family at the start of lockdown and hashing out some rules.

“If there’s only one TV in the house, who gets to choose what you watch and when? If you want to limit screen time for the kids, what will the limits be? If you want the kids to help out more around the house while you’re trying to get work done, draw up a roster.”

In addition, make it possible for everyone to have space from one another every day. Encourage family members to go outside for alone time and fresh air, or make it clear to the family that if someone has gone into their room for some quiet time, don’t disturb them.

Role model positive thinking and remind the family to be kind and considerate to one another, and to show tolerance.

Take control of your worries

Getting accurate and reliable information about the things you are worried about can help to put fears to rest and help you formulate a plan of action.

If you’re worried about finances find out what you can about the financial packages the Government has made available to New Zealanders. Talk to your bank or insurance company. Many have set up additional online services for worried Kiwis to ask questions.

The website has lots of information about financial support for families.

If you’re struggling with your mental health these numbers and websites may help:

For support with grief, anxiety, distress or mental wellbeing, call or text 1737 to talk to a trained counsellor. It’s free, anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

To call Lifeline: Ph. 0800 543 354 or text ‘help’ to 4357.

The Mental Health Foundation has a number of useful tips on its website on how to cope. You can read them here.

Triple P Parenting runs online parenting courses and has advice on its website on how to parent through uncertain times.

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