Quarantine – The new family reality
During this time of coronavirus quarantines, how can we as parents stay calm and empathetic with our children, while feeling overwhelmed and insecure?
Text Pia Dögl, parent counselor, author of Beginning Well: Care for the Child from Birth to Age Three – Empathy from the Very Beginning and founder of Dailyempathy.com
Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copy Editor: Susan Bruck
The new family reality changes – willingly or unwillingly
Schools are closed for an unknown length of time. Companies are sending their employees home. The new family reality changes – willingly or unwillingly – from one day to the next, without time to prepare. Parents have to figure out how to manage work, child care and self-care, while their own anxiety is running high.
You are not alone!
The following article was written as a resource to keep parents with young children well-supported during this troubling time.
Parents will find practical suggestions on how to stay grounded and empathetic during a development that’s new to all of us. No one knows the future, but for sure, you are not alone.
The small child depends on the inner calm of the adult
We as parents are used to having our own space, at least when we go to work, meet friends, play sports. This adult time helps keep our family life balanced.
Our inner balance, actions and attitude have the biggest influence on how our children feel and behave. So, what can we do to care for our children and ourselves? Here are some ideas:
Getting prepared – Find a healthy rhythm and inner structure
- each day might look different for now
- flexibility is required, new decisions have to be made
- most of our regular routines may not be possible right now
- we can do our best to be both open and sensible, every day, every moment
Consider your schedule for the day and week, including:
- wake-up time
- meal times: when will you have meals together, and when will you eat separately? Be aware, that each meal should be restful and nourishing for everyone!! No rush, no TV or radio even if you are looking for a break.
- learning and playing time for the children – be conscious about the different rhythms for younger and older siblings
- work and free time for mom and dad
- It might be helpful not to let the kids stay up late, so you as a parent have either individual or co- parent time together to reflect and prepare – or just to relax and enjoy.
- think through the next day(s)
Decide who will be responsible for:
- grocery shopping
- preparing meals
- cleaning and laundry
- taking care of siblings
- taking care of pet(s)
- perhaps it is the right time to sort out old games, play material and clothing?
- and any other tasks that need to get done?
- finally, don’t forget to make sure everyone gets some downtime!
Once again, flexibility is required.
Not every plan works right away. Practice, patience, commitment and being open to discarding ideas that aren’t working and trying new solutions will help you find a workable rhythm.
Time together – Empathy is the foundation and core!
Nourishing the child with undivided attention
In order to keep a balance between family, work, and personal life when we are together all the time, we need to rely more than ever on being mindfully present and sensible with each other.
Only by being fully present during those parts of the day when we are with our kids, setting aside distractions and focusing only on them, can we be open and perceptive to our child’s needs. If we can’t manage that, everyone in the family will become more disturbed and frustrated every day.
Practical suggestion on how empathetic and respectful care can support your growing relationship with your child can be found at: https://www.beginningwell.org/en/empathetic-and-respectful-care/
Take the time to speak about hurtful and stressful situations in an age-appropriate way. We want to nurture and support our family, not turn our home into a construction site or garbage dump.
Example and Imitation
Young children learn primarily through imitation. Whatever you as a parent asks from your child:
E.g. less snacking in between meals, just doing one thing at a time, being focused …
you need to do it yourself, too.
The child imitates your actions, your inner attitudes, thoughts and feelings.
Consumption of mobile phone and other new media
Our awareness of how we spend our time is urgently needed.
What am I reaching out to at first in the morning, my phone, partner or child?
How often am I looking at my iPhone or iWatch during the day?
How often am I quickly texting someone and asking my child for patience rather than putting the phone away and looking at it only at certain times?
Charming reminders to put our phones down or be fully present placed around the kitchen and elsewhere may help us to be more mindful of our actions until they become a matter of course.
An article about The Media-Responsible Family – Why it’s worth setting a course early can be found at: https://www.beginningwell.org/en/media-responsible-family/
- Spend time surrounded by Mother Nature
- Notice the awakening spring
- Bring home treasures you find outdoors and create a seasons table
- Plant seeds or care for houseplants or cut flowers
- Plan a garden
- Play and dance together
- Let your child help you unfold your creativity, curiosity and humor
- Ideas about how play develops in the first three years and suggestions about appropriate play materials can be found at: https://www.beginningwell.org/en/the-first-year/
- Try some artistic activities
- Depending on your child’s age, paint a family picture with e.g. the topic:
How can we create a new family life, in which everyone feels appreciated and well? You might be surprised by the visual result.
- Crayons and paper can provide lots of entertainment
- Scissors, tape, and glue, too, can be lots of fun
- Gather disposable items and make a sculpture
- Depending on your child’s age, paint a family picture with e.g. the topic:
- Read books together or just look at their pictures (depending on your child’s age)
- Cook/bake: Create and/or find new recipes
- Children love to help with all kinds of household and garden activities
What if you urgently need some child care and no social contacts are allowed?
Try to avoid entertaining your child with screen-based entertainment. If you urgently need some time to work or for yourself, try using audio books when your child feels tired and restless and cannot find some play or self-discovery by herself. If you use audio books only occasionally, as something special, then your child won’t start to expect it.
Listening to stories rather than watching still leaves room for imagination and is less stimulating. You might try Sparkle Stories.
Find great suggestions for screen-free activities on the web page of The Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood https://commercialfreechildhood.org/social-distancing/
Time to digest
We easily overlook the fact that new things take time to process and digest; we have never been in a situation like this current one before!
When we start to train for a marathon, we start with shorter training sessions and don’t try to run the whole distance right on the first day.
Allow yourself and your child some rest between activities.
Don’t be surprised if you are more tired than usual. The situation is externally and internally demanding.
Take this time as an opportunity to raise self-awareness and develop inner clarity
These challenging times give us the opportunity to unfold our creative potential, self-awareness, inner clarity, and reliability.
Here are some ideas on how to practice self–awareness right now when you are closer than close with your family for an undetermined time.
The consciousness of your own needs, feelings and thoughts determines the quality of your inner balance – which in turn influences your child:
- At the end of each day, take some time to reflect on fulfilling or difficult moments
- What nourished you?
- What were you missing?
- Did you feel appreciated and seen?
- If you had difficult moments with your partner or child, what made it so challenging and maybe exhausting?
- In moments when you felt anger or fear, how did you express it? Look more deeply at what was behind your actions/reactions?
For myself, for example, learning to recognize my own unmet expectations of how my child and I should act helped me deal with my feelings of anger and frustration. You can read about it at: Conflicts with my child.
Take food, exercise and sleep into account:
- Food has a big impact on your well-being. Try to cook nourishing meals rather than eating prepared frozen food. Reduce stimulating drinks like coffee or alcohol as the whole situation might be stimulating enough.
- Daily yoga and meditation practice can help you feel calm and find more inner balance
- Are you getting enough sleep? Perhaps a hot foot bath in the evening might feel good, or a hot water bottle, or a massage with rose or lavender oil?
Experience shows that turning off media a while before bedtime helps to let go of tension, thoughts and images
- Take time for things you love to do! Even if you don’t have much time on your own, be aware of your needs … rather than put them under the table. They’re still there even if you ignore them.
- Do not overpromise. Allow yourself to have limits.
What helps me to remain calm in stressful situations?
An invitation to greater self-awareness. More at: https://www.beginningwell.org/en/give-me-patience/
Allow yourself to have limits!
Use this time as an opportunity to unfold mindfulness and authenticity in your family
You can use the following weeks to:
- Be more mindful and conscious with each other
- Develop a new rhythm and structure based on everyone’s needs
Normally our busy lifestyle determines our structure. Now we have the chance to experiment and find a rhythm oriented to our own needs.
What a unique challenge: Creating and practicing a self-determined family system!
- Take time as parents and as a family to reflect on common goals
- Take advantage of the time together. Find ways to make this time when we have no space to escape or run away into a gift that strengthens your family!
- Get to know each other anew
- Appreciate what is
- Be open to what will arise
This time gives us a unique chance to grow as human beings
There will be a time when the coronavirus is over.
But what we develop now can have a substantial impact on the well-being and conscious development of all of us as humans, both now and for the future.
So, let’s take the chance and turn this challenge into an opportunity – It is about us!
A daily meditation practice
Next time, if overwhelming thoughts come up, such as: I feel lost and not capable/able to manage the situation as a mother or father at home any longer, in these moments practice the following:
Allow yourself with each inhalation to let these thoughts be. Don’t try to repress or judge them. It is totally ok that they are there.
With each exhalation, think of a person, no matter if they are part of your family, or a friend or stranger, and send them thoughts full of caring and love; when sending these thoughts, fill them with the warmth of your heart.
Practice this every time you become aware of overwhelming thoughts, and you may be surprised by how your feelings both within yourself and in connection with the other person change.
You don’t have to do it alone –
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Helpful literature and links
Practical suggestions on how to be empathetic from the very beginning can be found in my Book Beginning Well: Care for the Child from Birth to Age Three – Empathy from the Very Beginning, available at WECAN and Amazon
When you are looking for inspiration on how to make a doll out of simple material, watch the video Make a doll yourself
Meditation practice: https://www.tarabrach.com/create-home-retreat
WECAN Resources at: http://www.waldorfearlychildhood.org/resources.php