Tips for parents during extended school holidays
Schools in South Africa are closed for an extended period to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. With public spaces, museums and other options for group events under lockdown, parents have to find creative ways to entertain and occupy kids indoors. Most parents are working from home and children face a very intense couple of weeks with their parents as guardians and teachers.
The prospect of being responsible for your child's activities while at home can be daunting. With a few basic rules in place, this can be the perfect opportunity for families to spend quality time together. It’s recommended that parents should try to be 80% consistent with parenting strategies but also flexible enough to let some things go.
These are some ways how you can take care of your and your children's mental health during this time as well as occupy them constructively:
Don’t throw out structure. Sit down with your children and map out how the days will flow. Set up specific times for reading/homework, chores, independent free time, mealtimes, family time and bedtime. Like every teacher, write it down and post the schedule.
Make time for yourself. Everybody will need a breather right now. Make sure your children know that you’ll plan blocks of time for yourself and that they’ll need to self-entertain. This will give you time for needed chores and your own mental-health time. Have several a day and work in times for your own self-reflection, checking in with other parents and exercise time. Let your children know that disturbing your time will result in a loss of privileges.
Free play. Outside time and fresh air has huge physical and mental health benefits. Let them play in the backyard, or supervised in the front of the house. Get those kids some sunshine and fresh air on days where it’s nice enough to do so. Let them play on their own and create fun activities to engage their little brains. If there’s enough room in the house for one room to be set aside for unbridled free play, do it. This is also a great time to break out old hobbies and jigsaw puzzles. Any and all art is fun at home: beading, painting, drawing, playdough or kinetic sand, sewing, etc. Playdates may not be such a great idea right now. It will be important to keep to family units as much as possible.
What about screen rules? It’s typically recommended that families have a limit of a half hour of gaming during the school week and couple of hours of gaming time during weekends. Given these circumstances, it’s probably fine to go with weekend rules just to help you and your kids survive. The same is true with TV and Netflix. While binge watching might be an appealing alternative, it’s recommended not to do so for long hours. Several one-hour blocks a day is better than binge viewing.
Rediscover the fun of family board games. Break out board games such as Scrabble, Monopoly, Snakes and Ladders or have the kids make their own board games and card games. Watch TV together or share an electronic game or 2. This would also be a great time to watch old family videos. Connecting with happier times is always good for our mental health.
Stick to a sleep schedule. While it might be tempting for your older children to stay up late every night and sleep late every morning, that’s not going to be beneficial to their physical and mental health. You’ll also be left with very moody children the next day. Stick with your bedtime schedule. Don’t forget to enforce no screen time an hour before bed.
Limit the news. For your own mental health, and the mental health of your children, reduce the intake of news. Constantly following the latest coronavirus news will only increase the entire family’s anxiety.
Give kids an outlet to discuss emotions. Journaling is a good way for adolescents to process their feelings in this uncertain time. You can also set aside a time to talk as a family about how everyone is feeling and coping with the outbreak, maybe you can do this at the dinner table or after dinner. It’s important to acknowledge their anxiety but also their loss and grief about upcoming trips and school programs on which they'll be missing out. Then turn to your family game time and your usual routines.
There are other resources for children who prefer to be revising their school work during these holidays.The Western Cape Education Department has some quality online resources for learning at home during this period. Visit their e-portal for the School closure pack an eResources. Those in Grade 12 can use the Covid-19 Curriculum Support Programme for Grade 12 Learners on radio to revise and keep up to date with their school work.