While under quarantine in her native Madrid, Siobhan Colgan is sharing her experiences and offering advice on how to stay fit when you’re stuck inside, how to keep your kids engaged during this tough period, how to eat healthy when supplies are limited, and more.
My 8-year-old daughter is one of those rare kids who generally loves school. Not because she’s keen on all her classes, but mostly because school is where she goes to socialize. That all changed on Monday, March 8, when the government of Spain announced that schools would be closing indefinitely in an effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Since then my daughter, like millions of other children around Spain and across the globe, has been confined to her home. And I, like millions of parents around the world, have been panicking about how to keep my kid busy now that she’s home all day and bored as hell!
Talking to Denise Suarez, a Madrid-based parenting coach who’s fielding calls daily from anxious moms and dads, it turns out that it's possible to help your kids keep calm and carry on even when they’re cooped up at home and out of school.
By following a few basic guidelines, Suarez, a certified parenting and child workshop leader, says you’ll not only keep everyone from bouncing off the walls, but you’ll likely find new things to enjoy and admire about your kids, too.
Routine, Routine, Routine
“Routine is important,” Suarez says. “We’re hearing that a lot, but it’s because, as school-goers, having a routine is something our kids are used to. It gives them a sense of security. They know what’s going to happen next.”
If you take that away from them during a time when there’s already so much uncertainty, she claims, you’re only adding to their stress.
"All of this will end at some stage," she adds. "And when our children finally return to school, they’ll have a harder time transitioning back into a school routine if they haven’t been following one at home.”
The mom of two suggests starting with a basic schedule and building from there.
“For example, have a set time for breakfast, and then let the kids know that every day before or after breakfast they have to change into their clothes," she says. "Don’t let them lounge around in their pajamas for the next month!"
Watch and Learn
Suarez knows that many parents are scouring stores and the internet for five-star reviewed games and activities to keep their kids occupied in the coming days. But before you start bulk buying boxes of model airplane sets, she suggests using the first few days of being home alone with your kids to observe their individual interests.
“Watch and see what your child naturally gravitates towards when they’re in the mood for engagement or playing,” she says, “and then base organized activities off of that.”
Let Them in on the "New Normal"
One of the big worries Suarez is hearing from working parents is how they’ll manage child care alongside new remote-work arrangements.
“Accept that it’s going to be a challenge,” she says, and get everyone on board with the “new normal.”
“It’s good to talk about the changes that are taking place in your family, such as a parent now working from home. Keep explanations simple and age-appropriate and let your children have their say too,” says Suarez.
And be patient. After all, conference calls from the kitchen table will be something everyone needs to adjust to – not just you. She also suggests adding your designated work hours into the family schedule and highlighting this to your kids. This way, children can see how hours are divided into different activities, including those that include them, such as family time, playtime, and virtual school lessons for older kids and teens.
Right now, keeping physically active is more important than ever. Not only will it strengthen your immune system, but, as Suarez notes, it can keep bad moods and low feelings at bay.
“Luckily, there’s a lot of choices of guided exercises, dance workouts, and other physical activities on YouTube and across the Internet to keep our children active,” she says. "Of course, we don’t want our kids on screens all day even if they are dancing while watching! So try to think in advance of some non-screen-based workouts or active playtimes for your children.”
For younger kids, let your home become the playground.
“Indoor obstacle courses and scavenger hunts are great ways to get your kids moving," she says. “Mix it up. Make it different every day. Ensuring your kids get daily exercise is really important during this time when we’re so limited in our actual movements.”
And, of course, if you’re not under quarantine, bring your kids outdoors for an occasional walk or playtime, though remember to maintain social distancing.
Whatever fun and games you organize for your kids, don’t let physical activity turn into uncontrollable giddiness.
“After exercises or active games, do something to bring your child into a state of calm again,” suggests Suarez. “A body scan, that’s like a massage, can help. For example, massage a part of their body gently, saying something relevant like, ‘I used this arm to carry the ball,’ or 'I used these legs to help me tumble,’ and gently work down the whole body.
For older children, you can do breathing exercises and short meditations.
With your kids home and out of school, it can feel as if your regular life is thrown out of whack. That’s because it is, says Suarez, but you can embrace that, to an extent.
“Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed," she advises. "Look at who you all are as a family and what you need, and start from there. “
And look for the positives of being together. It might be hard to see them at first, she says, but they are most definitely there!