5 Tips to Stay Sane with Children During COVID-19 Quarantine

Here are five simple tips to help stay sane for the time being. Keep in mind every family and culture may approach handling their children differently, and this is by no means to say what is right or wrong, just some tips to help you get by or add to your daily life.
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As a mother and a clinical psychologist during these hard times, I have experienced the hardship of being stranded within the four walls of your home without the outlet of parks, schools, playgrounds, playrooms, playdates, etc.
Whether in the suburbs of Orange County, California, or the Metropolis of New York City, as parents, the challenge we all share is: how to spend so much time with our children without losing control and maintaining some level of normalcy?

1. Set a routine

These days can feel like we are playing out a scene from the movie “Contagion” – grim, extraordinary, exaggerated senses, with out-of-control levels of uncertainty.  In the past, we may have taken our daily routines for granted, and sometimes may have complained about them. However, those routines made the days a lot more organized, predictable, and manageable.
These days may have at first felt more spontaneous, out of place and might have allowed the plasticity of our brain to help make it ok and even fun. For some, they could keep home outfits on, maybe change the top if they have a Zoom video call or just stay in them all day. Although comfortable for a few days, as time passes this could get us out of routine and break the habit of getting ready to go out and the mental prep of “I’m going to work, I am going to make an impact and be productive.”
According to Charles Duhigg, routine whether mental, physical or emotional, is what forms our habits. Sometimes we are aware of our habits and sometimes we are not. Times of turmoil (such as the current COVID-19 pandemic) call for acknowledging our habits and either evolving them or reshaping them if unhelpful. During these times, adapting old helpful habits and routines will allow some sanity by providing control over our time. For some, this could be time to make their bed and get ready with no rush to actually getting to places (while leaving kids in their bed to learn to play with themselves, have you do your bed with them or other creative ways to get them involved if possible). For others, it could be making certain meals at home and becoming creative about selections of food choices both for kids and parents. 

If you normally have a 10-minute break every hour during your work day, make sure you give yourself that during these quarantine days. If you are missing your daily podcasts, listen when the children are sleeping, watching TV or being busy doing crafts. Inventions usually happen during dire times.

2. Utilize Resources

From the help of some good friends and groups I am part of I have come across many good resources. In time like these reach out for these resources and utilize them. From the many online resources from Audible’s free story time to all the social media platforms offering free music, entertainment for kids and more – if one were to use social media for something during this time – it would be this.

There are also many educational and therapeutic resources, such as online tutoring for kids, online therapy for children who may have a hard time understanding what is going on or parents who are concerned about the level of misbehavior, anger, aggression or anxiety/stress in their children following closing down of school. For example, if your child is between the ages of 18 to 25 years old, there are virtual groups offered by licensed therapists in the city that could address some of the challenges of living back home? Or the Child Mind Institute is offering resources both for parents and children during these times.

As humans, during times of crisis, we have learned, over and over, the most important key to survival is coming together. Make sure to utilize resources, including virtual playdates, virtual story times, and virtual family visits, to feel a sense of connection and normalcy.

3. Take “short” Breaks

This is essential. Some may find it “impossible,” but nothing is impossible. Children above the age of nap time, most likely have learned how to be with themselves for some time, and children that require more attention have nap time that one can utilize. Make sure you take a break from it all. From five minutes to one hour, make this time your sanctuary, that no one can take from you. This is not time for cleaning, cooking, making calls, or doing work. This is your time to rest, enjoy, be mindful, be with yourself, and your positive helpful thoughts. You decide what you do during this time, but it is essential that it makes you feel better and content, not worse. Scrolling mindlessly through social media, experiencing sadness over the privileges lost, or worrying about the future, is not a good use of break time. Watching funny YouTube videos and laughing is a great idea. Be creative and kind to yourself; you deserve a break.

4. Enjoy the time as they enjoy it

It is easy to get caught up in the worry, stress, and frenzy of all that is thrown at us.  However, constantly worrying or stressing over things will change nothing. The moments we spend with our children during these times are precious, as difficult as it may feel at times. These times are rare.

If someone told you four weeks ago that you would be stuck in your apartment with your two-year-old, you might have laughed at them. However, times have changed, and we are “stuck” in the apartment with our 2-year olds. For once, we can take this opportunity as feeding and energizing our inner child. Each one of us has a child within ourselves that we tend to dismiss at times, if not most of the time. This child, too, needs attention, love, and nurturing. 
One big step is being mindful of activities you do with your children. Be there honestly and wholeheartedly. Your brain might want to wander to other places. It’s OK. Acknowledge it and bring your attention back to whatever activity you were doing with your child, from painting to playing with playdoh, running around or making Legos. Laugh as loud as they laugh, be silly, and put yourself in their shoes, and be in the moment. Try a world where everything is new; learning is a treasure, and happiness is a way of being, as sadness is an instant emotion like every other emotion.
Practicing this daily will set a lifestyle in which you are more mindful and more open to being one with yourself and the child within. The questions you can ask yourself are: what would I tell the two-year-old me? Or the six-year-old me during these times? And be that for yourself and model that for your children.  

5. Schedule a block of “me” time (beyond breaks)

What is “me time” during this time? “Me time” is time where you have to yourself, and that is it. Some may find it difficult to carve out time for “me time.” We all can find “me time” whether in a mansion with 5 bedrooms or in a studio with 5 people. It all falls on you, giving yourself that privilege to be with yourself. A lot of times people avoid “me time” due to worrying they will go crazy, or overthink and need to be constantly occupied.
There is a saying I always present to my clients, and that is “you come first,” and that is not “selfish” – it is “self-care.” By setting time for yourself, first, you learn to give yourself value and time, that you matter, and this practice is great for your sense of self.
Second, your children and others will learn to value your time as you value yours. They will understand the importance of “mommy” or “daddy” time and later be able to set time for themselves and pass on this valuable approach. Later, your boss and your colleagues will also learn to better respect your time and the importance of self-care, and in this way the torch passes on.
Just think about it this way: when you get on the airplane and they talk about the air pressure of the cabin and should the masks fall, what do they say? You put the mask first on yourself, then you help the children and the elderly. Meaning, for you to be able to help and support others, you need to put the mask on yourself first, before everyone else. This way you survive to be able to help others. By setting “me times,” by valuing your time, you prevent burnout and exhaustion, and become a better parent for your children.
Whether short or long, “me time” could be a morning or a nighttime routine, set aside just for you: a nice bath, a long shower, an hour book read, or a nice phone call.

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