Breathe in, breathe out. We’re almost through that first week of seclusion in which the schools closed. We almost survived that second week. Normally I would count down to the weekend, but now I only see them as two days too much of the week. So how do you cope with being in isolation with kids?
We can keep nagging and complaining, we can keep fighting the situation, but the conclusion remains the same. In the coming weeks a lot of mothers will be sitting at home with their children.
Now that I have survived the first week in seclusion with my two year old, it’s about time that I get a grip on the situation. How do I handle the rest of the weeks? How do I make sure that my child inside (hopefully, I beg you God!) is ready for the whole school thing five weeks later and how do I make sure she doesn’t go crazy without any structure or grip?!
I’m not an expert, I’m not a pediatrician or a scientist. I am a mummy who enjoys sharing her experiences with the internet and who is constantly researching children’s experiences. So even in times of corona I read a lot, follow reports and try to keep up to date with everything. All the theory that appeals to me during my parenthood I transform into reality. So I will never claim that my tips and tricks work miracles. I’m just convinced they’re going to help me and my daughter, and maybe you too?!
1. Structure and regularity
As soon as your child comes into the world, one speaks of structure and regularity, just think of the feeding moments that take place every three hours. Then come the afternoons and the learning of solid food. Experts always try to make us aware of how important structure and regularity are.
My daughter turns three in July. She’s been going to school since February. Although I’m convinced that she has no idea what’s going on outside our walls of sight, I do realize that she realizes that something special is going on. Where are the kids in her class? How come when she’s talking about Saturday’s gym class we’re saying she can’t go? Why can’t she go to Grandma and Grandpa anymore? Why doesn’t godmother come to visit?
The panic wave in our country is passing her by, fortunately… But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t realize there’s a lot of things that aren’t normal. My daughter’s going to be three, but she’s not stupid.
Because she realizes that there is a strange atmosphere in the house, it is important that we as parents provide a stable, safe and quiet environment. After all, predictability is so important for children, so it is our task to maintain the school structure as well as possible.
Predictability ensures safety, and that can easily be achieved by creating structure.
This is why it is very important that we find a certain routine throughout the isolation with kids. Getting up and going to sleep at the hours we normally do on a school day will only be beneficial for their biorhythm. Because a disturbed biorhythm causes a distracted child and that is the last thing we want.
Our day always starts with the same morning ritual as on a normal school day. We have breakfast and when she is dressed she puts herself in the couch with her iPad (Sorry not sorry). At that moment I dress myself and enjoy my cup of coffee in peace and quiet. Suddenly this is my first and last cup of hot coffee, because all the filled bags afterwards are a lost attempt. By the time I dare to pour in a second bag I hear my daughter running into the kitchen for attention. Time for some action.
After that short moment me – time an activity is scheduled daily in the morning. When the weather is good we move into the garden as standard. Annabel is a fan of the sandpit, but I always try to do a preconceived activity. Just a moment of individual attention in which I try to appeal to certain skills. This can be gardening, crafts, cooking, puzzling, or movement games.
I admit it is not easy to entertain a two year old but we are allowed to kiss our two hands with Annabel’s teacher. Every day she sends us activities during these weeks where certain techniques are encouraged. From handling brushes, to mixing colours. This moment never lasts longer than thirty minutes because that’s all my toddler can handle. But I notice every time Annabel replenishes her reservoir from this small moment.
After the first activity I interrupt this moment just like they do at school; time for a biscuit or a piece of fruit. This moment is not only useful to end the activity, it is also often a small moment of recovery for us.
Because half an hour of intensive one-on-one with my daughter can sometimes cause a disagreement or a small outburst. This fruit moment is then a moment for both of us to catch our breath and to focus on the good things again. When this is over I let her do what she wants and in her case it is often the sandbox. She is able to focus for a moment on her ‘free play’ and I on my work or household chores.
By the time she gets tired of the free game, we set the table together, a task the teacher gave us; involve the child in setting the table. At first I had my reservations about this, but I have to admit that Annabel is doing a really good job. It is also very cute to see that little toddler bring the plates to the table and then articulate who should sit where. In her mind we all have a fixed place and we willingly adapt to her demands. Daddy about her and mommy next to her.
Time at the table is one of my favourite moments. We have lunch and discuss our morning. I am certainly not a teacher but I am always positively surprised what new things she has brought with her from our morning.
2. Involve your kid in the daily household tasks
In the meantime, we also involve her in clearing the table. Take the plates to the dishwasher, the topping in the fridge and the bread in its place. I am still frightened how fast she is with these things. After everything is clean again it is time for an afternoon nap. Normally she doesn’t sleep over the afternoon when it is school, but at home we do this by default. It gives her a quiet moment in which she rests and since it takes a good two hours before we hear them calling, she can clearly use this time.
During those afternoons I also focus on myself. No household chores, just some me – time. Resting on the couch, Netflix or a good book. So we can both go back in that afternoon full of energy.
Because of her siesta, the afternoon is always shorter than the afternoon. Because around six o’clock our evening ritual starts like every day: eating together, taking a bath, cuddling and then going back to bed. In the afternoon I always foresee a predetermined activity in view of her development and nervous system. Sensopatic games, exercise activities, gymnastics in the garden or just rollingerbulbs.
This afternoon, for example, she baked biscuits. And I really mean that she did. She looked for the ingredients in the cupboard, she put the flour and sugar in the pot while I checked the weight and she mixed the dough with her little hands. Rolling out the dough was also her responsibility. Because yes, Annabel is two so the most outspoken sentence she pronounces is of course: ‘I do, mommy don’t do, I do’.
To switch from the afternoon to the evening ritual, we recently switched on our latest discovery: Radio Winokio. (An app with all the music of Captain Winokio) We then dance to Annabel’s favourite songs. After using up our last energy it’s time to end the evening quietly.
Thinking about a certain day structure and especially its layout requires a lot of thinking. Thanks to my work in a day centre, I’m used to that particular time structure. But once you have found your own system that works for you, it will be all right.
In addition to the daily structure, you also need to maintain a week structure. Once you have made a structure for yourself you plan it five times a week. Then it’s just a matter of thinking about how to implement it. But I use a system at work for that as well. Divide activities around a certain theme: music, movement, cooking, crafts and sensopathy. If you have two activities for each theme, you have a full weekly schedule. It is important that you visualize this week structure. Such a system is very easy to find on the internet.
I admit, we are week one of the closure, and my house looks like a kindergarten class. But hey, anything for predictability.
3. Self-care is the key
Honestly, when they announced on the news that the schools would close, I thought I was going to have a meltdown. How would I get this sorted out and most of all, how would I survive being in isolation, 24 hours a day, me and my daughter, without a single moment for myself?!
The past few days I have experienced how important it is that you take this into account in the daily structure. Moments of free play are moments when I’m doing the dishes or cleaning up. But afternoons I spend them mainly for myself. Without any shame I lay down and cut myself off.
We all have to get through these five weeks. Our partners, our children but also us. Our children may be at home, but normal life continues. Many of us work from home and in my case my education at the university continues as usual. But these coming weeks should not only mean doom and gloom. Find a new hobby from home, a new interest or a challenge. Sports, meditate, read.
Self-care is the only way to become a better parent for your children. So don’t forget about all this fuss.
4. Extra eye for you and your partner
It is easy to say that this sea of time gives us an extra chance to connect with our partner. In ‘normal life’ we sometimes dare to lose each other because of all the hustle and bustle. Hello seclusion, hello update of our love life?
Although we now have more time for each other, I don’t always take it for granted. Suddenly you are constantly together or one stays at home when the other starts working. The accusations soon follow, because the other seems to have done so much in contrast to the other. Such isolation also requires some adjustment, but as I said earlier: we can only make the best of the situation. Try to avoid the reproaches one after the other and talk about your day. When you are at home together, go looking for fun activities for the children or find a new series that you can watch. Don’t lose each other, connect.
5. Efficiency, that’s all it has to be
It’s the way it is. We are expected to entertain our children through these weeks, prevent them from feeling like a holiday, keep our household running and do our own work from home. Isolation with kids is not easy and some days I don’t know where to start first. But this will take a while. Hopefully we can resume our lives within five weeks, but I suspect the chances are small.
Structure and predictability, moments of self-care and efficiency, those are the means that will help us through this closure.
You shouldn’t expect yourself to work the number of hours than you would in the field. With children in the house, it’s impossible to say around nine o’clock: keep busy, mommy has to work. Impossible.
That’s why it’s important to work as efficiently as possible. Because to be honest, there aren’t many people who work the full eight hours in one piece, just think of the short or long chats with colleagues, the moments at the coffee machine or the lunch break.
You have to dare to admit it; a lot of time is lost on such a working day where you don’t really work. If you don’t have all this lost time, you can only focus on what you have to do for your work. Draw up a plan with your partner, work out who will take care of the children and who will be able to focus on the work and when. Don’t waste that time reading emails but start with the most boring task, the one you look up to the most. Find out what works for both of you.
For example, I go to class every Monday and Wednesday night. Since the schools are ready but the training is going on, I am now taking lessons via the internet. Wednesday’s lesson normally lasts about four hours. Wednesday evening, when Annabel was lying in her bed, I shut myself off from the whole world and concentrated on my lesson. I have seen all the theory, made summaries and three tasks. This is at three o’clock. Because I just worked really hard and focused on nothing else.
No matter how we do it, we have to get through. Come on, Mommy, hold on. Let’s make the best out of the isolation with kids. And don’t forget to end the day with a good glass of wine!