The Omicron variant has invaded so many households, schools and the world, causing many to quarantine, once again. Quarantining can feel like a set back and another major blow, especially now as we’re almost two years into the pandemic. Once again, many parents are faced with the stress of caring for their child, taking care of the household, and working. The uncertainty and disruption causes riptides of emotions. Here are a few ideas that help make what feels impossible more manageable.
Embrace compassion and create a shared understanding
If you go for a run and get a stitch in your side, you can usually push through to the end, with some minor adjustments. With the pandemic, we’ve been running for almost two years, the finish line is uncertain, and pushing through doesn’t really feel like an option. It’s time to pause and appreciate that frustration, stress, and disappointment are all normal reactions to a situation that requires us to flex once again. Your kids need to know that you understand why they may be frustrated, that it’s okay to feel that way, and you are too. This shared understanding often takes the sting out of the strong emotions and allows us to move through them.
Allow yourself to recognize when something is not working or emotions are high and then, give yourself permission to pause or slow down, so you can take stock of the situation, develop the best plan for the moment, and re-set. Sometimes, we all need a good cuddle before moving on.
Set boundaries around work
Talk to your kids about what quarantine means for you and your family. Kids like knowing what to expect and appreciate some structure and boundaries. As a parent, it can be so so so hard for kids to see that you are physically home but not always connected emotionally or present because you are pulled between ALL of the different responsibilities. Many kids are too young to understand this on their own. They may automatically assume work is more important than them, unless you talk, connect, explain and show up. My own kids expressed in their own words, that it feels like a double rejection when I’m actually home working and not with them. When I leave the home for work, the boundary is more clear, and it’s more out of sight out of mind.
Some ideas to help set boundaries around work include:
Put an “at work” sign on your door or set it up on the table beside you
Schedule “break” times and lunch dates. Visual timers, regular timers, and calendars are great for this.
Allow kids to “play office” by your side. Present several activities that don’t require a lot of your attention but are enjoyable so they can be near you. Examples might include coloring, reading, building, and even using technology.
Adjust expectations about screen time
It’s inevitable that children are likely to have more screen time, especially if parents are trying to work from home. Discuss quarantine adjustments with screens and technology with your partner, if you have one before you talk to your kids.
Consider their age and their developmental needs. For example, teenagers often socialize through gaming. Younger children likely still need more supervision and guidance when using technology.
Consider the quality or type of screen. For example, discuss the difference between a real movie and scrolling through YouTube. A real movie may focus attention and tells a story, whereas YouTube or TikTok can be mindless watching and doesn’t really give brains a chance to rest. They actually keep brains in constant motion because the clips are so short. Reading on a kindle might be different than playing video games. Creator mode in Roblox is different from other game modes. Maybe there are learning-based but fun apps kids can do while you are working, even sitting beside you.
If you want to maintain limits on screen time, brainstorm other activities that help fill their time that will keep them occupied and engaged.
Build in some structure
A visual calendar helps everyone, and it can be done day by day versus for the whole of quarantine. It’s especially helpful to include the whole family when creating the plan for the next day. Here’s a list of our favorite free activities and our favorite games to help with brainstorming activities. Include the following in your day:
For those that are feeling well enough, have one activity a day that gives you and your children a sense of completion and have at least one fun, preferred, or interactive activity a day.
Try to move at least 30 minutes a day if you aren’t too sick. Play a round of family basketball, have a dance party, follow an indoor family workout, make an obstacle course or scavenger hunt.
Find time to connect. Put your phone down at least twice a day and give your children your undivided attention to doing something that THEY want to do. You will be surprised how much this fills them up!
Make a collective family ritual (movie night, board games, hide and seek, spa time). When in quarantine, your nights might actually include more free time. Make use of it.
For younger kids, take some pictures of activities they can do when bored or for quiet time. Sometimes, it’s hard to come up with ideas on your own when you’re already stuck in boredom.
Brainstorm an exciting activity for the end of quarantine
When faced with situations that might have their share of challenges, we all appreciate having something to look forward to. You might go to the library, bookstore, or other store; go out to eat or get a special treat; or do a fun activity such as swimming or going to an event.
Re-entry might not be as easy as one might expect. It’s still an adjustment. Change can be hard, even when it is technically a good change, so be ready to adjust your expectations. Many children and teens worry about make-up work or feeling lost in class since they haven’t been there. Younger children especially may have gotten used to being at home with their parents. Some kids may be temporarily needier because they got used to being around you all of the time. Recognizing and anticipating concerns will help with patience and compassion as you resume school and activities.
Have a conversation with your kids about what they expect when they return to school and how they feel about returning to school. You can ask if there’s anything they liked about being home, what they might miss, what they might look forward to at school, and what might be hard.
Anticipate changes at the school level
Be prepared for potential change when returning to school. Given how widespread Omicron is, some of what feels familiar and safe may be different. For example, your child may have a substitute teacher, some good friends may also be absent, structure may change if staffing isn’t the norm. When kids know about change ahead of time, they can often adapt more easily. Kids who are hesitant for change or new situations often benefit from listing what’s the same versus what might be different, given that knowing and focusing on the familiar helps navigate the unfamiliar. For example, even with a substitute teacher, the format of the day is likely to remain the same.
Provide support for re-entry when needed
Little things like this can go a long way in paving the way to a smoother re-entry process.
Acknowledge the difficult, but show confidence in their ability to work through hard things. For example, normalize feeling nervous but that that nervous feeling will go away once they get to school and figure out what they need to do. And, they don’t have to figure out on their own. Friends, teachers, the counselor, even support staff are there to help them.
Let the teacher know if your child has concerns about re-entry
Contact the school counselor to ask for a check in or planned break
Meet and walk in with a friend if drop off is hard.
Make a plan for make-up school work
If you pack a lunch, put a special note, fun fact, or joke in their lunch box.
Check your own anxiety
Kids feel the energy around us and are more in tune with us than we think. It’s easy for your own anxiety to spark when your child is in distress. You can start worrying about what might happen. If children sense your emotional current or riptide, their distress grows. We want to both validate their feelings while helping them feel empowered. Let them catch your calm and confidence in them rather than worry or chaos.
Model and validate feelings
Typically, effective coping is done at an internal level. Our kids don’t always get to see or understand initial reactions to a situation and how we work through them. Talk out loud about your own feelings about different situations, especially new situations and change. Normalize that everyone can feel overwhelmed and a little nervous even when there is a good chance.
Behavior is communication
If your kids are acting out or melting down, remember that behavior is communication. Your kids may not be able to identify or verbalize what they are experiencing – they may have an invisible riptide of emotion. Pause to validate and name their emotions and provide a space to calm. Once calm, then you can go into brainstorming and problem-solving mode, but not before!
Remember, above all, you are doing the best you can for the situation you are in. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s prioritizing recognizing our own feelings, slowing down, and being flexible. There is no perfect way to navigate this. You figure out what works for you and for your family, which may look different than what works best for another person and family.