These are difficult times.
They are difficult because being confined to our home with our family is new to us, our daily routines have gone out the window, we as parents are trying to figure out how to work with littlies at home, how to deal with sibling squabbles, how to be resourceful with what we have, all while trying to manage our own anxiety.
Firstly, you are human, there are going to be moments when you melt down. Breathe, smile, look after yourself and these will be fewer.
Get your social contact time via IT, get some daily exercise, eat well and team tag with another adult in your house to take time out for you - every day. Being able to manage your own anxiety will have a positive flow on effect on your children's anxiety levels. So take time out, you need and deserve it.
Your older child may have some awareness of what is facing our community right now, while your younger child will feel your anxiety but will lack understanding of what is happening. Younger children may still be egocentric developmentally, and may attribute your anxiety to something they have done.
Initially being home with the family may feel like a great thing, a bit like a summer holiday. However, as time progresses over the coming days and weeks you will likely see a change in your children's behaviour. Most younger children are not able to communicate their concerns and anxiety verbally and this will be expressed through behavioural changes. You will potentially see:
* More meltdowns, tantrums, and oppositional behaviour.
* A regression to past behaviour, eg bed wetting, wanting to sleep in your bed or be very clingy.
* More questions.
This is normal, age appropriate and expected under these circumstances. These may be an attempt to:
* Feel secure and that everything will be ok.
* Gain a sense of control.
* Gain understanding of the lock down situation.
* Manage emotions in the face of a very difficult situation.
* Gain your attention
* To work out if the same family rules still apply.
What your children need right now most of all is to feel comforted and loved. It is so important that they feel like it is all going to be okay. Focus firstly on giving them lots of love and attention.
Use this time which has been gifted to us to try and prioritise spending some time together. To bake biscuits and paint pictures. Play board games and watch movies. Do a science experiment together or find virtual field trips of the zoo. Create a fitness circuit in your garage or garden. Read together. Snuggle under warm blankets and do nothing.
Validating your children's emotions and empathising with them will help them feel understood and less alone, which helps reduce anxiety. This involves helping them name how they are feeling, understand that these feelings are in response to a very new situation, normalising those feelings and ensuring that they know no feeling is 'wrong' in this situation.
"When children act out, pause, and ask yourself, 'What is the function of this behaviour?' In other words, what is 'underneath' this? Which need(s) is/are unmet at the moment? Remember, you don't need to make it all better (in fact, you can't). You may just need to validate, for them and for yourself, that it's hard right now." Dr Melanie Woodfield, clinical psychologist, Health Research Council Clinical Research training fellow, University of Auckland
While lock down days are going to be less 'regimented' than your regular life, it is very important that you have some predictability and routine in your days. This is will help your children feel secure, and give them a sense of being in control in an otherwise uncontrollable situation. Additionally predictability and routine will help you get the things done that need doing, eg your work/job.
Create a 'lose' routine, if possible with some connections with you 'old life'. For example getting up and dressed, a time for work, a time for play and some family time. Being able to predict what is coming next will help children feel in control, know what is expected of them and when they will get to spend time with you.
It is also vital that you keep consistent with family values, rules, expectations of how we treat each other and consequences for behaviour. Some testing behaviours can be a child's way of checking out whether the rules still apply and they will actually feel reassured to know that you expect the same behaviour and breaking the rules means the same consequences!
In the midst of many choices being removed for them, giving your children some choices during the day is also really important for them to feel a sense of control. Give them a choice of what they will wear today, what they will eat for breakfast, whether they want to go for a walk before or after lunch.