“Quaran-teaming”: Tools and Tips for Families Surviving the Pandemic Together
Let’s face it, the last pandemic happened over a century ago; no one has lived through what we all are going through now as a global community. On one hand, this is a time of great anxiety, panic, discomfort and grief. But what I am noticing as well is that there is a sense of “one-ness” that is connecting us together in this time of adversity; that in this era of social distancing, there is this realization that we crave and need human interaction — connection to others is essential to our survival.
I’d like to share some ideas on how families can not only survive but thrive together in a time where everyone may start to experience “cabin fever.”
Individualized Daily Schedules and Creating a Family Schedule Together
We are creatures of habit, and children thrive in an environment where there is structure. We find comfort in routine and knowing what to expect day to day. Keeping consistency is key (even during a pandemic) — especially during a time when there is so much that is unknown and so little that we can control. Keeping the same general routine (wake up time, mealtimes and bedtime) will help establish a sense of normalcy and security for a child. I encourage families to use this time to be creative and come up with a fun family schedule (be sure to get all members of the family to be on board with this).
“Our Family’s Quaran-TEAM schedule”
“Make it Mondays”: Family will engage in a fun craft activity together.
“Tasty Tuesdays”: Family will learn to cook/bake something new together, or cook/bake a favorite recipe
“Wellness Wednesdays”: Family will dedicate an hour to a wellness activity/physical activity together (kick ball, yoga, obstacle course, etc.)
“Throwback Thursdays”: Family will recreate a special memory/tradition from the past together that everyone found enjoyable; i.e—baking Christmas cookies and watching Christmas movies in pajamas for movie night
“Friday Family Game Nights”: Every week, each family member will get to choose a game for the family to play.
Keeping Expectations Realistic and Learning Each Other’s Cue Words
Schools are being cancelled/closed for the rest of the school year (in a growing number of states), and classrooms are moving to a virtual platform. Parents, I hate to break it to you, but “effectively homeschooling an angsty tween” probably will not be added to the list of qualifications on your resume. Keep expectations realistic — the home environment cannot be held to the same expectations as school for a place of learning. Your job as a parent is not to be a schoolteacher, you have enough hats to wear already. Prioritize your role as a parent; a caregiver who’s main task is to provide your child with the physical and emotional safety so that they are able to process all that’s going on, grieve the fact that they probably will not see most of their friends for a while and finish the school year with their peers, and then continue to learn. There will most likely be an adjustment period to “this new normal.” Compassion, and self-compassion, is key.
There is one almost guarantee during these trying times: things will get heated; you will get on each other’s nerves. Have you and your child come up with “cue words” that can help diffuse a situation, maybe even bring some lightness and humor. Use this word when you notice that you are starting to feel “flooded” (a therapy term used when your emotions start to take over). This cue word can signal the need for a “break/time out” from the situation. For example: a teen feeling nagged by her mother about the laundry she hasn’t done yet and starting to feel like she will “snap” may simply say “lasagna” (cue word). Mom will understand that her teen may not be in a headspace now to address the issue at hand and may need some time to herself.
Identify and Create Individual spaces/ sanctuaries
Have everyone in the home identify a space where they can “retreat” to when needed. For siblings who share a room, this is a time to be creative; build a fort, pop up a tent; let the child decorate their space and fill it with comfort items. Instead of “time out”, this can be their “time in.” Model this for them; show them what your space looks like and when you may need to go to this place. Parents — this too may be a different space than your bedroom (shared with the other parent/partner), it can be a corner of your room (i.e—a meditation space). Encourage at least an hour/day in this space so everyone can have a moment for themselves to reflect.
Journal this experience as a family
Be creative with this! This journal does not have to be a tangible process, it can be in the form of a blog, email chain, group text message; whatever works best for your family. Be sure to include daily activities, pictures, memories, milestones (i.e — we survived our first month in quarantine!). Be sure to include daily/weekly gratitude’s. Have each member contribute to this project. Know that this will one day become a historical record. Turning these times — the challenges and triumphs into a narrative form can help create meaning and process the experience; there will come a day where this all will be in the past.
By Cindy Paauw, LCSW
Clinician, The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic At The Up Center