If the adults in a family are able to create a pleasant family ambience and can convey safety and calm, their children will also see it this way.
A mother was telling me that, when her son was 5, he always paid close attention to the conversations on daily events by adults and would ask if what they said was good or bad. For him, it wasn’t enough to hear the news objectively, he also wanted to know what his mother thought about it. I found this a very good example to illustrate how children look at life depending on how their closest adult references do. Applying this anecdote to present times, we could say that children will experience today’s confinement based on how the adults living with them make them live through it. If the adults in a family are able to create a pleasant family ambience and can convey safety and calm, their children will also see it this way.
Indeed, it is very different living through confinement in a large apartment than in a small flat, with our without any balconies or terraces, with a family member who is sick or where everyone is in good health. Besides this external conditioners, however, there are some aspects we can control and that can help us have a greater family wellbeing during these days, especially with young children. I would like to highlight a few:
Getting one’s priorities right: Since right now there is a social emergency that forces us into an involuntary and forceful confinement at home, the top priority at home should be to build a good family ambience. Without forgetting how serious these times are, we should try being humorous in our daily life and play down the situation. It’s important to find time during the day to laugh with our kids, be jolly, find moments to play as a family, tickle each other, tell jokes, sing, dance, draw and read stories together. Build complicity and work towards building a good family ambience at home. It’s always better to face up to complicated situations staying calm and with good humour than feeling anxious and angry. The memories children will keep from these times will greatly vary depending on this.
Knowing how to explain: children have the right to know what’s going on and, therefore, we must find ways of explaining things so they understand. We must be aware that this situation affects them in many ways: until very recently they couldn’t leave the house and now they can only go out for an hour a day; they can’t go to school, or to visit their grandparents and cousins, etc. So, we need to explain what is happening, what they can and can’t do as naturally and openly as possible: not lying, but also not creating fear. Make the children participate in the times we are living. Often, finding no answers at all or seeing their parents not coping with the situation will make children worry more than getting an honest answer that they can understand.
Learning to adapt: in order to offer security, we must adapt our days and activities to make them as normal as possible, and for this it is important to stick to our habits and routines as always. Perhaps our routines will be more flexible that usual, and they must help setting the pace for every day: time to get up and go to bed, time to share meals, time for homework and house chores, time to play alone or as a family, time to talk to friends, etc. Focusing on what is essential (in terms of behaviours, habits and attitudes) and leaving the rest for later. Avoid being too strict, don’t push limits and measure our energy.
Learning to trust: Showing we fully trust our children; I’m sure more than one has felt positively surprised by the level of maturity in their attitudes and behaviours. Also making our children feel confident and safe knowing that we’re doing what we must. We’re all getting tired of staying at home; a situation that was new and felt like a bit of a challenge (when nobody in the family is sick) like discovering new games, ways of keeping busy, pulling out those old board games and finding easy cooking recipes etc.) has now, in the best of cases, turned into a routing, maybe boring. Now comes the difficult part of persevering, trusting that we’re on the road to recovery and keeping the necessary measures established by experts.
Everything passes, and this pandemic will also pass. It would be nice that when that day comes, we are all stronger as a family.