Seeing my own family, and talking to others about their experiences, it is evident that this Coronavirus forced isolation is difficult on most of us, and particularly our children. They are usually able to be social and see their friends most days. Many of our children are starting to feel lonely, for a lack of social interaction, some bordering on depression.
Below are some ideas to help combat loneliness and rising depression in children during isolation
- write letters or emails to relatives and friends – an activity to allow them to express themselves, and they will delight in, and look forward to receiving replies
- make video letters for relatives and friends – as above, but may be more engaging for some children
- virtual ‘playdates’ : set up a time with the other parents for video group chat with their friends – allows each child to reconnect with their social circle
- family walks/ run and bike outside/ skipping/ climb a tree – exercise stimulates the production of ‘happy hormones’. Being outside exposes us to vitamin D, fresh air, and a changing environment. all important for our well being. being active outside allows our children to burn off excess energy, help calm anxious thoughts, to give a fresh perspective, and physical play lets them use imagination and problem solving skills in a creative way.
- read a book – let your child get lost in another world, for a time. This can help push any persistent negative thoughts away, and give them a little break.
- journal their thoughts and feelings – this will allow your child to be able to express themselves fully. They won’t have to hold back for fear of negative judgement or consequences, and will allow them to process their thoughts
- picnics: in your yard, on your balcony, or even your lounge room floor – this is something a little different to the daily norm, while fulfilling a necessary task (eating lunch), rather than having the exact same routine every day.
- give them a project: make it something they will enjoy, and can work on bit by bit. Let them make all of the decisions and do all of the necessary research. Act as advisor only when asked. They should be allowed to be totally responsible for it. In this situation, kids in particular can feel as though they have no control, so let them have some control over something. We choose small gardens for our older kids. They researched what would grow in our area, and chose the plants they wanted. Then researched what they would need, how deep to plant, how often to water, and so forth. They are solely responsible for their own gardens, and love checking each day to see if anything has grown. Other ideas include a pot plant or window box garden. Build a scale model of a city of their own design, perhaps using lego or material to be recycled. Write a book, or comic with illustrations. Design and make a board game or jigsaw puzzle. Redecorate / rearrange their bedroom – with a preset budget. Make a video.
- have a range of smaller projects available to them. Ask each child the night before, or morning of, which project they will be working on that day. – Let them decide for themselves, and give them something to look forward to, once their schoolwork is done. 77boxes have a great range suitable for these. Examples of great projects include art, craft, puzzles, and building projects.
- try to ensure some downtime, or ‘alone time’ for each member of the family, each day. This includes the parent/s or caregiver/s. In order to fully be yourself; and be present with your family, you need time to recharge your own batteries.
- most kids need boundaries, and routine. If this works for your family, create a daily or weekly schedule. Schedule where you need to work and they need to be doing their schoolwork, meals and anything else non negotiable, leave plenty of time for unstructured play. Involve each member of the household in creating any schedule they are expected to abide by.
- impromptu /crazy activities: announce at irregular times that it is time for an impromptu activity. You think of the activity the first time, then take turns to come up with something new, each time you announce an impromptu activity time! Examples might be, make a game of tenpin bowls with items around the house, movie nights, hopscotch, giant board games such as snakes and ladders or checkers, using chalk to make the outlines. bake a treat together. Make up games I’m not sure if I made this up, or modified it from something else but we play ‘the peg game’, where we each attach a given number of pegs to our clothing, I set a timer for 2mins, then we run around like crazy trying to ‘steal’ the pegs from others, and attach to our own clothes. The winner has the most pegs when the timer sounds. – this adds a bit of fun, and can break up the day a bit.
- talk. encourage your kids to talk to you. listen to them. respond in ways that let them know you are listening, and they are important. the way they feel is important.
- don’t feel you have to fill every minute of every day for your child. Their days do not have to be full on, all day or even every day.
- Being active is important, but nobody wants to be active for every waking minute. Sometimes each of us needs to be able to zone out a bit, and then move onto something more productive.
- online counselling, if necessary. Speaking to Dannielle, a counsellor, I discovered that Kids Helpline is a great place to start. Many counselling services are now offering online counselling. (phone 1800 55 1800, or https://kidshelpline.com.au )