Some Thoughts On Family Self-Isolation


Gilda’s Club Westchester: Children, Teens & Families Program In This, Together: Some Thoughts On Family Self-Isolation

We’ve had so many wonderful, productive conversations with so many of you, this past week; our communal thoughts, fears, and successes have been compiled here. If you have other suggestions for this list, please let us know.

The Basics:

  • You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be Mary Poppins or Mr. Rogers. This is a lot to take in and it’s okay to share with your children that you are working through all these changes together.
  • Model what you want from your kids. Get up, get dressed (or set a pajama day), get some exercise, and share your emotions.
  • Remind them that you are there if they have questions, need a hug, or just want a break. Physical proximity is one thing; being together – while being present – is another.
  •  Emotions aren’t mutually exclusive. Sadness or fear can seem like anger. Being happy doesn’t mean you aren’t still worried. Lots of emotions can live together and that is okay. Whatever emotion you are feeling is fine as long as you can find a way to work with it.

Tips and Strategies for Thriving – as a Family – at Home:

1. Routine matters. You don’t have to live on military time, but give your day some structure! Talk it over with your family; what rhythm do you want the day to have? Some suggestions:
    1. Keep wake up and bedtime consistent.
    2. Make sure there are still meal times and breaks. You don’t need “formal dining,” but make sure there are 10 or 15 minutes when everyone pauses to touch base and eat.
    3. Activity, exercise and air are important! Get your sunshine and vitamin D. Have a treasure hunt in the yard, play I Spy, run a relay race, take a bike ride, or a walk around the block; all are good for mental and physical health.
    4. Your routine doesn’t have to be rigid. It’s okay to change it up. One creative way to do that is to put the list of daily “events” on slips of paper in a bowl (things like outside time, reading, music, screen time, school work) and have the kids choose a new activity after a certain interval.  It still gives the day structure without being too strict.
    5. Eat normal meals and be sure to keep hydrated. Being home can definitely lead to snack attacks. Try to keep the routine of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and whatever normal snacks you would usually have. Maybe set up a “snack basket” each morning; your kids will enjoy ‘grab and go,’ and you can control the ratio of healthy snacks to treats.

2. Play really matters. (And no, not just for the kids.) You are probably feeling tired, busy and overwhelmed, and thinking, “playtime is not high on my list.” But that’s exactly why you need to do it. Summon your inner child – then summon your real children – and color, finger paint, get out the puppets, or just lay on the grass, look at the trees and make up a story. Play gives our brains a chance to rest and work through problems. It does the same for kids. Don’t be surprised if playtime leads to great conversations.

3. Be social. All of us need time to ‘hang’ (facetime, zoom, etc) with our friends. Right now, even the CDC says social video games are a good thing. Have a conversation about working within the rules (time limits, other work done, etc), and then encourage regular social time with peers.

4. Take a break! This is hard on everyone…including you. And as we like to remind you, ‘putting on your own oxygen mask first’ doesn’t just apply to airplanes. If you don’t take care of yourself, you are not going to have what you need to help your children.
    1. Separate spaces for work and play. If separate rooms aren’t an option for school/work and recreation, then make sure you “pack up” work (yours or the kids’) so that you have some space to relax without staring at work.
    2. Everyone should have their own space for downtime. A bedroom, a neutral corner, even a spot on the floor.
    3. If there’s a day where you can’t find some adult-only time, put on some music and encourage singing. Put on a movie and make some popcorn. Down time is really important.

5. Normalize the abnormal. Children often can sense anxiety. Even a non-verbal child can pick up on tension from the adults around them, even when that tension is unspoken. Kids are very attuned to what’s going on. It’s okay to say, “This seems strange,” or, “Even grownups feel worried sometimes when things seem different.” By sharing how you feel, you are giving your child permission to share how they are feeling.
    1. Separate spaces for work and play. If separate rooms aren’t an option for school/work and recreation, then make sure you “pack up” work (yours or the kids’) so that you have some space to relax without staring at work.
    2. Everyone should have their own space for downtime. A bedroom, a neutral corner, even a spot on the floor.
    3. If there’s a day where you can’t find some adult-only time, put on some music and encourage singing. Put on a movie and make some popcorn. Down time is really important.

6. Shift how you are thinking.
    1. Think kind thoughts. Try to assume the best intent, and to give the benefit of the doubt. And share this thought with kids.
    2. Think ‘alarm deactivation.’ Everyone is running on “alert,” and any disturbance in the force (like loud chewing, fidgeting, or a blaring TV) can be enough to be the last straw. Take a breath and count to ten. Maybe even 20. Encourage kids to do the same. Instead of making your voice louder, make it softer – a kindergarten teacher trick – because it requires kids to be quieter to hear what you’re saying.
    3. Think old school. What was fun when you were a kid? A change of pace doesn’t mean having to leave the house. Have a camp out in the living room. Sleep on a sleeping bag in the bedroom. Go for a drive and play the alphabet game. Bring back board games. Eat a Sloppy Joe. Pop popcorn.

7. Take Mr. Rogers’ advice.
    1. Look for the helpers. Mr. Rogers was a smart man. He said whenever he was worried, his mother would tell him to notice who the helpers were. Talk to young children about who the helpers are right now.
    2. b. Be a helper. Research has shown that nothing squelches fear as fast as doing something for someone else. Brainstorm ways you/your child can be a helper. Make a card for a neighbor, draw a message or a picture on the sidewalk, email or FaceTime family members. It doesn’t have to be something big, but helping someone else gives you a focus other than worry.

8. One day at a time! Set some goals each day…which can include having a day off.)
    1. Try new coping strategies. Meditation, reading, walking, praying, mindfulness, breathing, and talking to someone are all great, tried and true coping techniques. Now may be a good time to try one that you haven’t, before.
    2. Learn a new hobby – try drawing or cooking or putting a large puzzle together. Learning a new skill requires focus, which also acts as a distraction. And keep at it a little every day. Practice really makes perfect.
    3. Having a hard day? Take one hour at a time. Sometimes the big picture is too big. Don’t try to process this all at one time, or wonder what will happen in a week. Take baby steps: What do I need to do in the next hour? How can I help you through this next activity or assignment? Smaller chunks are less daunting to manage.
    4. Work toward a longer goal. If there’s a big project you’ve been wanting to tackle, now is a great time. Go through old photos, clean a closet, learn ten phrases in a new language, or watch a TV series from start to finish. You don’t have to finish in one day or even a week. Just have a goal, and keep at it.

9. Laugh.
    1. Yep: laugh. It might not feel like there’s much to laugh about, but find a funny video, an old joke book, a silly story or a sitcom and let laughter recharge your endorphins.

10. Understand the power of control.
    1. No one can control everything; the trick is to find – and help our children find – the things we can. If your children like control (or dislike chaos or change), help them find something they can manage. Maybe that’s neatening up a bookshelf or organizing their space. Or deciding what to have for dinner…and then helping to cook it. It doesn’t matter what they are controlling; creating structure for something within their ability is powerful.

11. Avoid overload.
    1. Minimize the media. There is a constant stream of news on every channel. If you want/need to know the updates, decide on a set amount of time to listen or watch. After that try music, movies or a channel without the news.
    2. Turn it off. By the end of the day you may feel like you are on sensory overload (or you/your kids may be especially tired/cranky/upset). This could be in part to not having enough down time. Shut the music/TV, lower the lights and try to chill out before bed. This is a good time for a book or made up story or quiet conversation.

12. You may have the feeling that you have had this feeling before. A recent article points out that what we are experiencing is grief. Loss of our everyday life, loss of the normal (whatever that normal might be), loss of freedom, and loss in general, and fear of the future. Managing this loss may impact other feelings of grief, or even put them on hold.

13. Cut yourself some slack. Dinner was pancakes? Spent the day in pajamas? Had a fight? At the end of the day you need to focus on the most basic of all human needs – safety. Be together, hug each other, sit together on the coach.

14. Support – support each other and know that Anna, Laura, and all of Gilda’s Club staff are here if you need to talk, bounce ideas off of us, set up sessions for your children or just want to see a friendly face/hear a friendly familiar voice.

-Laura Moore, Director, Children, Teens and Families, Gilda’s Club Westchester

- Anna Powers, Oncology Social Worker, Gilda’s Club Westchester

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