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Lighten Up: Stress Busters for Families During COVID

As a parent coach for MACMH I have been receiving calls from parents who are trying their very best to juggle the COVID Shelter at Home orders for home schooling and their own adult working from home requirements.

Many are frustrated at trying to keep children on task, helping them learn new concepts, and preventing them from getting in a brawl with their siblings. When a child struggles with a mental health disorder and is on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), parents are concerned that they won’t be able to stick to the exact minutes of required instruction or get their child to meet their annual goals.

Sometimes, parents may find their child rebelling, refusing to do school assignments, becoming dysregulated and having a meltdown. Discipline and consequences for not getting assignments done may cause the parent to insist the child sit and finish the work before allowing them to do anything else. Parents may become so upset they have an adult meltdown!

The Coronavirus Shelter at Home is stressful for everyone, especially for families with school age children and teens. But, the problem isn’t that parents aren’t trying hard enough.

The answer isn’t trying harder. Instead, the solution may be to lighten up in order to give yourselves and your children a break from all the stress.

Can learning be fun?

Yes- if we think beyond the traditional skill and drill and time out consequences for negative behaviors and take this opportunity to try creative alternatives.

  • Recognizing that these are unusual circumstances and remembering that attention spans differ depending on the age of the child is a start.

  • Making a fun daily schedule that includes time for art projects, music, board games, acting out stories, and time in nature is essential.

Children weren’t sitting still all the time when they were attending school before the COVID shutdown. Recess, gym class, music class, art, and other fun activities were also a part of their day. There are many resources and ideas online to help jazz up your Shelter at Home school day for a much less stressful and even fun experience.

Wide Open School has daily schedules with creative ideas divided by three levels: PreK, K-2, and 3-5. Each day an entirely new lesson plan pops up with reading, writing, emotional well-being, social studies, movement fun, math, a virtual field trip, and evening activities to enjoy with family members. Although you can’t skip ahead, you can click the back arrow to explore activities that have been posted earlier in the month.

Live Science is a great site for middle or high school students to explore. You can find anything from the microscopic to outer space, from endangered species to Strange News.

Positive Parenting Tips sorted by developmental ages from babies to teenagers can be found on the CDC child development website. As parents, we all have times when we lose our cool. This site gives great pointers to reframe discipline into a learning experience instead of punishment. These tips help keep family life fun and children safe as they develop through each stage of their growth.

Prevent Child Abuse has coronavirus resources to help families manage stress, stay connected and have fun as a family. This page reminds us of activities that we loved as children such as going camping in the living room, making a pillow fort, going on a nature scavenger hunt, or learning math measurements through cooking.

A Fine Parent encourages us to be a good parent through “Lazy Parenting” and 101 Fun Things to DO With Kids To Enjoy Everyday Family Life. Under the website tab Coronavirus Support, there are links to many fun educational activities such as Harry Potter at Home: Bringing Hogwarts to You.

Children are learning as they PLAY

All ages learn best by doing. Children and teens are learning when they plant a garden, read for fun, bake cookies, play an instrument, and help parents with projects around the house. Building a bird feeder, designing their own “vacation” corner, or creating masterpieces with clay, paints, colored pencils and crayons are part of learning.

MOVEMENT is essential

When kids are wiggly it is because their brains are craving oxygen and exercise. Spinning in place to music, fun yoga moves, jogging in place, and taking turns leading exercise breaks keep our brains awake so it is easier to pay attention when we sit down to do “serious” work.

Enjoy the OUTDOORS

Enjoying the outdoors with children allows them to breath in the fresh air and soak up the sunshine or rain.

Making mud pies, looking for bugs, digging in the dirt and splashing in puddles are all healthy activities that will not give you the coronavirus.

Two excellent sites for ideas on learning activities to explore with children are:

Natural materials can be used for collecting, weaving, painting, braiding, and making a collage. Encourage your children to create their own natural artworks. Teach them to identify birds, flowers and trees. Set up an easel or use a sketchpad to draw the landscapes they observe in their outdoor environment.

The possibilities are as endless as a child’s imagination. And, the results are certainly much more positive than power struggles, cabin fever, and battling siblings! The hidden surprise in changing your perspective and engaging in fun activities with your children is you will capture some of the feeling of freedom you felt when you played outside for hours as a child. As summer weather approaches, the world is your child’s classroom and playground. Enjoy!

Written by Deborah Cavitt, Project Director and Parent Coach

Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health (MACMH)


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