Family Life during crises

By Kristiina and Markku Virkkila, Finland

During lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, schools and daycare centers are closed and the whole family week schedule has to be reorganized. Parents are homeschooling their children with teachers’ help, entertaining their toddlers and also working online. Both children and parents are confused. This situation is challenging for everyone.

You are experts in parenting!

Take a deep breath (actually, wash your hands first!)  and be merciful to yourself.  First of all you are parents to your children, not teachers or coaches. Keep your kids safe, make them feel loved and feed them. That’s what’s most important and that’s all you have to be an expert in.

If multicolor week and day schedules make you feel better, and your children respond well to them, then by all means use them. But for others it is good to have just a rough schedule – when to wake up, go to sleep and times for meals.

Start with a family check-in each morning. How are you? What do you need to get started on this morning? What kind of exercises do each of you have today? Who is helping with laundry or cleaning or making dinner? Giving your kids some control will help them feel in control. Let them help you create a dinner menu, give them the power to decide where you go on your family walk, let them have a place to be really loud, jumpy and playful.

Take time to play or walk outside the house (if this is still allowed) before or after school exercises, and have fun together. During a family check-in, parents can also be honest about how hard it is not to see their friends every day. Part of building resilience and empathy in our children is modeling for them how to be flexible and gentle with themselves. You can remind your children that even though this may seem to go on forever, this period of isolation will end someday.

Make room for big feelings

The pandemic is forcing us to stay within our four walls for the next weeks, which means our feelings are also packed in tight. Give yourself the space to be angry and cranky, and let your kids know that it’s normal to react this way to change. Go outside and throw things at the wall or in a field with them. Write angry letters to the coronavirus. Paint posters on how to win against the virus. Make a list of all the places you’re going to go and things you are going to do when the world feels safer.

Staying together in the same house with your family week after week can start to irritate everyone, and that’s normal. It could be helpful if everyone was able to have at least one corner just for themselves. In that particular space you could spend time without others disturbing you. It could be helpful to have few hours every day when all family members do their own thing: toddlers have a nap, older ones have time to read and play, and parents have time for a nap and a cup of coffee.

Make your home a safe place

As a parent your main task during crises is to help your children to feel safe and loved. Adults need different things than children to feel safe. Adults often need information and that’s why they watch the news and spend time on the internet following the latest corona updates. Children feel safe when their parents are with them, listening and validating their feelings.

Children may not remember news and facts about the Coronavirus pandemic but they are going to remember the emotional atmosphere you had in your home at this time. The atmosphere depends on how you talk about lockdown, the virus, the future and family. This is a good opportunity to reassure your children that you enjoy being with them. You can admit that you find teaching them is hard or boring but you are trying because it is for your children’s wellbeing. You may use some of your own time to follow the latest news, but don’t have the TV on all day on Corona breaking-news channels. You can admit to your children that you are worried but you should also remind them that you can keep yourselves safe following simple routines like washing hands.

It might be good to ask children what they think and feel when they hear so much about this Corona virus and what kind of questions the news raises in their minds. You can write those questions and worries down if it helps you to concentrate while listening. Then you could pray together about things they are worried about, and provide some answers if you have them. Reassure your children that you adults are concerned, but they can be safe and at peace. More important than giving all the right answers is listening and understanding your children. If they are afraid, ask what would help: would they like a hug or to make dinner with you?

After this pandemic is over, we adults will be able to list all kind of difficulties and problems we had, but this won’t necessarily help us when we meet future crises. To build resilience, it is more constructive to ask your family to write down daily at least one thing they have learned, something they found nice or helpful, and an activity which was fun today. Everyone has their own challenges and survival methods. In this way you will be able to collect a list of how your family managed to live in the midst of a crisis, and this will make your family feel stronger and more united. The best thing your children can learn from this is that they have a family that knows how to survive and be together.

For children it is important that they have your time and attention. With toddlers it’s easier if you let them help you do things and sit nearby watching when they play. You are at home 24/7 for several weeks, but now is probably not the best time to renovate the house or clean all your closets if you have little children! Have fun together and make sure that everyone has at least a small place or corner to be alone.

Kristiina and Markku Virkkila

We have all been forced to cancel hobbies, events and meetings. For a young and older children it’s hard to have birthday parties or visits to good friends and relatives canceled. It doesn’t help to reason their losses: “We all have to…”.  Try to share their disappointment and instead of completely canceling something, you could try to find of a way to replace or change your plans. Could you have a Skype or Zoom party, or have a special movie night with you family?

Take care of yourself

The most important tasks for you as parents to undertake at this time are to to keep your kids safe, make them feel loved and feed them. Make it simple and fun, and remember to take time for yourself – even a coffee break – to take a deep breath and lean on the peace and presence of God. Your kids lean on you to feel safe, you can lean on your Heavenly Father and unload your burdens on Him. He is also your strength in the midst of a crisis.