Finding your family flow

Hello my name is Louisa Tickner-Jenkins and I have worked in the early years sector for 30 years and I have been a childminder for the last 14 years.

My childminding setting is currently closed and my house feels very quiet. Families all over the world were abruptly thrown into a new reality of juggling working from home, home schooling and/or having pre-school children to look after all day. The demands from all of this can feel overwhelming and at times stressful. Added to that there are many families who have ‘key workers’ providing vital services to help get the country through the Coronavirus pandemic, having to deal with the stress and worry of being out on the front line.

So, what can we do at home to help us through this challenging time?

Many of you will have already established a new daily/weekly routine in your household. My early years knowledge and experience tells me that children thrive when there is routine in their life. It creates a sense of predictability and security. This is not only important for children but most adults too function well with a routine in their day-to-day life.

I was listening to a Nun being interviewed who commented that she had been socially isolating for over 20 years but an essential part of her life was her daily routine.

Think about how your day used to run and mirror as much of it as you can, for example, getting up times, meal times, bed time routines. Break the rest of the time up into manageable chunks. With younger pre-school children have a set snack time in the morning and afternoon, ensure they get a good spell of physical activity each day, build in a quiet time if you can.

Don’t exhaust yourself with lots of adult-led play, free play is really therapeutic for children. To keep your toys and resources interesting put a few things away to be brought out on a weekend or in a weeks’ time.

Think about your everyday objects you have around the house, a saucepan, wooden spoon, small plastic pots and some dried pasta can provide hours of entertainment.

Use sheets to create dens, if you have a washing line in an outside space hang a sheet over it and peg down to create an outdoors den.

Use platforms like Pinterest to search ideas for activities based on what your children are interested in. Keep cereal boxes to use for play or craft, and look through your recycling for items that could be used to enhance existing toys, for example, yogurt pots can make garages for small cars. Be careful there are no sharp edges to items.

Search on Instagram for hashtags that have ‘early years’, ‘pre-school’, ‘outdoor play’, ‘loose parts’ for example, and follow them. There are some great ideas that families all over the world are sharing. As you start building a bank of ideas write them down in a notebook so you can look at it each day to give you inspiration. Young children learn through repetition so if a play idea/activity has gone well repeat it.

Search YouTube for storytelling, physical activity, drawing classes, singalongs etc… to keep your children engaged. If sibling rivalry is challenging you could try using a timer system so turn taking feels fair. There are online sand timers you can use on a phone/tablet. If all else fails run a bath and let the kids play in the bath while you perch on the toilet balancing your laptop on your knees dodging the splashes!

Some children may be beginning to feel the effects of our current situation. Think about activities/play ideas that help to manage states of stress. Fun activities that are good stress busters are playing with feathers, trying to blow a feather along the floor, or using straws/rolled up paper to make a straw and use cotton wool balls, have races blowing your cotton wool ball along the floor, or blowing bubbles, making bubbles with water and washing up liquid, add paint for bubble painting.

Any activity where children make their ‘out breath’ longer than their ‘in breath’ will help to reduce stress. The process of a longer out breath slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure. There are many online guided mediations and some great Yoga story telling videos. Remember to name and acknowledge children’s feelings, even very young children.

Go back to your basics, playdough is perfect for relaxing the mind and body. It’s very easy to make your own at home and a lovely activity to do with children. Look online for salt-dough recipes or a cooked playdough recipe which will last months in an air tight container. Look on Pinterest for activity ideas with playdough to keep it interesting for the children. Older children can make their own stress balls with a balloon, and add a mix of flour and baby oil/cooking oil. The simple art of colouring in is very relaxing, there are loads of printable colouring in sheets online.

For younger children painting is a calming activity, if you don’t have paint, dig out an old paint brush from your shed and a pot of water and let children ’paint’ on the ground outside. If you want to minimise the mess of painting, paint blocks that just need a wet paint brush are great, quick and easy to set up and put away. Remember celebrate the small wins throughout the day. There is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ parent, perfectionism is an opinion.

As adults we need to protect ourselves too, perhaps limit the amount of news you watch to that which will give you an update for the day and no more, limit your time on social media so you don’t get caught up in long debates and discussions which are draining to your energy reserves. If you are in a two-parent household ensure each other is able to take time out during the day to re-charge. If you are a single parent try to create space at some point in the day where you do something that re-charges you. If you are now working from home it’s really important to separate work areas from ‘home’, so that when you finish your days work you are able to mentally switch off as this will help you to relax and unwind. Simple things like wearing ‘work’ clothes when you are working to focus the mind set. If you are unable to have a sperate work space find a basket/bag that you can put ‘your office’ in so that its tidied away, or cover a desk with a sheet until you next need to work. Having worked from home for years and not having a designated work room we ensure everything is tided away each day and use a room spray to signify the end of the working day.

I was reflecting that the only certainty we have at the moment is uncertainty, and so if we can try and find some peace in that it may help us feel more settled. If you have a WhatsApp group for your street, use this to share activity ideas, resources (make sure hard plastic surfaces are sterilized before sharing). If you don’t have a WhatsApp (or similar platform) community group set one up, it really important when you have young children that you feel supported in your parenting at any time but especially now.

Look out for next month’s issue where we will delve into outdoor play and loose parts now the weather has picked up.

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