Last term we were chucked back into lockdown with just a few hours' notice, we didn't know how long it would go on for but it felt like if our kids got behind with their school work, they'd be back in the classroom in no time – with their wonderful, passionate and professional teachers ready to pick up the slack.
But for those of us still in level 3, here we are at the dining table, aka makeshift office and classroom, facing what could be the rest of the term at home with our younger students. The ballpark has shifted, we're now facing the possibility of another whole term at home.
For some families, online learning and lockdown life is seamless. For others, it's fraught with difficulty and stress, frustration, boredom and anxiety. Our family coaches at Parenting Place have noticed that the wear and tear on families is beginning to show and it's tough on so many levels.
Wherever you are on the home-learning spectrum, taking some time to reflect on how things could be tweaked in your whānau could help the next stage of this long lockdown.
Play the long game
There is nothing wrong with aiming high, but pace yourself. Parenting in itself is exhausting. Add to that teaching your kids while also trying to work and run a household, and all while continuously playing "go home, stay home", and you're setting yourself up to be disappointed and burned out. Set realistic goals for each day, and allocate pockets of time-out to re-energise yourself and your kids. Pace yourself for a marathon rather than a sprint. You can't give out all day with low reserves in the tank.
A plan of attack
Starting each week with a timetable for each child (with easy access to Zoom links and passwords) will provide structure and help with juggling meetings, breaks, device availability and schoolwork expectations.
Younger children have less academic pressure so can feel a bit lost when everyone is busy; a timetable with scheduled activities for them to independently work on helps them feel important and offers direction and certainty. When devices or internet availability are limited, Papa Kāinga Home Learning TV is running and most primary schools are printing home learning packs to complete on paper.
Connection is key
The days can be busy with work and kids at home. Scheduling in family hangouts during morning tea and lunch breaks enables little windows for connection and fresh air. This is especially important for kids spending long hours online for school, or younger ones needing to touch base with regular connection.
If your own work hours are flexible, scheduling in dedicated time with your kids during school hours can work wonders for the atmosphere of the whare, especially when schoolwork is a bit tricky to manage solo. Many of us are working more in the evenings to achieve this, which is really tiring, so weigh up what will work best for you and what you can cope with.
The magical balance: offline vs online
Anyone else feeling like screens are taking over? This far into lockdown, the boredom is real – we can face only so many walks around the block and rounds of the same board game, right? There may be resistance, but getting kids offline (and happy about it) is worth the effort. We've been a little bolder this past week, driving within 30 minutes of home to find new places to visit in our downtime for our littlies – a much-needed change of scenery to shake off the cobwebs.
With teenagers, don't be put off by their lack of enthusiasm or eye rolls as you coerce everyone out the door, those reactions are normal. Lead the way and persevere with "adventures – you never know, they might start to enjoy them or even make their own suggestions for offline activities.
It applies to us grown-ups too. I'm finding the online world a bit of a minefield right now. Social media is rife with animosity and opinions and it's unsettling. It's easy to get sucked into this vortex of tension and to feed that inner anxiety with mindless scrolling and obsessive checking of the news. This weekend I gave my phone to my husband as Friday's announcement set me off. Instead, I grounded myself in nature: gardening, visiting the local beach, getting the kids on their bikes despite the rain. Nature has a powerful way of calming us down and providing perspective, redirecting our focus to what's in front of us and what is good in the world.
Supporting your child's feelings – all of them
Uncertainty isn't easy for us as adults, and it certainly isn't easy for our kids either. Yes, this "storm" will pass, but some days even the best cliches don't help that much. So how do we talk to our kids about a future that is so uncertain? Openly, compassionately and empathetically is the short answer. Anxiety and stress are understandable responses in our current climate and our first priority as parents is to simply be there for our kids – to listen and to act as a buffer for those inevitable big feelings.
You might find it useful to remember the emotion iceberg illustration. There is so much going on for our kids below the surface, yet often the big (and unpleasant) behaviours happening right in front of us get our focus. All behaviour is communication. It helps to stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and ask what's going on for a child beneath their big feelings, and consider the message they're really communicating.
My youngest had a rager this weekend, angry and wild for no apparent reason. I felt myself getting wound up and angry back, but I stopped myself, sat next to her, held her hand and said, "It sounds like you're really upset. Can you tell me four words that describe what you're feeling right now." With tears streaming she said, "I'm bored, I hate lockdown, I'm frustrated and I'm sad". She softened, calmed down, we hugged and surprisingly she snuggled in and had a nap. The emotions had exhausted her. I was reminded how easy it us to calm our kids down with empathy and how often things escalate because or our reactions.
Look after your own mental health
We could offer loads of helpful tips and strategies, but the most important thing to recognise is that we need to prioritise our own wellbeing so we can then care for others. Easier said than done sometimes, hey?
Te Whare Tapa Whā is a beautiful reminder of the four cornerstones of our house that need tending to: our physical wellbeing, our mental and emotional wellbeing, our spiritual wellbeing and our social/whānau wellbeing. These are further strengthened when we're connected to the land.
Little acts of self-care can make a big difference. Things like refraining from starting another episode of that gripping Netflix series at 10pm so you get a good sleep, getting a good balance of fruit and veggies (and no, that "grape juice" that goes quite well with Netflix doesn't count as a fruit), calling a friend each day just for a chat and getting exercise even if it's just a walk around the block… again. All of these actions can help us feel better, and therefore support our whare and whānau.
Sometimes all the great advice and self-care in the world won't seem to make any difference if you are beyond depleted, running on empty and struggling with mental health issues. If this sounds familiar, please ask for help. Talking to your GP and reaching out to someone in your trusted circle can make a world of difference in getting through this stressful time.