How to help children deal with isolation - second time around

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images 

HELP! Isolation — second time round

For the families in and around Melbourne who have gone back into isolation, this time for six weeks, the nightmare of this pandemic continues. Given that spikes like this could happen for the next six months or more, this reality could happen to other communities.

Despite the initial angst and frustration, especially for those with school-age children and who have to continue working from home, I have some good news for you. No, seriously, I do.

Firstly, unlike the first time round, you know you can do this. Not only have you done this before, you have learned many things in the last isolation. The key to being a resilient adult is learning to adapt to changes in circumstance and this will be another opportunity to learn to adapt to this new, unwanted reality. 

You know what worked and what didn't work last time. Hopefully you will be less anxious and better organised than you were in the initial shutdown. There will be a noticeable difference in the grief response to this shutdown than to the first shutdown. However, be mindful it can be re-triggered. 

Remember the plan you worked out with your kids around when to do school work, when to have fun and when to get outside and get some fresh air? If not it's time to work that plan again and aim to keep it flexible.

Many of your children who had just returned to their social activities and sport are going to be pretty annoyed. Please validate all the big ugly feelings and really listen to them. 

Try not to use platitudes like "you'll be right" or "it's OK it will go fast". No, instead tell them it does suck and it is unfair and you also wish it wasn't happening. Have a conversation with them about the things they enjoyed last time you were in isolation — and, yes, you may get back into more random cooking, more card games and more bike riding. 

Whatever it was that sustained you last time and lifted your family spirits, you just prioritise. Many families have continued some of the warm and fun things they discovered during the last isolation period.

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You may need to remind your kids how important connecting with their friends still is, especially for tween and teens. Prioritising positive digital connections is again something you need to build into your daily lives.

Keeping your kids engaged in healthy positive activities around the edges of online learning will also be important. There are some top tips that can be found here

Remember to encourage your children to think of the elderly in their neighbourhoods and encourage them to draw pictures for them or to bake for them. Giving children agency to make a difference in the lives of others is one of the best ways to lift the human spirit.

One thing that is different this time is that community transmission is a factor in how the virus is being spread, rather than it just being from people who had been on a cruise or just returned from overseas. This means there is an escalated sense of fear because the chances of picking up the virus from our own neighbourhoods is now higher. 

This will be one reason why parents may be feeling more stressed even though they have successfully navigated four weeks of isolation in the past. Chat about why face masks are recommended when being out and about. This is the new unknown and, in a way, may make us even more cautious and wary of those closest to us. For essential workers, their stress levels must also be higher. For those who have lost their jobs, or whose businesses are struggling things will just get even tougher.

Remember our amygdala is meant to get triggered when things happen that are out of our control. This shutdown was out of your control and you can't control what happens right now outside of your home so just focus on what is within your control at this moment, one day at a time. It's important to care for your own mental health as well as your kids, so please take a look at some of these wonderful suggestions in these links from BeyondBlue and Lifeline as well as Kids Helpline, and remember you are never alone.

Some days will flow more easily than others. Some days will really test you to the edge of your being. On the days when the going gets tough, forget about thriving and focus on surviving. If that means you eat chocolate before lunchtime, and you have an extra coffee or you find yourself hiding in the toilet, so be it! The last thing you need to be doing is beating yourself up because things are going crappy. Be kind to yourself.

Also cut your co-parent some slack as well (and if you're sole parenting through this pandemic, remember you've faced adversity before). Everyone is doing the best they can and some days the best is not very pretty. Learn to apologise quickly and strive to choose kindness every day. 

The two main ways to reduce the stress hormone cortisol from your body are novelty — which includes fun and laughter -— and relaxation. I've created a free series of short videos called Maggie Soothers for the whole family to help you find small ways to do this. 

Finally, know that we as humans are biologically wired to survive frightening and scary things. You will survive. You will come out the other end of this definitely a little older and wiser. Maybe get those teddy bears back into your windows and buy more chalk for footpath drawings.

Above all, take one day at a time and please take care. 

Maggie Dent is one of Australia's favourite parenting authors and educators, and host of the ABC podcast, Parental As Anything, which recently ran a series of episodes for families in isolation.