With schools shut and the health advice to stay at home, practice social distancing to reduce the spread of virus, numerous parents end up battling with their youngsters as they are expected to share confined spaces more hours than they would normally do.
Experts say that staying at home for days can be challenging at the best of times, but it is harder for parents of young children and particularly children with special needs. The pressure to keep special needs children entertained and engaged while balancing work and household duties can lead to parents and carers feeling run down and severely stressed.
We encourage parents to develop a consistent routine and clear implementation of boundaries based on family needs rather than isolated individual needs. A need to share roles and responsibilities and to allow each other space is crucial to prevent reaching boiling points.
I have discovered more about my children than I may have done before Coronavirus. Older children are willing to help and take on more responsibility such as teaching and mentoring a younger sibling. This gives them focus and a sense of making a difference in someone else’s life.
We have adapted a school time table to compliment our traditional home routine to help manage expectations and to build a new norm for our daily living. We know that this norm has no known timeframe at the moment but adaptation is needed now to live harmoniously.
These tips may change how you view home environment and how you can adapt your daily living to what is best for your unique family needs.
1.Develop Family Rules and Values
If you have not already done so, establish a set of rules and values for your family. Get everyone involved in developing these rules and values so that everybody takes ownership of them. Place these lists in a common area that is clearly visible for everyone to see and to refer to them as the need arise. For a child with special needs, it may be helpful to recite these every day particularly at the start of the day and referencing them during the day. This may also help to promote a positive behaviour.
2. Visual Planner
Make a visual planner which clearly shows how tasks will be sequenced daily. Separate days for schoolwork from weekends and colour code each day. This will create predictability and eliminate stress and anxiety of ‘not knowing’. The human brain, as described by experts, is an “anticipation machine, and ‘making future’ is the most important thing it does”. The ability to use past experiences and information about our current state and environment to predict the future allows us to increase the odds of desired outcomes, while avoiding or bracing ourselves for future adversity. This ability is directly related to our level of certainty regarding future events – how likely they are, when they will occur, and what they will be like. Uncertainty diminishes how efficiently and effectively we can prepare for the future, and thus contributes to anxiety – Dan W. Grupe and Jack B. Nitschke.
3. Dedicated Space
If conceivable, set up a dedicated room or space to complete all school related tasks. Get the children to help in arranging this space. Take a firm leadership role in directing and guiding what is expected of the space – it might be worth having different set of rules and boundaries for school related activities.
4. Physical Movement
As occupational therapists, we often encourage physical movement breaks to help regulate the level of alertness. Again, these must be regular, consistent and specific for your family household and your child with special needs. Of course, we acknowledge that there is no one fit all activities and you have to be creative and think outside of the box. You might, for example, begin some days by PE routine 3X a week in the morning, then schedule regular movement breaks between activities that particularly require sitting and more focusing. If these are consistent and regular embedded in the daily routine, they will become automatic and will be much easier to manage.
For small kid, tactile exercises are a fun and loosening up approach to keep them engaged. For instance, playing with sand, water, mixture, dried beans or Lego.
5. Family Based Activities
Family-based social activities are a pleasant method to draw in the entire family. Experiment by setting up obstacle course around the living area or corridor, play hide and seek, play chases inside the house; use resources you already have at home to create fun and enjoyable activities for everyone.