Journaling isn’t just for school. It can help your kids in a variety of personal ways that can also help you as a parent tune into your kids during this COVID-19 quarantine if they are willing to share their thoughts. Sometimes they will put something into writing that they might not say to you.
Let’s be honest– even with “school,” your kids probably need some constructive things to do anyway. Journaling can fire their imagination, improve their writing skills, and cultivate self-awareness. Plus it can be fun and give you something to start a conversation! Make it part of their daily routine– maybe the first thing they do after breakfast or the last thing they do before bed.
So, take a look around the house– is there an empty composition book or notebook you can put together? Kids love their electronic devices, but I would only use them as an absolute last resort. You can make up the topics, but try to make them as open-ended as possible or add a “Why?” at the end. Of course, keep topics appropriate for your child’s age and interests. Below are a bunch of journal topic suggestions to get you thinking! But to review just a few of the benefits of journaling for your child:
- Clarify their thoughts and feelings
- Help them know themselves better
- Reduce their stress
- Give you insight into how they are dealing with our current situation.
- List of things that make me happy.
- I wish I knew more about __________ because….
- What is something that is important to my family?
- What has been your favorite thing you learned from schoolwork?
- My favorite part of last week was…
- Three things I’d like to talk about.
- If I could rename the colors of crayons…
- What I miss the MOST being in quarantine. What I miss the LEAST.
- What is my favorite dessert and why?
- If I could create a new creature… [Describe & Draw?]
- If my dog or cat could talk, it would say things like…
- I was proud when I __________
- Five things I’m good at are…
- If a genie granted me three wishes…
- If I was in charge of the weather…
- My favorite holiday is…
- What would happen if you found gold in your backyard?
- What would happen if animals could talk? What questions would you like to ask them?
- If you could have been someone in history, who would you have been? Why?
- I taught someone how to…
- You can only take 3 people with you on a trip around the world, who would you take?
- Oh, no, I’m quarantined and I can’t…
- If you could give any gift in the world, what would you give and to whom?
- The house was so quiet, but then I heard…
- If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
- If you received any sum of money as a gift, what would you do with it?
- Did you ever catch fireflies? Crickets? Frogs? Snakes? Why/why not?
- What was your most difficult or most joyous life experience?
- The BEST/WORST ways the quarantine has affected my family?
- List one of your pet peeves and write about why it annoys you.
- What is something that you appreciate about your parents? Why?
- Write about a window you broke or something valuable you lost.
- What would happen if it suddenly started raining spaghetti and meatballs?
- Describe the perfect date.
- What is courage? What is the most courageous thing you have done?
- Describe a hero. It can be either someone you know or simply qualities of a hero.
- What is your favorite activity? Who do you do it with? Why do you think you enjoy it?
- Write about a good book you’ve read recently.
- The best and worst parts of quarantine are…
- What will you do differently when you’re a parent? Why?
- Do you spend too much time with electronic devices? Why/why not?
- What do you think should have or should NOT have been invented and why?
- List one major world problem and how you think we should solve it.
- Do you think that there is or ever was life on another planet?
- What is the most important issue facing teens your age today?
- Were you ever given a responsibility that you couldn’t handle?
- Describe the best concert you ever attended.
- Write about a time you tried to help and ended up making things worse.
- Did you ever break an important promise?
- Write about moving to another city or neighborhood or house.
- Did you ever meet a famous person? Interact with them on social media?
- Describe a car or bicycle accident you were in.
- If you could spend a day spent in another country, which would you choose? Why?
- Describe a time that you out-smarted someone.
- Write about going shopping for new clothes.
- Did you ever turn someone in or tell on someone and feel bad about it later?
- Was there a time your parents embarrassed you.
- Can you remember a time you gave someone good advice? What was it?
It’s that time of year. The flowers are blooming. Bees are buzzing. Your kids are excited about Spring Break. For many, Spring Break is a rite of passage where families travel, spend time together and reconnect. It has been a time to explore your home town with a Staycation, join the extended family at the beach or family cabin, or take your kids to tour colleges (that’s what we do in my house.)
However, this year is much different than those in the recent past. Now, we are social distancing, dealing with Shelter in Place orders and the nature of self-quarantine. We finally have a routine and good rhythm around our work and homeschooling. Instead, now it is interrupted by Spring Break.
The purpose of Spring Break is for us to reconnect and spend time together. We have had more togetherness in the past 3 weeks. I’m not sure if I can handle any more family togetherness. Plus, I have the added pressure that I am not off. I still have to work.
What am I going to do? I have to keep them occupied but I also have to keep up my work productivity. Are you asking yourself, do they even need Spring Break? Or does it fill you with anxiety, what am I going to do with them? I still have to work. It’s Spring Break, but no camps, no vacations, no nothing.
Create a plan It’s important to understand that nothing is normal now, including school. But our children have been thinking about Spring Break since Winter Break. Have a conversation with your family. If you have plans to travel, keep your days off and create a Virtual Staycation. If the beach was your destination, bring the beach to you. Get creative. On the other hand, if you have to work, tell your children that you as a family will have to keep some semblance of a routine, but you will create intentional moments of fun.
Have Fun There are a plethora of ideas and activities for families. For my family, we plan to take virtual college tours for my rising senior. If your family likes art, several famous museums are conducting virtual tours. Have dinner and a movie where dinner is themed around the movie that you watch. An added bonus is to allow the kids to help set the menu and/or cook the meal. If work is still on the agenda, make time in the evenings to have some fun. If the evenings are still full, Spring Break it out on the weekends.
Stick with a Schedule Working or not, Spring Breaking or not, it’s important for our children to have a schedule. For them to wake up; go to bed; have meals at a similar time. I know it doesn’t sound fun, but it will help you get back to the new normal of homeschooling and working from home after Spring Break.
This year Spring Break may not be filled with cruises, princesses or well-loved rodents (Mickey). I encourage you to find ways to bring Princesses and Mickey to your home. It doesn’t matter that things are different. Yes, they are. Our children will only be children for a small amount of time. Yes, the days are long, but the years fly by. We should enjoy the time that we have with them. Betcha some toilet paper that this will be the Spring Break they are still talking about years from now. Appraise, Adapt, Achieve.
I see you, mama, sitting in a messy house, filled with dishes from last night’s dinner and laundry piled high. You are trapped in a house during a quarantine and it’s taking everything to not go stir crazy. I see the exhaustion and the exasperation that comes with toddlers running around. Demanding snacks, begging for attention, needing to have what they want, when they want it. I see you trying, trying to juggle their needs and your work’s needs, and maybe, sometimes, even your own needs. I know that feeling of being stretched so thin, that you’re barely keeping it together. The seams beginning to unravel, slowly then all of a sudden… you’re hanging on by one tiny thread.
I see the frustration of an interrupted Zoom meeting, the agitation from a plea for yet another snack, the expectation to be completely focused on that work project, and completely focused on caring for your kids. It’s not supposed to be like this. It’s unrealistic to think that anyone could handle the balancing act that all of a sudden we are called to perform.
So why do you feel like a failure? You know it’s impossible. You know you’re only human. But what about them? What about society? And employers? And family and friends? Yeah… what about them? Everyone needs to adjust their expectations. Including yourself. You are doing the best you can. You are facing the unknown and taking on more than anyone should be expected to. Give yourself grace.
In fact, give yourself permission to let the dishes sit in the sink a little longer. Make friends with the dust bunnies who have joined your space. Let your kids jump in the piles of clean laundry that still need to be folded. Go outside and take a second to breathe. Feel the fresh air fill your lungs and be grateful for all the things that are going right in your world. And for anything that’s got you stressed or worried or on edge, add “but” onto the end.
“We’re stuck at home… BUT… we’re SAFE.”
“The house is a mess… BUT… I have a roof over my head.”
“The kids are driving me nuts… BUT… I get to be their mom.”
“Working from home with kids is so hard… BUT… I’m grateful for the flexibility and that I STILL have a job.”
So, take it one day at a time, mama. This is just a season that you WILL get through. Be mindful. Tell yourself a different story. One of resilience and patience and overcoming obstacles against all odds. You are NOT a failure. You are capable. You are strong. You are amazing, in PJs and all.
After multiple weeks of being told we need to stay home, a lot of folks’ nerves are frayed (parents in particular). Life might have been complicated before – keeping up with schedules, work and home. Now, things seem 10 times more complicated. Everybody is under the same roof all the time with nowhere to go for a break. Many parents are silently asking how long they can actually survive this COVID-19 crisis with their family (and their sanity) intact.
It is true that most of us are not accustomed to spending so much time together. Things that you didn’t even know got on your nerves, well, now you know. And, some of them are seemingly little things. Maybe it’s the way someone chews their food, the amount of dirty laundry, or the constant questions without answers. Or maybe it’s the way your perfectly capable kids seem so totally dependent on you to do everything.
Honestly, it’s enough to make a parent ask, “Where do I go to resign?”
Before you turn in your notice, here are some things that might be helpful for all of us to consider.
Emotions are running high for everyone. There is tension in the air and we feel it even if we don’t acknowledge it. It has its way of oozing out of people through petty bickering, short fuses, tears and an abundance of energy. The close proximity to others in your home may feel like someone has you in a stranglehold.
Even if you are in pretty close quarters, there are some things you can do to help your family avoid unhealthy behavior.
Recognize that your children are taking their cues from you. If you are really struggling with all that is going on, find ways to process your thoughts and best next steps. Even if things are upside down, when you know the next steps you will take, your children will follow your lead. Your children need to know that you are working to ensure they are well cared for. This provides comfort and security, especially in times of uncertainty. It’s ok if you don’t know all the answers. Having rules, rituals, consistency and structure in place helps everyone to know what to expect and provides freedom within healthy boundaries.
Speaking of boundaries, establishing boundaries is helpful. It lets people know where the fence lines are for your family. If you haven’t had a family meeting to discuss what this looks like, now is a really good time to do that. Items up for discussion include:
- How will household chores get done?
- With whom outside of immediate family will we engage during this time of social distancing?
- What time is quiet time in the house? (could be until a certain time in the morning, a period of time in the middle of the day or a time at the end of the day)
- Where and for how long are people using screens? (for work and for leisure)
- Is there unlimited access to the kitchen and food?
Getting in the groove of functioning as a team will help your family now. Plus, it will serve them well in the future.
Even though your family is all together, don’t assume they will automatically talk about the thoughts and feelings that are rolling around in their head. This is a scary time for everybody. Establishing a quick daily check-in makes it possible for you to share information and answer questions. It’s also a good chance to talk about the flow of this particular day and address concerns or misinformation anyone may have.
With everyone under one roof, establishing times when you expect people to be in their own space away from everybody else can help. If your children share a bedroom, perhaps there is another location one of them could be. The goal is for people to have a break from being on top of each other. It can be as simple as going outdoors when the weather is nice. Maybe it means taking a long, hot shower or a walk in the rain. It may even help to get up earlier or stay up a little later to have time alone.
What Each Person in Your Family Needs to Know
According to the authors of the Survival Skills for Healthy Families program, each person in the family needs to know:
- How to speak up and say what they need. The ability to say what you want helps others to know what you are thinking and feeling. It also opens the door for understanding.
- How to listen. As a listener, we can choose to seek connection, be respectful and look for understanding. Or, we can react, fight and argue.
- How to cooperate. Teach your children how to find balance between their needs and the needs of other family members.
Realize that there is a time to talk and time to listen. Everyone wants to feel heard when they speak, so ensure that your home is a safe place for family members to express themselves and discuss things without dismissing them. Acknowledge your feelings, and really listen to work through the emotions you are experiencing. Show empathy and remember that if all this is hard to process as an adult, it can be even more challenging for younger family members to understand or express what they’re dealing with on the inside. Those things will probably show up in how they behave, so it will take some wisdom to dig deeper as you handle misbehavior while helping them understand their emotions.
It is highly likely you will encounter challenges while you are in close quarters. By looking for solutions together, you are modeling how to find answers to other sticky situations down the road. In order for your family to come out stronger on the other side of this pandemic, these are a few safeguards you can put in place now to help keep the peace in your home.
School is out! Many of us are working from home and now we are homeschool teachers. But my “students” want to eat all the time! They think the kitchen is a 24/7 restaurant… and they don’t tip! Any other parents struggling with this? If they keep going at this rate then we will be out of food in a couple of days. So what do we do?
Enter the superhero wife! My wife is a rockstar. Yesterday she sat down and made a plan to save our food and get the kids to be a bigger part of household chores. Don’t get me wrong, our kids contribute, but they are seven and four so their contribution around the house is limited to what they can do. During this time when we are all home, things just have to look different and that’s okay.
So this is what we came up with. We made a list of things that our kids can do around the house like making their bed, sweeping rooms, unloading the dishwasher, reading for 30 minutes (outside of their school reading), exercising (again, outside of school exercise), and so on. Each item on this list will earn them money… no, not real money! My son has some fake money to learn to count with.
Then we made a list of snacks and food items that they love to eat. We attached prices to these items and portioned them out. The healthier the food, the cheaper the price. Oranges are $2, whereas candy is $80. And you know what? The kids love this idea! They are looking for ways to earn money so they can save up for the sweet stuff.
To keep with their regular schedules, they have their normal breakfast, lunch, mid-afternoon snack, and dinner, but if they want to eat between these times then they have to do things to earn money to buy more food. This is helping us keep a routine similar to their normal school schedule which helps keep their sanity and ours.
These times are different and how we handle them may look different than normal. Get creative and make your kids part of the process. Let them speak into what you all are doing in the house. You are a family and you are in this together. This time may be stressful but we have an opportunity to make great memories!
*For more parenting resources, including COVID-19 specific resources, go to Firstthings.org.
As we have been quarantined for the past week, it has taken a few days to get into a new rhythm. Prior to COVID-19, I tried to keep Work Life and Home Life separated. I did my job, then when I got home I focused on the needs of my family. Now that I am working from home, my two worlds have crashed into each other. This has forced me to reevaluate how I see my work life and my home life.
I always knew that I wanted to work in a helping profession. I have been the one in the grocery store that gets told someone’s life story. Because my career focuses on helping people, I have learned how to set boundaries. Too many times I have seen those in the helping profession spend so much time helping others that they lose themselves or their families. I refuse to care more about improving your life than you do. I refuse to care more about other people’s children than I care about my own.
I also have begun to live by the mantra, “You can have it all… just not all at the same time.” As a result, I have had to recalibrate my expectations. I recognize my workaholic tendencies because I have a vocation that I truly enjoy. I love seeing people improve their relationships AND I love caring for my family. Working from home has created tensions between these two loves that I have to navigate carefully, and ideally, guilt-free.
As a mom, I cherish seeing my sons grow and mature, being their sounding board for life decisions, talking with my husband about what’s going on in his life, and cooking their favorite meals. What I now understand is that there are seasons during which I have to shift quickly between home and work.
There was a time where I needed some extra money and joined a Direct-Sales company. The company’s founder had a hierarchy for their life that resonated with me. It was Faith, Family, Work. My family has always been my priority. However, I recognize my need to assist individuals on their journey to healthy relationships. Fortunately, my job provides a dual opportunity to support my family financially and to help others.
In order to be the best you either at work or at home, it is necessary to take care of your self. It is important to realize that you cannot give what you don’t have. Learning to say no or not right now is a great way to conserve your energy (mental and physical).
Learn how to ask for help, then let the person help – even if it is different than how you would do it. It may be difficult to let go of control especially now when other situations and circumstances are so out of control. Find some quiet time for you – whether you read, crochet, meditate or walk.
I am giving myself grace and patience during this time of self-quarantine AND working from home, AND homeschooling. I take each day as it comes, enjoying the moments with my family, knowing when to cease the challenges of work.
A conversation tonight with my youngest son that revealed what he was thinking:
[After not seeing me go to work for days.]
Son: You still have your job, right?
Me: Yeah, dude. I’m working from home. Remember?
Son: So you still get paid, right?
Me: Yeah, I do.
Son: What about Mom?
Me: She found out today that they are going to start making cuts.
Son: Are we going to be able to keep our utilities and stuff on?
Me: I think we have that stuff worked out right now.
Son: What about people that work at a restaurant and the restaurant closes?
Me: They lose their job. There’s gonna be a lot of people with serious needs.
Son: So they don’t make money, but they still have to pay their bills?
Me: Yeah, man…
Son: [Pauses and Thinks] This is like, apocalyptic stuff!
Me: It’s the unknown, but we’ll face it as a family. We go through the good together…
Son: ….and the bad.
A conversation not ten minutes later with my oldest son that revealed his heart:
[Cook at a local restaurant.]
Son: Hey, can I talk to you?
Son: So tomorrow will be our last regular day at the restaurant.
Me: Then what? You guys closing too?
Son: Take-out will be open. I’m okay because I cook. Fifty servers will be out of work.
Me: Ugh. Man. What are you thinking?
Son: I want to help them, but I don’t know the best way to do it.
[What followed was a conversation about the best ways to help the people he cared about. We talked about helping a lot of people a little, versus, helping a few people a lot. We talked about how to find out who will be hurt by this the most. We talked over his budget and discussed how much he wanted to spend and about whether he should buy food or buy gift cards. We talked about how he wanted to help anonymously.]
Son: So, I’m just gonna buy gift cards and talk to the front of the house manager.
Me: Find out who will be jammed up the most? Maybe single moms with kids?
Son: Yeah, I’ll have the manager give them the cards. Then they can buy food they like.
Me: Very cool that you are getting outside yourself and thinking about other people.
Son: I just wanna help out… these people are my work family.
Me: If you get a chance, talk to your little brother…
Have age-appropriate conversations with your kids. Be honest. Be real. Be a good listener. Their mind and heart might be “between the lines” (like my youngest son’s underlying fear.) They might want to know what is going on and need help processing it. They may need hope. They may just need to vent. They may want to talk about helping other people during these difficult times.
I was fortunate tonight that my two sons came to me. That won’t always happen. Don’t wait for them to start a conversation.
Emphasize that this will be challenging but this will pass. Reinforce the idea that we are a family and we are in this together, no matter what. Encourage them to think outside of themselves and consider how they can help other people.
We are all connected.
This is an opportunity for your kids to learn valuable life lessons and develop character. This is an opportunity for you to connect with your kids. Be available. Be a good listener. Be their guide.
In light of our current events and the chaos and disruptions they have brought, I felt the need to call a good, old fashioned family meeting! It had been a while, but we had a lot of new important things to talk about- new work situations, school cancellations, health concerns, and how our family was going to navigate these unique circumstances.
Once everyone was gathered around in the living room, several things were part of this particular meeting:
- I asked how everyone was doing. How was everyone feeling- physically and emotionally? My colleague wrote a great blog about taking your family’s “temperature.”
- I shared information from the CDC about the coronavirus, how it is transmitted, risks of exposure, symptoms of infection, and recommended precautions to take. I kept a calm tone and stuck to the facts. I allowed room for them to share what they had already heard and where they heard it. We talked about what information sources were trustworthy. (I have teens and up. Adjust accordingly for your children.)
- I went over some new family routines and rules that would be in place for a while. No friends over right now. Who was responsible for sanitizing door knobs, appliance handles, remotes, light switches, etc. and on what days. What the schoolwork schedule would look like. We talked about how we would be having more Family Movie and Game Nights!
- I allowed space for questions and encouraged everyone to be real about their reactions and suggestions. They had some ideas way better than mine!
- I emphasized that this was going to pass and we would seize the opportunity these new obstacles provided- to spend more time together as a family, to learn new things, and to invest time in the things we always say we wish we had the time to do. We are a team and a fun team!
- We talked about how “this” was not all about us and how we needed to keep our eyes open for creative opportunities to help other people.
- Remember: This is opening a dialogue to what will be an ongoing conversation.
Sure, this meeting was necessary because of a set of new, unique circumstances, but family meetings should be a regular part of your family culture. Keep them going!
General Family Meeting Tips:
- Keep them positive and fun.
- Keep everyone involved.
- Keep them relevant. (Nothing worse than a meeting that feels unnecessary.)
- Keep them a brief but consistent part of your family life.
Every family is different so be sensitive to your specific family needs as you consider these suggestions and be prepared to make adjustments as needed.
- Start them with something fun that gets everyone talking like a silly question like, “What superpower would you want and why?” or “What vegetable would you like to disappear forever?” Talking people are more likely to keep talking.
- Use them to keep everyone on the same page. “What was the best part of last week for you? What are you looking forward to this week?”
- Meetings emphasize family interdependence. They help the family to understand each individual member and help each individual to understand their connection to the family. Let family members put things on the agenda. Let them lead.
- This is the time to address issues, schedules, current events, and even finances in an appropriate way. This is the time to celebrate grades, sport wins, recitals, and character growth you are witnessing as a parent. NOT a time to embarrass anyone or point out individual mistakes or problems.
- Be creative! Family meetings can be held at a pizza place (just not during social distancing, of course!), during a board or card game, or throughout a car ride. No matter what – end with some fun!
Since the family was all together in one place, we capitalized on this opportunity to transition from serious real-world problems into an incredibly competitive, very fun, homemade three-point shooting contest using a pot from the kitchen, a chair, and some paper wads. Walkout music was blasted for each player. Meeting adjourned!
Breakfast. Check. Son’s Math. Check. Respond to emails. Check. Help daughter with Reading assignment… Lunch… Complete project for work… Dinner. Check. Check. Check. Check. Whew. This was a good day. We got it all done!
Hold on! Wait a minute! You’re missing something. In fact, if you keep up this schedule, the morale in your home is going to drop, the productivity is going to drop and the opportunity before you will be missed. How do I know you’re missing something?
You’re missing something BIG! You’re missing out on an opportunity to increase your kids’ academic, social and emotional skills, their ability to deal with stressful situations and anxiety. You’re missing out on an opportunity to learn about your kids or your spouse, develop deeper connections and create lasting memories. Still don’t know what you’re missing?
SCHEDULED PLAYTIME. Yes. That’s the thing. SCHEDULED PLAYTIME.
Unfortunately, you may also be missing out on a way to make your life easier while you’re home with the family for the foreseeable future. Who doesn’t want that?
This is a MUST. We can’t leave play to chance and hope someone says something funny while we eat lunch or while they’re working on Math. We can’t just hope that the adventurous person in the family brings some excitement. And we sure can’t minimize its importance.
We must add play to our checklist. Why?
- Let’s start with all the reasons I mentioned earlier. No need to rehash those.
- Brings positive energy, creating a more conducive environment for the work that follows.
- We’re a family. We do life together. We laugh together. We cry together. We play together. We feel each other’s stress and we feel each other’s joy. (I can feel it in my home when someone is really stressed out about something.)
- When we play and laugh, our brain releases dopamine, a chemical that lets us know that we like what we’re doing. We connect that joy and pleasure with the people we are doing it with, making us want to repeat it.
- We’re living in stressful times. Laughter truly is the best medicine.
- Play strengthens our relationships.
- Strengthens children’s academic skills. (I know I said it earlier, but it’s worth mentioning again.)
I get it. You’re the adult. You have to be the responsible one to make sure that everyone gets all their work done. That everything stays orderly and structured. And if we get everything completed, then we’ll play. Because play is the reward for finishing everything, right? Besides, how will it look if it’s 10:30 AM and we’re playing a game and they haven’t read their English homework yet or you haven’t quite finished that project? You don’t want to be that parent.
Think of the other side of being the responsible parent. The responsible parent who helps to increase their child’s ability to achieve academically and improve communication skills. The parent who builds their kid’s confidence and their immune system. The parent who’s reducing the stress level in the home and creating a positive, energetic homework environment. That’s what you’re doing when you schedule time to play. You’re scheduling all those benefits, which might make it a little easier to get through each day.
There are tons of lists of ways to play. Keep it simple. It can be just a few minutes as a study/work break or a designated 30 or 45 minute recess. Whatever you do, don’t not schedule time to play while you’re home. One could say, you’re not being responsible.
Ideas for Play at Home:
- Ball up some paper, get a trash can and start close, seeing who can make the shot. Keep inching your way back. Add some flair. Celebrate creativity in shooting styles whether you make it or not.
- Turn on an upbeat song and dance. Use a hat and whoever is wearing the hat, dances for about 20-30 seconds and then puts the hat onto someone else who then begins to dance. Profusely cheer on the person dancing with the hat on.
- Draw designs on the driveway using sidewalk chalk.
- Do impersonations of one another, other people in your life, or famous people.
- Build a fort in the house using couch cushions, pillows, and bedsheets. Then let someone do their school/job work inside the fort.
- Start making up a story. Speak for 30 seconds and then have the next person pick up the story from there for 30 seconds and then someone else for 30 seconds and keep going around as long as you can. The story may become outlandish, but who cares?
Look at all the smiles, laughter, and imagination taking place. Check. Check. Check.