COVID-19-ways-to-roll-your-eyes-at-your-family fever has well and truly set in at the Mumlyfe household.* Like most families out there, we’ve moved through the first three stages of quarantine to emerge bleary-eyed into the sunlight. Just don’t go out into that good light unless you have an essential reason, of course.
The three stages of quarantine are pretty simple, really. First we love, then we hate, then we just get on with our new normal. Of course, like anything to do with family life, it’s not quite that simple…
* Note, Mumlyfe used to be a workplace, but, like everything else in the entire world, it is now a household.
The three stages of quarantine
Stage one: I love my family
The initial early stage of quarantine brings a hot flush of true love for the amazing family we are so lucky to have.
“We get to spend quality time together,” we gleefully exclaim to each other during our online yoga class.
“We are bonding as a family unit more than ever!” we tell our mums via Facetime.
“We’re doing more together as a family and we’re all getting along so well,” we beam to the cashier at Woolies, who we have become quite chatty with lately.
“Life has slowed down and we’ve reconnected!” we tell the neighbour from 1.5 metres away. We think his name is Bob, but we’ve never actually met him before, despite living two houses away for ten years. Three years from now the postie will accidentally put Bob’s mail in our letterbox and we’ll discover his name is actually Phil.
“I hope life stays like this forever,” we yell to the careless postman from the balcony.
This is quite a short period.
Stage two: I hate my family
This is the part where reality sets in.
Sure, we love our family (“More than ever, Bob! More than ever!”), but we are also growing to loathe quite a lot about them too.
Let’s face it, we were robbed of the ‘self’ aspect of ‘self-isolation’ the minute they told us that families are exempt from the social distancing rules. Right now, social distancing just looks like being way more involved in our kids’ education than we ever thought possible. It’s still not possible – not possible at all.
That, plus a lot more cleaning. So. much. cleaning. Our hands are raw from cleaning and excess use of hand sanitiser.
Now, combine the educating and the cleaning with becoming what is essentially our partner’s colleague. We never wanted to see that, not ever.
My work-guy husband is the kind of person who says things like “I’ll reach out to you in a couple of days” and “let’s circle back to Penny’s point”. Work-guy Husband has really boring meetings in the middle of the dining room and shushes everyone when he has to come off mute. Work-guy husband can’t believe how long a day at home actually is and how much shit kids pour into the day, every day.
“You put up with this every day?” he says in disbelief, somehow shocked that the couple of hours he sees the kids for in the evenings is pretty much what they’re like all day, every day. “They’re more exhausting than commuting!”
Exhausting and messy. If we have to pick one more wet towel off the bathroom floor. If we have to wash one more crusty cheese-laden dish left in the sink. If we have to straighten one more cushion on the sofa. If we have to empty one more sink drainer of bits of rotting vegetable. We. will. die.
Everyone is infected
It’s not just us, though. It’s fair to say stage two hits the entire family pretty hard.
Little kids don’t understand why we are keeping them prisoner. They tell Grandma via Facetime that the world is a dangerous place and no-one can go outside. In fact, we have been so diligent in our social-distance training with the under 5’s that it will actually be years before we are able to get our child to set foot outside the front door again without screaming.
Tweens hate us for cancelling sport and playdates. That is literally all they care about. They refuse to try any other at-home exercise except making TikTok videos. The first three bars of Renegade is enough to send chills down our spines.
Teenagers (who, it must be noted, bypass stage one of quarantine completely) are plotting to kill us all in our sleep for not closing the schools. So, really, it’s business as usual for them. They never liked leaving their bedrooms anyway and who sees people in person anymore, god you’re so old-fashioned, omg, just no, I can’t even, stop.
Everyone yells at each other a lot during this stage. Really loudly.
Stage three: Acceptance
Eventually, the loathing that settled over the household like dust begins to clear. Nobody is sure why or how this happens, but somehow it does. We’ve moved along the three stages of quarantine to rest gently at stage three.
We wake up one morning and the kids aren’t yelling at each other over who gets the last crumb of flour from the pantry.
The work-guy husband has moved his desk into the bedroom and is blissfully unseen for much of the day, just like old times.
We’ve built ourselves a blanket fort in the nook under our desk to hide out and eat the chocolate we hoarded when the media was falsely reporting that no-one was hoarding chocolate.
We’ve got a list taped to the fridge of things to do instead of complain to Mum about being bored.
We managed to entice the entire family out for a walk, because at this point being seen in public with your family is less concerning than watching the four walls of your bedroom get ever closer to eating you.
In fact, the entire suburb seems to be out walking for exercise (“Margery, haven’t seen you in years,” we say, as we awkwardly try to manoeuvre around Margery on the footpath while keeping the requisite 1.5 metre distance.)
Breathe it all out
The pace of life slows and everyone breathes out. The family isn’t worryingly in each other’s pockets, but we’re not avoiding each other either. In fact, aside from the killer virus that lurks like an unseen assassin every time we leave the house, life is good.
“We’ll change,” we declare to the woman 1.5 metres behind us in the Coles checkout line. “We’ll never go back to how things were before COVID-19. We’ve all learned so much about slowing down and really focusing on what matters.”
“Do you need both those packs of 48-roll toilet paper?” she replies.
We hand one over, snap a photo and immediately start updating our status: “This is what kindness looks like… #kindness.” In that moment, we unwittingly move into stage four of quarantine: in danger of completely disappearing up our own arse (active stage four is demonstrated daily by many celebrity Instagrammers).
Beware of stage four.
How are the three stages of quarantine going at your place?
I’m lucky to have many lovely South African friends. They are a generous, fun, good-natured bunch and you get used to the accent. Actually, you never really get used to the accent. But once they introduce you to South African rusks, you won’t mind.
When a friend offered to bring some ‘South African rusks’ over for morning tea one day, I was fascinated. Especially as I thought she was quite mental for bringing me baby rusks to eat with my cuppa. Turned out that South African rusks are quite different to the Farex version. They are more like an Italian biscotti – twice baked, hard biscuits that are sort of savoury-sweet.
Turned out, rusks are the perfect thing to eat with your morning cuppa.
Made for sharing
This recipe is a project. It makes a lot of health rusks, but they will keep in an airtight container for many weeks and they are very good for sharing. Rusks actually get better with ‘age’, so that’s a good thing, right? You can always halve the recipe if the quantities overwhelm you.
I’ve also made these using Weet-Bix (I save the crumbs leftover after a box is finished). I’m pretty sure that makes these very inauthentic ‘South African rusks’, but it’s also makes them all kinds of delicious. You can substitute the more traditional bran flakes if Weet-Bix isn’t your thing.
We’ve taken to eating a couple of these health rusks for breakfast with a big mug of milk or tea for dunking. There’s something very calming about dunking.
South African rusks
Makes eleventy billion health rusks Takes about 20 minutes Bakes 3 hours plus overnight resting time
3 cups spelt flour*
3 cups wholemeal flour
7 tsp baking powder
2 tsp sea salt
1 ½ cups brown sugar, loosely packed*
1 cup sunflower seeds
3 cups Weet-Bix or all bran flakes
1 cup LSA mix*
½ cup shredded or desiccated coconut
500 ml buttermilk or plain yoghurt
200 ml olive oil
300 g butter*
3 free-range eggs, lightly beaten
Preheat fan-forced oven to 160ºC.
Melt butter and allow to cool.
Crush the Weet-Bix into flakes
Mix all of the dry ingredients together.
Mix all of the wet ingredients together.
Mix the wet and dry ingredients together to make a dough.
Divide the dough in half and flatten into two roasting pans that have been greased and lined with baking paper.
Cut the dough into rusk shapes (approx 2 cm by 4 cm rectangles) and place the pans into oven to cook for 1 hour at 160°C, with fan force.
Once cooked, take the rusks out of the oven, allow to cool slightly and break into rusks. Place the rusks back into the pan, turned over and leaving room between each rusk for air to circulate. You can achieve this easiest by leaving a few rusks out. They taste yummy just a they are.
Return to the pans to the oven and bake for a further 2 hours at 90°C, no fan-force.
After 2 hours, turn the oven off and leave the South African rusks to sit overnight so they really dry out. Bit like a pav…
In the morning, have lots of yummy rusks for breakfast, dipped in coffee, tea or hot milk. Put the rest of the rusks into airtight containers to store for up to 3 weeks.
This recipe makes lots and lots of rusks – give some away to friends. They will like you very much.
You can just use another 3 cups of wholemeal flour if you don’t have spelt. Plain flour also works, of course.
Reduce or leave out brown sugar to taste. You can also substitute a non-refined sugar like coconut.
LSA mix can be found at most supermarkets or health food stores. If you can’t find some, you can substitute almond meal, or make your own by pulsing linseed, sunflower seeds and almonds in a food processor until fine.
Substitute coconut oil for the butter, but note that it will change the flavour.
You can mix this recipe up to please yourself – instead of LSA or sunflower kernels, add raisins, dried apricots or even choc chips.
What’s a favourite ‘traditional’ food like South African rusks of yours?
A coronaproject is basically the best way to make the most of a really tough situation. No kid enjoys being stuck at home 24/7 with their family, least of all older kids. It’s sheer torture, really. We get that. Newsflash: we’re not having the greatest time right now either, kids.
This is where a coronaproject can help make the days go by faster. It’s basically finding something to build on each day during isolation. It might be a fitness challenge, or learning something new. It can be anything that will give you a really nice ‘before’ and ‘after’ (BAA) comparison when the COVID-19 bans are lifted and we’re all allowed out.
The thing is, you don’t need to do A LOT each day to achieve a good BAA. “Take a habit you want, make it tiny,” says BJ Fogg, behavior scientist and researcher at Stanford University and author of Tiny Habits – The small changes that change everything. “Find where it naturally fits in your life, and nurture it’s growth. If you want to create long-term change, it’s best to start small.”
He advises people to start with three very small behaviours, or even just one, that you can do in less than thirty seconds. So, if you want to get super-strong, you start with just one push-up. If you want to play Beethoven, you start learning your very first note.
Fogg advises mastering each push-up or note before moving onto the next, but for the purposes of a coronaproject, let’s take it day by day. Do one small thing each day until you master it, then the next day you can move onto adding another small thing.
Here are some examples of a coronoaproject your kids might like to get stuck into. It’s all about optimising the time we have doing not-much-at-all at home. It’s a great idea to make a short video journal each day, monitoring your progress.
Learning a language is quite possibly the coronaproject we all need. The world is coming together more than ever and languages are our way into different cultures.
You can use apps like Rosetta Stone (free for students until end-June) or Duolingo to start from scratch learning a new language. Set yourself a goal of a word a day (the BJ Fogg approach) or 5 or 10 words if you want to speed things along. Each of these apps has a daily program that you can stick to. Rype is another good program that guides you through (it’s only free for 7 days though, so learn fast!).
2. Push-up challenge
I did this last year as a 100 day challenge, going from WTAF-zero push-ups to doing 100 pushups in a row. Then I stopped and now I can do about 10 push-ups without wanting to kill myself. I think I am ready to build up to 100 again – maybe you are too? This website will help you get there, building on what you can already do and working you up to doing 100 push-ups within six weeks.
We’d better all check our perfect push-up form before beginning. This video is worth watching over and over… 🤪
3. Read 10 books
Make a pile of 10 books you want to read… this might be a virtual pile, if your library has already closed. Hopefully you’ve got some books at home, plus you can order a few in from an online bookstore like Booktopia.
Start at the top of the pile and get reading. Make it a daily habit – maybe 20 minutes in the morning after breakfast and before school; 20 minutes at night before lights out. See how fast you can get through your book pile. If you’ve got a friend who also enjoys reading, you can challenge each other to see who can read all the books first. No cheating!
If you’re not a keen reader, or just want to start smaller, commit to reading a page a day until the first book is finished. Then move onto the next… Don’t just make this a coronaproject, though. Reading is a project for life.
Having ‘no time’ has been the perfect excuse not to have a go at something we know is going to be really tough.
4. Master an instrument
Many of us have ‘always wanted’ to learn an instrument. Having ‘no time’ has been the perfect excuse not to have a go at something we know is going to be really tough. Now we have time, so no more excuses. Here are some good lessons in some common ‘gunna learn’ instruments.
The key here is to commit to daily practise, not just as a coronaproject, but forever. Find a good time to fit it into your regular schedule. If you’re doing school online at the moment, practising during recess might work for you. Don’t try to go in too hard, either. The BJ Fogg method would suggest that five minutes a day, every day, for weeks is far better than 20 minutes every now and then for a week until you give up because it’s all too hard.
5. Beep test
The beep test is an ingenious torture tool that helps you get stronger, faster and fitter. You set up two points, about 20 metres apart and basically try to run between them before the next beep sounds. The beeps can stay the same distance apart (it’s only you who gets tireder and slower), or you can set it to speed the beeps up to really test yourself. You can set the beeps to match your level of fitness, and increase their speed as you get stronger and faster.
Of course, you can use the beeps to challenge yourself to do anything between the beeps – getting X number of burpees done between beeps is particularly excruciating. Download a beep test app to get you started.
6. Take up ballet (or another style of dance)
Kathryn Morgan is a former soloist with the New York City Ballet. She has over 300 videos uploaded to her YouTube channel taking you through every aspect of ballet. This one is really for those who have done ballet before (so definitely for anyone who is unable to attend ballet classes right now, but wants to keep on dancing). Lazy Dancer Tips or Holistic Ballet are for the rest of us. Daily exercises that should take us from ‘what’s the point’ to ‘pointe’ in no time.
Other dance styles to explore (I’m ever hopeful that my whole fam will do some line dancing as a coronaproject, but so far… it’s a hard no):
Skillshare has loads of art classes on offer. You can sign up for a free 14-day trial to see if it’s for you. To match up with the self-reflection that these coronatimes have brought to us all, I would recommend:
It’s nice to have a drawing book dedicated to any of these projects. That way you get to keep a memento of your drawing skills improving.
The world’s great chefs are all stuck in lockdown too, and they’re making dinner.
8. Become a better cook
Could this be the ultimate coronaproject-that-keeps-on-giving? Set the kids the goal of learning X number of dishes during the COVID-19 lockdown. The world’s great chefs are all stuck in lockdown too, and they’re making dinner.
Or even a novel. Creative writing is best performed as an everyday skill. You build on your writing each day and just get better at it. Imagine starting today and having some fully-developed stories to your name at the end of the quarantine period.
The best course around for adolescents is Allison Tait’s Creative Writing Quest through the Australian Writers’ Centre. It’s a bit exy at $245, but the course is self-paced, so kids can take their time. You get real-life feedback from a top author, too. This is one of the only online Australian creative writing classes aimed at kids.
If you don’t mind a course that’s pitched at adult-level, you can work through the basics for free online. Try one of these:
If you’ve got a digital camera kicking around, the kids might like to take their iphoneography to the next level. They’ll be able to capture what it’s like living with social distancing while they’re at it.
Udemy has a free short introduction to photography basics
Lifehacker is always good for its short tutorials and the photography guide is no exception
A good way to make this a challenge is to commit to taking a photo a day. You can upload it to Instagram or an app like 1 Second Everyday (perfect for budding videographers too). If you’re stuck for ideas of what to snap a picture of, join an Instagram Photo a Day community.
11. Start sewing
Another life skill that seems to have skipped our generation. Perhaps our kids can bring it back? It’s actually very frustrating having to pay someone to hem a skirt or sew on a button. Really simple things that are pretty easy to do. It’s time to learn how to do these tasks so they can just be… done.
Made To Sew – has a really simple beginners sewing course via YouTube. It’s good for hand sewing, or machine sewing, if you happen to own a sewing machine (many of us have a dusty one somewhere).
To set this up as a challenge, get some basic skills under your (hand-crafted, of course) belt, then try making everything on one of these lists:
There are certain things we can all do as little kids that we stop doing and then just can’t… like the splits. Work your way up to a full split during the coronacrisis and then do the splits every day for the rest of your life. That’s how you stay amazing!
The YouTube video is very motivating, but this article will better help the absolute beginners. Mind you, it’s going to take a lot longer than the COVID-19 lockdown for me to get my legs doing anything resembling the splits!!
Beginning of the lockdown = no pizza oven. End of the lockdown = do you like pineapple on your pizza or no?
13. Build a pizza oven
We all say we want our own woodfire pizza oven, but none of us wants to lay down around 1000 bucks to make it happen. Well, we don’t have to. With kid-power as the driving force behind this coronaproject and a few materials from the hardware store (get in while it’s still open!), we are set. This step-by-step tutorial is good, even for total beginners like most of us.
Beginning of the lockdown = no pizza oven. End of the lockdown = do you like pineapple on your pizza or no?
14. Sing, sing, sing
Every time someone says “I can’t sing”, somewhere a little birdie stops singing. Because just like that little bird, we all have pure, natural, beautiful song within us. It’s time to let your inner-birdie out. Start with some singing lessons:
Then join one of the glorious online choirs springing up everywhere. Couch Choir is a great place to let your song out.
You can meet up with them on Facebook here. #goals
15. Send a letter a day
The lost art of letter writing deserves a revival. Especially as we are all online a lot A LOT right now. Get out the paper / card / postcard and pen and write a letter a day until the coronacrisis is over. Write to your gran, your friends, your teachers, the neighbour, your cousins… or a complete stranger. You can match up with a pen pal here or send postcards with your deepest, darkest secrets here.
16. Become a runner
This is an especially good one for anyone who rejoiced when they realised the cross country would be cancelled this year due to COVID-19. Gasp, it’s way too soon for our kids to stop running a measly three to five kilometres. We want to be running those kinds of distances daily into old age. Like we do. Ha! Maybe we need to make running our coronaproject too?
I’ve always wanted to learn how to crochet, but it’s not something I’ve ever managed to do. Pip Lincolne from Meet Me At Mike’s has the simplest crochet tutorials to start us off from scratch. In 10 lessons she takes us from a ball of wool and a crochet hook to a thing of beauty. You could commit to crocheting one granny square a day during the coronacrisis to end up with a blanket by the end. Let’s hope you finish with a lap blanket, rather than a super king…
We’ve all been thrown well and truly in the deep end right now. How are we supposed to support learning from home when we are, in fact, working from home ourselves? We’ve been doing it for a few days now and day one I. was. done. So done.
But I can’t be done. And you can’t be done either. Because this thing is just getting started. The kids are going to be learning from home for weeks, maybe even months. So, day two I took a deep breath, did some research and put some systems in place. Days 3 and 4 have been much, much better. I hope these tips help make learning from home easier at your place too.
First of all, keep in mind that we aren’t teachers and this isn’t forever. If you don’t have the time or skills to provide a robust home curriculum for your child, don’t sweat it. We are living through extraordinary times. If it turns out to be weeks worth of excess screen time, then so be it. Some kids will be self-motivated to get on with things, others won’t be able to muster the energy to open a book. We get what we get. Please, don’t beat yourself up.
Most of us have work obligations to attend to every day and it’s impossible to closely monitor what the kids are up to at any moment. Talk to them about giving their best. The responsibility to make this work is really on them, sad but true.
1. Start with the school
Some schools will be providing every class online, some will only be able to offer a few. Check with your kids and the school what the set up is. With a bit of luck, Google Classroom and Zoom, your older kids should be able to work relatively independently most of the day, following their regular timetable.
If your school hasn’t been in touch with information and instructions, send in an email to request clarification. Try not to call the school as they are currently inundated with confused parents (and who can blame us, but I promise, it’s not the fault of the individual school).
2. Keep to a timetable
If your school is running their regular timetable, this will be all done for you. If not, try to work out a timetable for your family that covers the basics. Divide the school day into each subject and give your child access to resources that will help them in that subject. If you have the time, it would be great to schedule exactly what the kids should be studying each day. But most parents will not have the time (or possibly even the skills) to do this. A broad outline works just fine during these challenging times.
I’ve banned the word ‘stop’ in my home. Otherwise my three just scream ‘stop, stop, stop’ at each other all day every day, like that’s ever the way to bring something to a close. I think I must have overdone the ‘stop’ training when they were little. Anyway, it drives me bonkers, so right now it is a word that is in the freezer. My point is, you will have your own stupid-thing-that-drives-me-to-the-brink and now is the time to outright ban it. Gone.
4. Carve out some space
In our experience, learning from home is noisy. There’s the Zoom conferencing. There’s the discussions over Facetime with classmates. Even with headphones on, it’s noisy. So if you can find a private, dedicated space for each person to work from, that’s ideal. Of course, in some homes the only possibility is everyone around the dining room table, and that’s okay too. Just get some rules in place for noise levels and do remember to pack away school stuff at the end of the day to provide some closure.
5. Pack a lunchbox
Maybe you’re relishing a few weeks off lunchbox duty, but I found I missed it. I am not always free at the kids’ school lunchtime to whip up a sambo. I’m sticking with packing them a lunchbox the night before, so all of their tomorrow food is taken care of. Then I don’t have to think about it again.
It’s still a school day, so school night time bedtimes are on around here. Once school holidays roll around, we’ll let up on the timings. Until then, we’re sticking with getting as much sleep in as possible and waking at our regular time in the morning.
7. Set some projects
When kids are learning at home it makes you realise that there’s a lot of down time in classes. All the time it takes to move from one class to another (high school), settle the class, transition from one activity to another – your kid doesn’t have that at home. So there will be times where they are idle and most likely moaning about being bored.
Have a few ideas up your sleeve for them to work on within each subject to keep them occupied. You’ll find loads of ideas here, but to summarise per subject:
During break times, the kids need a break from screens. Online learning is a killer on the eyes. Get them to write a list of things they like to do that don’t involve a screen (some will struggle) and get them to pick one off the list to do each lunch time. Many of the activities should be active. The only exception to the no screen rule should be using Zoom to conference call a bunch of friends to eat lunch with.
9. End the day
Create some rhythm in their day by having a little ritual to end the school day and transition to the afternoon. This could be as simple as coming together to eat something small for afternoon tea. Or something more elaborate like heading out for a walk around the neighbourhood. You could even just play a simple music tune that everyone loves and encourage a bit of dancing. Whatever it is, do something. Otherwise, the days just blend into nothing.
10. Check on the kids
We made sure the kids know that their learning right now is their responsibility. Their teacher will be expecting them in the Zoom classroom for each lesson, ready to go. Homework is still being set, as far as I can tell. So, my kids can pretty much get on with things. However, I am still checking in regularly.
To see if they need any support
To see that they are actually working on school stuff
To help them feel less isolated
Take it from someone who has worked from home for nine years: it can be a long, lonely day by yourself at your desk.
11. Screens down, go outside
Kids will be sitting on their butts in front of a screen all day for school. They don’t need a load of extra butt-sitting-screen-time outside of those hours. My kids DO NOT like this rule, but I think it’s necessary to stop them turning into the size of a barn during the COVID-19 crisis. So, it’s screens down after the school day and outside for at least a couple of hours. My kids are going for long walks, exercising with our punching bag, swimming in the pool, shooting some hoops, taking a guitar outside to practise, weeding the garden (thanks kids), etc.
12. Stay in touch
Your school should be in touch regarding their plans and what is expected of your child. We’ve had emails from the majority of our kids’ teachers, but not all. Don’t hesitate to contact individual teachers if you’re not sure of the work your child is expected to do. If you don’t think online learning at home is working in some subjects, you also need to let the school know. Our kids only get one chance at this year of education, so we need to support them to make the most of it.
These here are troubled times and many of us have some very troubled kids on our hands. It’s hard to shield them from the COVID-19 news, and as the kids get older we need to ask ourselves if it’s even wise to.
“COVID-19 is contagious … and so is mood,” says author of The Elite and psychology consultant Dr Jo Lukins. “If we are overly anxious our children will pick up on those cues, which is unlikely to be helpful for them. Educating our children as best we can is important.”
Dr Lukins advises us to remind our kids that feeling worried and concerned right now is perfectly normal. The fact that we are “all in this together” is actually a really good time to appeal to our children’s sense of community and tap into their innate kindness.
“We each have a job to do right now to look after ourselves, so we can look after others,” says Jo.
Ask kids to step up when things are down
Considering the stress that our society is currently under, it’s more than fair to ask kids to step up and give us their best right now. This is possible for kids of all ages, but especially true for older kids. In the middle of everyday battles with our adolescents, we can sometimes forget just how capable and understanding they can be. Right now, we are asking them to look beyond their own needs and care for the needs of others.
“It is entirely possible to encourage our teens to step at a time of crisis because this aligns with their natural tendencies and stage of development,” says Rachel Tomlinson, Registered Psychologist and founder of Toward Wellbeing. “As our children develop their desire to become autonomous and responsible increases. This is particularly strong in our teenagers, a normal part of their development is to become independent. Part of that is learning how to make good decisions, problem solve and essentially step up their responsibilities in preparation for being capable young adults.”
Asking for our children’s best can take many different forms, but looking after the home and each other is a good place to start. Families will be spending a lot more time together at home over the coming months, so pitching in to make home as comfortable as possible is more important now than ever.
“Always think about the strengths and abilities of your child when you think about ways that they can step up,” says Rachel. “When a young person is able to step up, achieve and take responsibility they feel pretty good about themselves. Taking on appropriate responsibilities improves self esteem as well as self efficacy – the belief in themselves as being capable.”
Giving specific instructions
When we ask kids to step up to help or support, we need to be as specific as possible. Tween and teen brains are not yet wired to ‘see’ the big picture, so kids are unlikely to just pitch in and get things done simply because they need doing.
“The prefrontal cortex of the brain is still putting on a few of the finishing touches during adolescence,” explains Rachel. “It’s the part of the brain that deals with logic and reasons, so that’s why we sometimes scratch our heads or don’t understand why our kids don’t “think” before they act… it’s not their fault, their brain is still working on that area of skill.”
By asking kids to contribute and be responsible, and offering them specific examples of how they can do so, gets them practicing and using that part of the brain.
Instead of, “please clean the kitchen”, try saying, “please empty the dishwasher, sweep the floors, and wipe down the benches.”
Instead of, “look after your little brother while I work”, try saying, “can you please spend half and hour kicking a soccer ball around the back garden with your little brother while I get this important report done.”
Instead of, “stop fighting with your sister”, try saying, “I know it’s frustrating spending so much time together, so I want you to each write down three things you love about each other before saying another mean thing.” Or something like that, anyway!
Helping out versus full responsibility
When we ask kids to step up, we are asking them to take responsibility for not only themselves, but the happiness of others. Having set chores to do is one thing, but taking full responsibility for an area of family life is quite another. This might be things like:
keeping the kitchen tidy throughout the day;
walking and feeding the family pets;
making meal plans and ordering food online;
keeping younger children occupied;
keeping the laundry from piling up;
stripping and washing the family’s bed sheets regularly;
dusting and vacuuming rooms used frequently.
The best thing about giving them reign over a particular area is that he kids will need to completely own it, no excuses.
“They will also feel a sense of pride in helping contribute to the family,” says Rachel. “So there are potential benefits of strengthening relationships with your teen by working together for the same cause.” She also notes that it will give us plenty of opportunities to appreciate our kids’ hard work and tell them how amazing they are.” Noted!
All in this… separately
One of the key pain-points for families right now is sibling conflict. Spending lots of time together can be kryptonite for sibling harmony.
“My kids don’t get along at the best of times,” says Mumlyfe reader, Jillian, whose family is one week into their self-quarantine after arriving home from a holiday. “Right now they are literally spending 24 hours together and the stress is diabolical.”
An obvious solution is to give the kids their own space at home, but in Jillian’s case, a tiny inner-city apartment that doesn’t even have a balcony is making that impossible. “We are literally in each others laps half the time, never mind trying to do work or schooling. We usually spend a lot of time out of the home because it’s just not big enough for a family of four, but here we are…”
This is exactly the time when we need to ask our kids to step up. Asking them to rise to support family harmony during such a difficult time might surprise you.
“Reading the kids the riot act had no impact whatsoever,” says Jillian. “I felt like I was simply being an angry referee all day, every day. It wasn’t until I sat them down and calmly asked them to help me, their father and each other out during this crisis that I started to see results. We agreed some ground rules together as a family and I’ve asked them to stick to those rules like glue.”
One of the rules Jillian asked her children, ages 11 and 14, to abide by was to consider the other first before saying or doing anything. “How will this make Ryan feel?” she explains. “Will this make Ava’s day better or worse? Am I being selfish right now? What should I do to make this situation better?”
Jillian is very happy to report that while fights are still erupting each day, they are diffusing much faster. She gently reminds her children what was agreed as a family and they work to curb their temper and try to put themselves in the others’ shoes.
This collaborative setting of family rules is critical for kids of all ages, but especially adolescents. “If you can involve them in the process then they will be more engaged and have “buy in” or commitment because they have been given an opinion and a choice,” says Rachel. In order to ask kids to step up, Rachel suggests this approach:
Do they have any preferences for things they definitely “do” and “do not” want to be responsible for?
It’s important to also think about the emotional supports you provide for one another and how every family member can take responsibility for their actions and behaviours.
Talk as a family and set some ground rules/expectations in advance – times might get tense due to fears and worries, so try and do the negotiating beforehand when things aren’t so heightened.
Consider your kids’ strengths and your own when considering different activities they might take ownership of. Are they a great cook? Maybe they could scour the internet for recipes and get creative when cooking for the family? Are they really creative and could be in charge of entertainment for the family?
In other words, think of ways to utilise the kids’ passions and skills to help everyone out. Then regularly notice how amazing they are being right now.
How are you all doing right now? Will you ask kids to step up now you need them to?
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