How your family can survive self-isolation without killing each other

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Chances are you’re in self-isolation with the kids at home right now, or very soon will be. Confined to four walls and, if you’re lucky, a garden. No excursions, no day trips, no ‘phone a friend and get out of the house’. Just you, the family, and the walls slowly closing in. Forget coronavirus*, how will we ever survive our family?

* Don’t do this.

To help you through, here’s a plan to structure your days, keep active and engaged and, with a bit of luck, even find some alone time. At this point in time, let’s just be very, very grateful that our kids are older and able to understand exactly why they’re stuck at home. Yet another time to reach out to mums of younger kids and say, “is there anything I can do to help?” From afar this time, but help where you can.

Survive self-isolation (and maybe even enjoy it)

Structure your days

This is the most important thing. While it’s tempting to embrace the lack of school and commitments and let each day drift into the next, don’t do it. What feels like freedom in the beginning will just very quickly turn into one very, very, very long day.

Instead, set up a loose structure that gives you and the kids space for work/school time, relaxation time, exercise time, chore time and food prep time. It might look something like:

7am – wake up and smile
7 –  9am – breakfast, shower, exercise, hang out / no screens
9 – 11am – work or school time
11 – 12noon – work time and quiet time
12 – 2pm – lunch and screen time
2 – 4pm – work or school time
4 – 5pm – chores, outside time
5 – dinner – walk the dog, down time, screens okay
After dinner – regular night time routine

Adjust to suit your family after discussion with your kids. Write down/type out your routine and put it somewhere prominent. Try to stick to it as much as possible as it will help to break up the days and keep everyone on some kind of routine. Getting some rhythm into your days is exactly how you’re going to survive self-isolation with the kids!

Exercise every day

Organised sport, including group games and gym, is off the cards, and you’ll all be feeling it. Time to get old-school and set up some physical activities around the house. Housework is an excellent work out (hint, hint, kids). You can also do YouTube exercise videos – I’m a big fan of The Balanced Life Pilates. Try their 30 day challenge each day during your lock-in:

Other notable at home get-fit gurus include:

If you’re not a fan of video-fitness, simply try moving more. Walk around the house and up and down the stairs. Kick a ball to each other in the backyard. Shoot some hoops if you’ve got a hoop. Swim laps of the backyard pool. Set your bike up as a stationery bike. Use whatever you’ve got to survive self-isolation and come out feeling whole.

Screens are okay, but not always

Now is the time to relax screen rules. You’ll be making a rod for your own back if you insist on limiting time on devices during such extraordinary times. Relax, let the kids catch up with friends, watch videos, start a movie obsession, play video games, edit movies, start a project. Keep an eye on how the kids are spending their time – not all screen time is equal. If a screen is the difference between getting along at home and (hopefully metaphorical) punches flying, use the screen.

That said, encourage the kids to do other things as well as jam their nose in a screen. My book Screen Freedom is full of ideas (get it now for half-price – $5 using the special code COVID-19). 


Try something here too: 10 activities for older kids instead of screens


Get some alone time

Being around others all day, every day, is very taxing for some of us, impossible for the rest. Make sure everyone is having time to themselves at least once a day – longer for introverts. This may mean allocating a roster for bedrooms for those that share. Or simply allocating some ‘quiet time’ into your daily schedule for the family. Don’t under-estimate how important this chill-time is alone.

Repeat: you are not going to survive self-isolation without some actual isolation of the self.

According to Psychology Today, we need solitude to boost our brains, increase productivity and, basically, keep from murdering our family (that’s not quite what it says, but it should). Have a plan to get away from everyone and make sure you disconnect from online people as well as real-life people when you have your quiet time. This is time for inner-reflection, not catching up with others.

Alone time is important when you're stuck home with your family

Allocate chores

We’ve been meaning to get around to giving the kids more chores to do around the house, but there ironically never seems any time to train them up and get started. Well, here’s our chance. Grab it! Not having to clean up every little thing is key if you are going to survive self-isolation with your sanity in tact.

There are no ‘I don’t have time’ excuses during a lock in. All the time in the world to learn how to vacuum into the corners, hang the bed sheets so they won’t bunch up and never dry, stack the dishwasher so even the melted cheese gets washed away, and even dust along the skirting boards.

It may feel like giving the kids extra jobs is somehow robbing them of their childhood, but hear this: in the long run, chores help tweens and teens feel more capable, autonomous and cared for.

There will no doubt be resistance at first, but use the “we’re all in this together” approach and see how you go. 

Our kids have never been more open to the idea of community, helping and kindness than they are right now.

Be involved in school work

Most schools will have set up some online learning programs, but don’t leave it entirely with the kids. Make some time in the morning to go over each child’s school work and offer help where needed. Having a full day of school to attend to will make a big difference if your child is going to survive self-isolation without turning into a zombie. No, really.

Learning online when you’re used to face-to-face is pretty tough, so help the kids research some additional resources. You can’t beat:

Researching this has made me realise that a WooTube-style program for any other Australian-curriculum subject is wide open for a teacher here in Australia. Anyone?

Make meals important

You’ve got the stocks in for meals, so plan out what you will eat and when. The kids can cook a meal or two each week. If they’ve never cooked before, now is when you have time to teach them.

It makes sense to make food a central part of your life while in self-isolation. Food really does reward us when the chips are down – so to speak. It’s a good thing to make food your daily focus to bring some rhythm into your days. Slow down meal preparations and make each meal an ‘event’ when you can.

Be at home with the family without killing each other

I wrote this article for SBS Food about the kinds of meals you can make with your pantry stores. We’ll be running through everything on the list. 

To-Do something each day

There’s never been a better time to knock all of your ‘gonna get around to it’ things over. It will create immense satisfaction in your day and help you feel like life is moving forward.

For me it’s cleaning out the garage, making a few photo books, painting some outdoor furniture and sewing some cushion covers. The idea of doing the To-Do goes for the kids too – I am encouraging them to sort out their clothes, organise their school schedule, set up the blog they’ve wanted for a while, and take more time with their school assignments than they might otherwise have done. Whatever is on their list.


Or turn your To Do list into a Ta Da list


Be open and honest

Self-isolation is a great opportunity to get the family on the same page. Not everyone is into family meetings like we are (I totally get it), but instead keep opening up conversation. The day’s 27 coronavirus headlines is a great place to start. Talk about the stats, commiserate over the casualties, talk about the future.

It’s possible that you will be spending more time with your family these next few weeks than you will for the rest of the year.

Treasure the time together, even when it’s hard.

Be open about how you are feeling during self-isolation. Admit when you’re frustrated or bored (are mums ever actually bored? We will find out, no doubt!) and ask the kids for suggestions, they might surprise you. Encourage everyone to do some activities together at some point each day. Seek your kids’ opinions and be willing to share yours. With a bit of luck, COVID-19 might be the key to opening communication for years to come.

Go outside

This was my mantra when I was home with young kids and it’s still my mantra today: go outside. Everyday, as much as you can.

Go outside every day

Outside is both calming and connecting. Even if you’ve only got a balcony to sit on.

Even if you don’t feel like it. Go outside anyway.

It will make a huge difference to how you feel each day. If you can get a sneaky walk in around the neighbourhood each day (by yourself or with the kids), then do that too.  Just don’t come in contact with anyone, don’t touch anything and definitely don’t cough.

Practise gratitude

Though it’s tough to find gratitude when life has been so disrupted – and many of us are facing very hard times – do try to look for the good. Writing down three things you’re grateful for at the end of each day is a good exercise right now.

Remind the kids that everyone is in this together. The importance of community has never been higher. The awareness of simple things has never been greater. We are all being forced to slow down and look within to find happiness and appreciation, and it’s lovely that we are discovering that together as a family. It’s a good time to talk about what really matters.’

How do you plan to survive self-isolation with the family?

Feature image by Adrianna Van Groningen; books by Christin Hume; meals by Soroush Karimi; outside by Marina De Salis 

Written by Bron Maxabella

Bron is the founder of Mumlyfe and is so happy to welcome you here. Bron has been writing in the Australian parenting space as Maxabella for more than seven years and is mum to three mostly happy kids and wife to one mostly happy husband. Mostly happy is a win, right?

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