by Ingrid Clark
As I write this, we are in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. We’re adhering to the Government’s plea to stay at home and adjusting to the "new normal" as we try to curb the spread of the virus. As a result, I have my 3 children doing their schooling from home. They’re all in high school now, not babies anymore, and they’re able to somewhat satisfy their needs for social contact via technology. It’s a bit different, however, for all the parents with babies and toddlers.
For Jen & I, the current situation has meant a complete re-think on how we can still nurture our clients, whilst maintaining a safe 1.5 metre distance. In order to be safe and compliant, we actually can’t run our classes ‘live’ at the moment, and that is tough because we just love offering practical, hands-on support.
But, we are all in the same boat, so we just have to start doing the best we can under the circumstances.
Like many businesses (and schools), we are now using the Zoom platform to run ‘virtual’ groups. Granted, it’s nowhere near what we normally offer, but it’s a point of contact and a sense of community, and that is vital. The other benefit is that we get to see each other, and the beautiful babies that we’d normally be cuddling.
We could have just taken a hiatus and decided to only offer one-on-one phone consults, rather than the full range of services we provide. But we know all too well how new mothers can feel isolated even when there isn’t a pandemic, and we simply cannot abide the thought of new mums sitting at home with their babies and toddlers, feeling like they’re all alone.
Sometimes we just have to try and change our mindset in order to make the best of a situation. To illustrate, rather than thinking “Oh my gosh, I’m STUCK at home with only my baby for company! I’m gonna go crazy for SURE!!”; you could use different language to try and change the way you feel and go about life: “Oh wow, my usual activities aren’t on at the moment. That means slower mornings (I can stay in my PJ’s longer!) and less pressure. Plus, I know my baby is protected from the virus if we’re just hanging out at home.”
I know I’ve oversimplified what is a very complex situation, but the point I’m trying to make is that if we start using different language, we can see things as opportunities rather than limitations.
Toddlers & Preschoolers
“The baby is easy … it’s the toddler I’m struggling with.” Yep, I get it. You may well be having to keep your toddler or preschooler home every day too. It can make the days seem very long. It’s exhausting. But again, how can you change it so that this enforced time together is quality time together? Rather than lamenting the loss of your toddler-free time, ask yourself how you can make this time special and memorable. For example: “Wow - I don’t have to rush out the door to daycare or mothers’ group or playgroup. That will actually eliminate a lot of stress! Maybe I’ll feel inspired to do some great activities with my child that I normally feel too rushed to bother with.”
I’m not saying it’s easy; it’s not. But it might just be enjoyable. I’ve been thinking a lot about the sorts of things that might help parents get through the days, and I’ve put together a bit of a list. Here are 10 ideas of how to make the most of social distancing with kids (in no particular order):
1) Go for a walk. Exercise and fresh air are so important! Schedule this into your daily routine. It will do wonders for your mental wellbeing and stimulate your child’s senses.
2) Be inventive. Maybe you can try a new type of exercise or a new way for your child to burn off excess energy! Toddlers seem to love doing yoga, so take advantage of spending all day in your active wear knowing that nobody will ring your doorbell! Or build an obstacle course, either inside or outside. My kids loved these when they were little. A dance party is also a popular one, and when you’re socially isolating you don’t need to worry about how silly you look! Go nuts and pull out all your moves; the kids will think it’s HILARIOUS.
3) Imaginative play. This is super important, both emotionally and intellectually. It’s how kids learn. BUT, let’s be honest, it's usually a bit of a drag to get down on your child’s level and actually play! I would usually find that I felt stressed. My mind was going through all the ‘jobs’ I had to get done. But guess what? Your activities are cancelled, no one is watching, and your child will think you are THE BEST! So let loose, dredge up your best acting skills and enjoy watching the expression on your little one’s face as you really engage in their imaginative games.
4) Make a phone call. It’s the next best thing to meeting for coffee. Speaking to someone at the same life-stage as you can be very comforting. A word of warning though: being real and honest is super important, but try not to get caught in the trap of ‘one-upping’ your friends in the “poor me” stakes. Instead, be real about the struggles, but try and encourage each other with strategies and ideas to get through this.
5) FaceTime. Ok, hear me out. For those who’ve done our Baby Care Classes, you’ll remember that Jen & I don’t normally recommend screen-time for young children. But, have you heard the saying “desperate times call for desperate measures”? Yep. If your little one is missing their family and friends too, a quick FaceTime session might just be the ticket.
6) TV. Don’t freak out ... I haven’t forgotten that TV isn’t recommended for babies under 2 years old. But for toddlers & preschoolers it can be enjoyable and helpful to have a scheduled time in the day for watching a show or two. I recommend saving this for late afternoon. It’s a little sanity-saver you can look forward to! Usually it gives you a chance to get dinner on the table and perhaps fold the washing and do some other chores. Or it may be that you’re able to feed a younger baby and settle them in bed, knowing that your older child is safe and relaxed.
7) Cooking. I know it can be messy and time-consuming, but I’m yet to meet a child who doesn’t want to help with cooking. It’s surprising how much a young child can actually do. Perhaps the best thing though is that they’ll often try new foods if they’ve played a part in preparing it.
8) Do something creative. It’s scientifically proven that doing something creative can enhance our mood, so give yourself and your children a serotonin boost and get crafty. Sure, toilet rolls might be in short supply, but there are other options out there! Empty cereal boxes, yoghurt containers, egg cartons … use your imagination to turn these into some marvelous creations. A bit of masking tape and paint can provide plenty of stimulation and entertainment. Think outside the square, too. A painting session might produce many ‘masterpieces’; why not turn them into greeting cards for family or friends? It might even result in a lovely walk down to the post box, and you’ll be sure to brighten someone’s day when they receive the mail!
9) Extra story time. Often we only have time to snuggle up for stories at the end of our busy days. But when you’re at home, don’t be afraid to have more than a few story sessions in a day. Why not have a ‘book picnic’ or build a ‘story cubby’? These can be huge hits with toddlers and preschoolers and it’s a lovely way to pass the time.
10) Nature time. It doesn’t matter if you’re living on an acreage, a suburban block or an apartment ... engaging with nature on any level is good for you. It could mean going on a nature walk and collecting things along the way, or it could be bird watching from your window or balcony. One of my favourite activities is to plant something and watch it grow. Little ones love getting involved … and getting dirty! Embrace the time you have, and enjoy the benefits of growing something. It’s a beautiful distraction from all the doom and gloom and somehow restores a sense of balance: life goes on, and this too shall pass.
We would love to hear other people’s ideas on how to cope during this time. Share this with a friend who might benefit, and share your thoughts and ideas with us in the comments section, or on Facebook or Instagram.
Hopefully we’ll be back running groups and feeding you cake again really soon. Take care!
Jen is a midwife with almost 20 years experience in a Sydney birthing unit. She now lives & works on the Central Coast, supporting new mothers as they transition into motherhood.
Ingrid is a birth & postpartum doula, living and working on the beautiful NSW Central Coast.