The prospect of quarantining with young kids has never exactly been appealing to parents. However, there was a period during the early days of the pandemic when many of us could more readily muster up some enthusiasm for slower-paced days at home. Fueled by ideas on Pinterest, a bit more screen time than usual and the sense that we could “get back to normal” before long made quarantining somewhat palatable.
But, now? I don’t think I’m alone in saying I’m so over Zoom happy hours and botched craft sessions. And the harsh irony is that my family has had to quarantine more in the past month than during the previous year combined. While we didn’t hesitate to do the right thing and lock down when we were exposed to COVID and again when my kids were sick, quarantine still felt daunting—perhaps because I’m now aware of how challenging it can be.
As numerous studies have shown, although quarantines are highly effective ways to minimize the spread of disease, the act of quarantining can lead to higher levels of stress, depression and insomnia. Add that to the ongoing burnout that many parents feel and, yeah, excuse me for wanting to throw the craft glue sticks out the window.
Yet, after a cumulative 20 days of quarantine, here we are on the other side—at least for the moment. (I’m soaking it in!) It wasn’t always fun and easy, but there were fun and easy moments to be found.
As in the early days of social distancing, I pulled up Pinterest a few times and scheduled regular FaceTime calls with my kids’ grandparents. But I’ve learned that the real key to successfully quarantining is to focus on preserving our family members’ emotional health. Here are four ways we made the most of quarantine with kids:
Dive Deep Into a Shared Interest
Taking a cue from my daughter’s Montessori preschool, we decided to learn as much as we could about a subject of my kids’ choosing. After a little deliberation on their part and a few suggestions from me, we agreed to become “experts” on the weather. That opened up a lot of possibilities from science experiments to crafts to stories. (We supplemented our copy of “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” with a more educational book that I ordered with two-day shipping.) Not only did my kids get a sense of confidence from becoming mini meteorologists, but I also appreciated having some direction with our lesson plans.
Make Physical Activity a Priority
The amount of energy within my 5-year-old, 3-year-old and 2-year-old never ceases to amaze me—and moving their bodies has positive effects on their minds and moods, too. Although we usually spend good portions of our days playing at parks or doing sports practice, quarantine made us get more creative while finding ways to move our bodies. We were fortunate to have nice weather and a private outdoor space to play many days. On the few days when stormy weather kept us inside, we scheduled “gym class” that featured a relay race and dance session.
Create Space for Yourself
During ordinary days, finding much time for myself with three young kids can be a challenge and that time is even harder to come by during quarantine. However, I wholeheartedly believe that’s what makes it more important. For me, getting the chance to run on the treadmill and make dinner in peace did wonders for my mental health during our lockdown. Having my supportive husband at home with us was undeniably a benefit not all have. But because he was working full-time remotely through quarantine, I also became better at carving out some space for myself while spending time with my kids—like by reading one of my books while they were playing.
Decide What You Can ‘Let Slide’
The best thing about quarantine is that it will end. In the meantime, I’ve learned not to hold myself to quite the same standards as I do when we have our ordinary tools and resources. In the beginning of quarantine, it can help to take a step back and evaluate what is essential to keeping your house running and family happy. Then decide how you can take the easier way with anything else: a few more frozen dinners, a little extra screen time, the laundry pile getting a bit bigger... Remember, these aren’t new “habits” you’re allowing; they are exceptions you are creating to help you get through a unique situation.