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Long-term lockdown can be ‘kids’ stuff’



It’s been more than a hundred days since some children last went to school. Some briefly attended classes before returning to online learning, and others are at home for school holidays. As lockdown becomes a “long haul” experience, how can parents help their children remain positive, upbeat, and resilient, all while keeping screen time to a minimum?

“It’s clear that lockdown is now a marathon, not a sprint,” says human potential and parenting expert Nikki Bush. “I keep telling parents not to give children a date or deadline when this will end, as they will feel disappointed if it doesn’t happen. So much is out of their control, which is why it’s vital we focus on things they can control.”

She suggests that children decorate and make a “choice jar”, where they write on slips of paper anything they can do at the moment that would give them joy or satisfaction. Then, when boredom or anxiety arises, they choose an activity from the jar.

“For a small child, it might be playing in the sandpit, riding their bike, or talking to granny on Zoom. For an older child, it might be doing a puzzle, talking to a friend, spending their pocket money, or making art.”

It could be an activity with two parts, for example, cleaning your room and then donating clothes and toys to those in need. Cooking or baking, learning a card game, or going for a walk as a family are all choices that lead to satisfaction and bonding, which in turn leads to everyone feeling empowered. This in turn teaches resilience, showing children that they are more in control of their attitude and feelings than they think.

It’s vital to create a routine, whether it’s term time or holidays, and getting “back to basics” is the easiest way to keep busy. For example, no child is too young or old to make art, and the options are endless.

Any child can get involved in a long-term project, from a puzzle to making a series of paintings. Everyone needs fresh air and exercise, and this should be part of the child’s routine – whether it’s dancing to music or going for a walk.

Connecting with family and friends is vital for our mental health, and this too should be part of the daily or weekly routine, using technology to do so safely. A child is never too young to learn about giving to others, whether it’s making sandwiches for the hungry or donating old clothes.

Everyone from toddlers to teens can enjoy gardening, baking, or cooking. This is the time to try out those fun science experiments, make a time capsule, or read the books your teen has never got round to. They could even start a business, selling handmade jewellery or baked goods, teaching them vital skills of entrepreneurship.

“There’s so much learning on tap right now that will help prepare children for the real world,” Bush says. “Trying to keep our children in a state of perpetual happiness isn’t realistic. Life is full of ups and downs, so we need to help develop them their ‘x-factors’ for success.”

In her book Future-Proof Your Child for the 2020s and Beyond with Graeme Codrington, Bush describes these five “x-factors” as innovation, resilience, loving learning, knowing yourself really well, and learning to be part of a team. Long-term lockdown provides abundant opportunities to exercise these qualities.

For example, parents and children have the opportunity to be creative and resourceful in keeping boredom at bay and finding solutions to particular challenges. “Your child may want to have a play date with a friend and even though that’s not possible right now, there are solutions to make this a reality virtually.”

As children are forced to take more control and ownership of their own learning under lockdown, they can use this time to explore topics of interest to them. So much online is free, and as your child takes on a course, skill, or project that they are passionate about, they are gaining vital tools for their future.

Allowing kids to feel bored lets them get to know themselves better, as they fill the gap with something that makes them happy. “A pause isn’t a bad thing. It’s about reframing this time as an interesting part of our evolution. If you know yourself, you learn how to manage others,” she says.

Lockdown is forcing families to become “teams”, and this in turn teaches children about being part of something bigger than themselves. “Within the ‘we’, they discover the ‘me’,” says Bush. “Furthermore, we now lie in a hybrid world of online teams and real-life teams. That’s not going to change, and this is the time to adapt that reality.”

Ultimately, lockdown is a time to gently expose your child to the “real world”. “We can’t protect our children from massive change. They are living in an era of disruption. Lockdown is teaching them to become comfortable with ‘small wins’. Playing a game as a family, using things around the house to bust boredom, or going outside together may become the highlight of their day, and it teaches them to value things differently.”

Bush emphasises that screen time isn’t “the end of the world,” even if this has increased under lockdown. “It’s about what you are doing to balance it out. This means having dinner together with no screens – this includes parents putting their phones away – or reflecting on the day together.” It means going for a walk together, or teaching your child a card game or family recipe, or allowing kids to ‘just be’, after being on the busy treadmill of life for so long.”

For parents, too, this is a time to face up to our fears and become full-time parents, often for the first time. This may feel scary after handing kids over to school, grandparents, or other caregivers for so long. Bush provides “boredom buster activities” on her Toy Talk website, which “help parents step into the space of being a source of magic, wonder, and surprise. We haven’t always been fun and playful, and these options show you how to use resources in the home and create fun out of nothing. Long-term lockdown is an opportunity to reinvent family life. It’s a gift.”

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