Thursday, March 19, 2020

Managing the quarantine

It feels like something out of a sci-fi/horror movie. The kind where when the preview comes on, I mutter to myself, “nope, not going to go see that one.” But, we are living it. We are all in the position of having to figure out how to best navigate this new, hopefully temporary reality.
Schools are closed. Many people are trying to work from home while at the same time trying to entertain the kids and keep some semblance of education going. When we come out on the other side, I imagine there are a lot of parents who are going to vote to give teachers a hefty raise

These are stressful times, to say the least. Practicing mindfulness is essential. We don’t have a real choice so lets make the best of a very tough situation. Time is a precious commodity that we often don’t have enough of. Use this opportunity to slow down and savor it.

For those of you who are fortunate, please don’t take it for granted.

A home
Enough food, 
Good air quality
Time together.
Robust communication channels with our loved ones, even if we can’t be with them.

Cherish these things!
Do a gratitude exercise with the family. What are the things you have to be grateful for?

Is there something that you can do as a family to help others who aren’t quite as lucky? This could be something as simple as sending a letter or making a call. 

Every morning remind yourself what the date is. It is important not to let the days blend together. It is a good idea to stick to routines. Try to wake up at the normal time and keep the bedtime ritual intact. Getting enough sleep is essential. Get dressed every day (I wonder how many zoom calls are going on these days with folks wearing their pajama bottoms!)

Have a schedule of things that you need to or want to accomplish each day. With our normal life turned upside down for the next three weeks (at the very least), this may be easier said than done. It is important to get started on the right foot. Even if you try to put a schedule in place, with the schools closed, there is little doubt that your kids are going to have more time on their hands than they are used to. I suggest making a family plan for how much tech/screen time you find acceptable. Keep in mind that in 2019 The AAP and WHO updated their screen time recommendation. These are the guidelines:

Babies under 18 month 
As tempting as it is, screens should not be used as a toy or distraction.
Face time with family members is fine

Toddlers 18 months -2 years
Less than an hour of high quality screen activity is fine. Adult guidance and interaction should be part of this.

Preschoolers 3-5 years
An hour a day is fine. Make sure it is a high quality app or program. You can be in the room, but don’t need to be actively interacting with them

Elementary school aged 6-10 
Screen time should be limited to 1-1.5 hours/day. Be aware of what your child is watching or playing.

Middle school aged 11-13
Screen time limited to 2 hours/day. Your guidance on what children are watching remains important.

Regardless of how old you or your child are I would suggest taking a break after 60 minutes in front of a screen. Come up for air and give your eyes a little break.

The AAP has good reasons for placing limits on screen time. If we were facing just a day or so of being cooped up at home, I would typically be easy about bending the rules, but we are not sure how long this new normal will last. The risk for sliding into endless screen time is real. This blog post addresses screen time:

When you are making your family plan, you can divide the screen time into different categories.

You might not count the social face time with friends and family as part of the allotment. That is up to you, but it is really important to stay connected with people, especially older relatives who are currently isolated.

Do your kids have homework or school work assignments?  
Make sure the kids have a designated place where they can sit and do their homework. Having the television droning on in the background with the same COVID-19 and quarantine stories repeating over and over should be avoided. Figure out how much screen time is involved in their school assignments.

There are so many rabbit holes to fall down on the internet. Make sure you go down the good ones and try to stay within the time limit. I was excited to see some of these options available!

Odd assortment of webcams and cool sites. Super tiny printing, so you need to enlarge it.

What can you do once you put down the screen?
I asked my daughter Lauren, who does theater and improv classes for people of all ages and abilities, and she didn’t disappoint! Some of her suggestion included:
Gift Giving: Take turns pantomiming giving unique gifts to each other. The only rule is that no matter what the gift is, the receiver must act like it is the best gift they have ever received in their life!! They must say thank you and try to come up with a reason why they love the gift. Then it is their turn to come up with a new gift to give. (I like to make the gifts very silly things, like pocket lint, or a chewed up pencil, and watch people try to come up with a reason why they absolutely love and need that gift.)

Art to Music: Have kids place the tip of a pencil in the middle of a piece of paper and close their eyes. Begin playing a song and with their eyes closed, kids begin moving their pencils in movements on the page that mimic the instruments or rhythms of the music pieces. (i.e. a drum solo might be penciled as a jagged heart rate monitor-like line). You can alter the music from style to style while the kids keep their eyes shut. Eventually (when most of the page is covered in lines) they can open their eyes and trace (darkly) all the penciled lines with a black pencil crayon (or find a shape in their scribbles and trace the shape to make it more clear). They can color each individual shape (that has been created by the penciled lines) in such a way that none of the same colors are touching each other, creating a unique piece of abstract art, or color a background outside the shape they created.
Click here for Lauren’s full list.

There are plenty of activities that are not tech related and more and more lists on line as creative parents figure out how to get through this quarantine without losing our minds. Here is a list that I compiled years ago

Going online to download an activity does not count as screen time.

Remember that the following factors can help balance stress levels

Nature: You are allowed outside! Simply make sure you stay more than 6 feet away from people who are not in your inner circle. Be aware of touching surfaces that might be contaminated. You can still walk, or run or dance! I would avoid play structures. Also, if possible use the restroom at home before you go out. Just to be on the safe side, have the hand sanitizer with you on your outing and scrub those hands as soon as you get indoors.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children and teens ages 6 through 17 do an hour or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily. Some of your kids are no doubt delighted to be released from their daily PE class at school, but it is important to stick some exercise into your daily schedule.

There are lots of free yoga, dance and exercise classes on youtube or online,
I am not counting those as screen time as long as your kids are getting up and moving.

There is no shortage of food. We are very fortunate about that. In order to minimize exposure to crowded stores, plan your meals so that you can limit your shopping trips and make them efficient, or have food delivered. Have the kids help you plan the meals and do some cooking. If you have multiple kids, this is a good opportunity for kids to take turns and have some one on one time with you in the kitchen.Do your best to focus on healthy foods.

My daughter Alana is a local therapist in SF. She wants to remind people that therapy is considered an essential service. If this situation is triggering anxiety in a level that you are having trouble coping with, many therapists are continuing to offer remote sessions.

The above tips are all important for maintaining a healthy immune system. There has never been a better time to pay attention to that.

I have vivid memories of power outages that lasted long enough to make an impact. One happened on my daughter Lauren’s birthday. We had to get back to the basics. We ended up making smores in the fireplace and had a musical evening of piano, guitar and singing by candlelight. We might have had some food spoil, but what we remember looking back are positive memories.

I wish this situation was as fleeting as the power going out. I am afraid that this is a marathon, not a sprint, but at some point we will look back at this period in our lives and reflect on how we navigated the challenge. Our goal should be that when we all sit around and recall the tale of the COVID quarantine, it won’t just be horror stories. We will remember how we successfully survived as a family and community and found beauty in togetherness, even as we stayed 6 feet apart.

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This one got some response from the parents out there who are trying to work from home while keeping kids occupied.
It is easy enough for me to preach about putting down the screen. My kids are grown up and out of the house.
It is safe to say that if I had young kids at home, I would likely be allowing more screen time than the official recommendation.
But! If this situation lasts for more than a few weeks, I really don't want kids on screens for hours and hours.
Try to find a balance.
It is okay to eat extra carbs and binge watch the Hallmark channel Christmas movies.
It is okay to make lists and then ignore them. Do the best you can. Survive.
Success might be measured by not throttling each other.
Your comments are welcome here!

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