While many people around the country are adjusting to their new normal of social distancing, self-isolation or even shelter-in-place orders, the idea of quarantine is nothing new to NICU families. But that doesn’t make it any easier.
Parents may be overwhelmed with many aspects of self-isolation. Maybe you are caring for a medically fragile child. Maybe you have older children at home and are having to institute distance learning or some kind of makeshift homeschool. Chances are you are separated from other loved ones you would normally be able to count on for help. We don’t know when we will be able to emerge from our homes, go back to work and school, and resume normal life.
Everything is uncertain right now. But we still have to care for our families, and for ourselves. Here are a few tips we’ve put together that will help you care for your family, stay connected with loved ones, and – most importantly – care for yourself.
Caring for your family
Accessing therapies and specialists
Check with your providers to see if they are still able to accommodate patients and clients. Many therapists and specialists are still able to conduct regular appointments via Zoom or telehealth services. One mom told us that her son’s occupational therapist sends her videos of exercises and activities to complete, and she sends videos back of her son completing the activities. Behavioral therapists are also able to conduct talk therapy sessions via telehealth. Talk with your provider about how they are adjusting their practices to help their patients and clients who are in self-isolation.
Maintain a routine
It’s easy to think of this as an extended spring break or early summer break, but the truth is, kids thrive on routines. You don’t have to get them up as early as you would for school, but do make sure to establish a consistent wake up time, activity times and bedtime. Here’s a helpful guideline from the American Academy of Pediatrics that breaks down how much sleep kids of different ages need.
Age appropriate activities for kids
The internet is full of articles with lots of ideas for keeping kids of any age engaged while staying home. Here’s one from HuffPost: Quick Activities Parents Can Do With Their Kids During Self-Isolation. You can also check our our Pinterest board, Education Ideas Worth Sharing, for more ideas that we’ll be adding to frequently.
Relax some rules
It’s okay if you find yourself relaxing some rules around the house – like screen time. Routines and rules are important, but sometimes parents just have to get something done. And if you’re working from home during this time, flexibility is key.
Rethink distance learning
Has your child’s school sent assignments home? Or are you winging it? Either way, “distance learning” during this time doesn’t have to look just like a school day, and with parents also trying to work from home, it often can’t look like a typical school day. Some classes are already meeting via online platforms like Zoom, while others are simply asking students to stay fresh by reading and participating in learning activities posted on their websites. Show yourself and your family some grace by remaining flexible and keeping it fun.
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If you’re able to get outside and still practice social distancing, make the most of the good-weather days. Ride bikes as a family, have a picnic or read a book outside.
Embrace being together
Shelter-in-place orders have put us all in a unique situation, together at home all the time, unable to split up for activities or events. And while a lot of emphasis is placed on connecting with friends and family that we’re separated from, it’s also important to connect with the people in our own homes.
When parents aren’t working and kids aren’t doing at-home learning, try to make the most of your time together. Play family games, cook meals together, go for walks or watch a favorite family show or movie.
Caring for Yourself
Balance work and home
Many people are transitioning their jobs to work from home during self-isolation, while others who are considered essential personnel are continuing to leave the home to go to work. Both of these situations can cause different kinds of stress and anxiety.
For parents balancing work-from-home jobs with kids who are also home, communication is key. Who will be responsible for the kids at various times during the day? Whose job is flexible and whose requires strict desk time? Can one parent be on-call with the kids while the other is in an important meeting? Consider going over your calendars together daily to establish roles and routines so everyone can get their work done.
For parents who are considered essential personnel and are working outside the home, it’s understandable that you are concerned about not just taking care of your family, but with taking care of your own mental and physical health. Use these strategies from the American Medical Association to help manage your own mental well being while also attending to your job, even if it’s not in the medical profession.
Maintain a routine
Just like your kids, we adults also need to maintain a routine to help establish some normalcy. Set your alarm, make your bed, practice good hygiene (don’t forget to brush your teeth!), and get dressed. We promise, these tasks will make you feel better. And if you’re working from home, don’t forget to establish an “end” to your day and avoid staying at your desk late into the evening.
Kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from outside time. Work a daily walk into your routine, or take a book outside to read in the sunshine.
Get some exercise
It’s easy to get sedentary when stuck at home. Look for online workout classes like yoga, Zumba or other exercise of your choice. If workout videos aren’t your thing, go for lengthy walks, run or look for strength training exercises that use equipment you have at home.
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Get enough sleep
Before you hit “next episode” on that Netflix show you’re binging, take a look at the clock. Getting enough sleep is important for your physical and mental health, and you’ll feel much better for it.
Participate in calming activities
This may not be the time to start a big new project. At the end of your day, participate in activities that bring you a sense of calm. That may mean curling up with a good book, completing a puzzle with the family or heading outside for some gardening.
Find access to mental health care
Access to mental healthcare is still available. Try virtual services like BetterHelp, DotCom Therapy, TalkSpace, or see if a local mental health professional is accepting new patients and offering teletherapy services. If you need help finding treatment in your area, visit Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (Keep reading to find out about upcoming virtual support opportunities with Hand to Hold.)
Finally, The Awake Network has a list of free online meditation and mindfulness resources that they are continually updating.
Technology is our friend when it comes to staying connected while having to remain apart.
Video chat with friends and family
Find ways to video chat with friends and family so you can see one another’s smiling faces. iPhone users can FaceTime, or non-Apple users can use Skype, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts or Google Duo.
Virtual get togethers
Despite self-isolation, friends and coworkers all over the world are coming together for virtual meetups, dinners, happy hours, game nights and more. What fun way can you connect with a group you usually meet with in person?
Find virtual support
Hand to Hold is developing virtual support groups for parents who are in the NICU and in need of support, and for those who are seeking support beyond the NICU while in self-isolation. Sign up here to be among the first to find out when we launch these programs.