Building Positive Emotional Climates for Learning
and Living Together Well
Keeping our wits about us is not easy task especially now as we shelter in place,cut off from so much of the life we have known and wonder about the impact COVID-19 will have on our lives. Keeping it together however will allow us to organize and survive the coming months from a place of power and kindness.
Your children are looking to you for guidance and reassurance. In these uncertain times we all need a practice that helps us stay grounded, aware, intentional. For some of us it will be meditation, for some prayer, reading, ritual, pausing, or simply routines.
In this article we will focus on routines that add order and a sense of control in your household. Co-creating and following simple routines will help you use your time in a fulfilling way and will contribute to the overall sense of physical and emotional, mental wellbeing.
Below are general recommendations for routines during these challenging times.
• If you have routines already in place do all that you can to protect them. If you don’t yet have routines, establish a schedule and stick to it. Write the schedule down, set the timer, stick to the schedule, review it in the morning and reflect on it and revise it in the evening.
• Co-create timetables and routines with everyone in the household. Even very young children need to have a say about the timing of their days We all need a sense of control in these times when we have so little control of much that is important to us: our health, our safety, our jobs, incomes, the future, the shape of our lives post COVID-19.
• Having choice is foundational to being responsible. Give children age appropriate choices. For a 3 year old ask, do you want to have breakfast on the red plate or the green plate? For the 10 year old, ask do you want to start with writing or math today? For the 15 year old, do you want to start with exercise or schoolwork this morning?
• Create predictable spaces. Provide each child with a reliable spot to do his or her schoolwork. Ask the child what would make the space a good place to learn. Having pencils and paper, a pair of scissors, art supplies and a space for books, will help create order and a sense of regularity. If it is not possible to dedicate the space solely to the child’s study, organize all of the supplies and books into a box that can be decorated, and packed and repacked when it is necessary to move spaces. This will help the child feel in charge and responsible for materials and learning.
• Provide a space where the child can go to be alone: a cushion in a comfortable corner, a certain step, a spot in the back seat of a car, a place under a tree. If everyone in the household has a place to go to be alone, to read, to journal, to daydream, to rest, everyone will feel they have permission to be alone, to choose to isolate, to become comfortable with their own company. Make these breaks or pauses a part of the family culture and model taking time alone when you need a pause or a break or a time to reflect.
• Remember, children’s capacity to focus is developmentally determined. A general rule of thumb is age times two, so a 4 year old can be expected to focus for 8 minutes and an 8 year old about 15 minutes to 20 minutes. 22 minutes seems to be about the maximum time any of us can focus! Plan time accordingly. Get up to have a drink of water. Step outside and check the weather, walk around the house once. Stretch and swing your arms. Change the way you are engaging with the material. Change from reading silently to reading aloud or identifying words to look up .
• Limit screen time. Be firm. We all need limits on our intentionally addictive devices. Children and teens need your help to limit their use of social media. Model the behavior and self-regulation you expect from your children.
• Self-reflection is a major component of critical thinking. Ask questions that require reflection. What did you learn today that surprised you? What did you hear that you don’t believe? What are you looking forward to today? What did you not understand and what can you do to get the information you need? Who did you help today or who helped you? What made you calm today?
• At least once a day, focus on gratitude. At dinner or breakfast name aloud what you are thankful for and why. Do a few rounds of things you are grateful for and be sure everyone adds at least one thing. Don’t comment on others thanksgiving. See if you can notice what happens in your body when you share things for which you are grateful Chemicals are released in response to thoughts. You can choose what you focus on. Focusing on gratitude is an invaluable practice and habit that will build a positive emotional climate in your family and is an excellent tool for building resilience.
• Be intentional and practice. All of these tools are invaluable skills for life. Use this unusual time as an opportunity to purposefully build habits and skills that will make you and your family more resilient, intentional, kind, and positive.