Social Worker Leanne Bamford joins specialist family lawyer and mediator, Jennifer Hetherington to discuss ways parents and children can cope during the isolation brought by the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.
Leanne and Jennifer offer practical solutions, applicable to anyone feeling overwhelmed or lonely, especially anyone separated from their children during this time.
Here is an edited transcript of some of the episode
Below is an edited transcript of the themes from the podcast:
Would you think it’s fair to say that this COVID-19 pandemic is a trauma event for our population?
Leanne: I would say it’s a trauma event for some of our population, and probably a good number of our population. Some people will just take it in their stride, and that’s not to say that they’re any better than those that are finding it a critical incident, but yes, I think it is fair to say that for some it will be a crisis.
Is it fairly normal for us to be finding it difficult to cope with every day household tasks, or be a bit distracted and finding it hard to concentrate? Is that a normal response to this kind of situation?
I think it can be for a lot of people. What we are finding that is difficult for us to probably accommodate is that we’re being told what to do. Most people like to feel like they’ve got some control on their life and that they have scope to make decisions, and at the moment those decisions, for very, very good reasons, are being made for us. It is a different way of thinking and it is a different way in which we then manage our own time and how we respond to this incident.
This Sunday, after over a week of choosing to isolate, knowing that the government was eventually going to do it, but choosing to do it for the health of myself, my family and making sure I’m there for my clients, I have been isolating as much as possible and only leaving the house once or twice a week. Suddenly, to be thrust into a situation of, well, I get to spend another day at home doing very little, suddenly, my slow Sunday relaxing and not doing too much didn’t seem quite as indulgent anymore, as it has every other Sunday where I’ve gone, “Look at me. I’m not doing any work, I’m not going out. I’m going to do my cryptic crossword.” It was actually, it got to the point where instead it was a time filler.
That’s because the other Sundays it was your choice to do that, to look after yourself. You valued it. It had a purpose. At the moment, it still has a purpose, but not in the sense that you’ve got a choice around it. It’s about the locus of control.
So that’s really about the amount of control that we perceive or actually have in our life?
That’s correct. You’ve lost a sense of control, and so it’s about helping you to look inward, and also around in your own immediate world as to what resources you have that assist you in making choices and in having some sense of control. Sometimes it might be that you only get to the point where you’ve identified that you’ve got control for the next half hour in your life. If that’s what you’ve got to work with, well, that’s what you work with. And it might be about just deciding whether, okay, every day this week I’m going to make sure I don’t sleep in beyond 7:30 or eight o’clock, whatever. That’s your choice and it’s within your capacity of your locus of control to do that, and sometimes it’s baby steps.
I can’t control that I’m going to be alone for the next week, 10 days, two weeks potentially, but what I can control is how I spend that time, and I can choose if I want to set an alarm on the weekend and if I want to just not set an alarm. This is my indulgent time. I can do whatever I want, and maybe, perhaps that’s the key. Is flipping the mindset to if you don’t have the kids with you. Not to ‘I don’t have my children with me. What am I going to do?’ It’s ‘I don’t have my kids with me. I can’t leave the house. I can do anything I want in the house though’.
That’s exactly what I did. My son doesn’t like mushrooms, so I decided right, when my son’s not here I can eat mushrooms. I can have mushrooms on toast, I can put mushrooms in my casseroles, whatever I’m making that’s appropriate I’ll put mushrooms in it, so it’s about not necessarily re-scripting, but it’s about identifying and to a certain degree celebrating what you do have, rather than what you don’t have. ‘s about that choice. It’s you choosing within the limitations of our directives at the moment what you can do that are positive, and that add value to your life and to your sense of self.
Let’s talk about maintaining relationships. Say a three or four year old who can’t have a phone conversation or can’t have a lengthy phone conversation, how can they maintain that relationship in the other household in a situation where parents are cooperative? When parents are able to cooperate, how can they make that easier for their child?
You’ve got parents that are child focused, so their whole focus and their concentration on their parental responsibilities about what’s in the best interest of Billie? And so Billie’s four. He’s going to be spending 10 days with Dad and he hasn’t really had a lot of time like that away from Mummy before. It’d be right, what does Billie need? Billie needs regular contact with Mummy. Well, Billie won’t have a half an hour conversation with you. He’s four. He’s all over the place. Okay, so let’s put in some times in place where you can have a quick Skype in the morning and then a quick Skype at night.
All little kids really need to hear is Mummy’s voice or Daddy’s voice, and see Daddy or Mummy and your face.
Jennifer: What are a few practical things that someone can do in the moment if they’re feeling overwhelmed? If little Johnny or Mary is just throwing a tantrum, and mum or dad just wants to sit and rock in the corner, what are some things that can be done to cope in that situation?
Leanne: One of the things I could do is just breathe. Just be calm, sit next to little Johnny or Mary, encourage them to breathe. There’s a lot of research coming out now that actually says that just simple four big, deep breaths, so you breathe in, count to five, breathe out, count to five. You do that four times and neurobiologically things will start to change in your brain that’ll assist you in calming down that hyper vigilance, calming down that light breeze response, and just helping your nervous system to not go into overload, and if you’re demonstrating that behaviour you’d also assist your little person who’s feeling quite panicked and not understanding what’s going on, so that’s a good one for yourself and for your children.
It’s also I guess teaching your child about a coping mechanism too.
Yes, its teaching them a coping mechanism. It’s about self soothing, it’s about self regulation. There’s a whole lot of things and that’s where you get your resilience, so these are the steps, these are the things that we can practise even as adults, but you certainly want to be role modelling for your children
More resources to help cope
- Coping with COVID19 Coronavirus Angst: Find strength by knowing your strengths
- Coping with separation and divorce
- Guide to meditation and mindfulness
- Make your wellbeing a priority
- 8 tips to get a good night’s sleep
- Coping with anxiety when negotiating custody arrangements (adjust for physical distancing requirements!)