5 Tips from Occupational Therapists to Help Parents During Quarantine
by Joseph Duffy, contributor
The COVID-19 crisis and resulting stay-at-home orders have instilled feelings of fear and trepidation in parents.
Quarantine is not only a new experience for most parents, but their children now enter a world of restrictions where playing with friends and going to a physical school are no longer routine.
“The distinct value of occupational therapy lies in the ability of practitioners to help children and their families design solutions for the challenges of everyday living,” said Kelly Tanner, PhD, OTR/L, BCP, an occupational therapist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) recently detailed the importance of morning routines and meaningful activities for mental and physical wellness during stay-at-home orders.
The group also highlighted are some additional tips to help parents support their child’s physical and psychological health during these unusual times. Here is a look at some of the suggestions from occupational therapy practitioners.
5 quarantine tips from OTs for parents to support their kids
1. Stay active together in meaningful activities
Screen time is vital for educational purposes and staying connected with family and friends during the quarantine, but it should be balanced with interactive activities between parents and children.
“Take some time to do things you enjoy as a family that do not involve screens,” said Grace Sagester, OTD, OTR/L, an occupational therapist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “For younger children, take some time to play on the floor with them using toys they are interested in.” A family board game or puzzle night is another way to stay connected while interacting.
2. Develop clear expectations and consistency for your children
“While your day-to-day life might currently look different as a family, consider identifying or creating small, predictable routines throughout your day,” said Sara O’Rourke, MOT, OTR/L, BCP, an occupational therapist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
“For most families, it is not feasible to try to provide your children structure throughout their entire day, as many parents continue to work from home and frequently have other roles they are balancing,” O’Rourke explained. “Rather, try to build a familiar, comforting routine around one daily activity, such as getting ready in the morning, mealtime, or the transition to bedtime.” Also, parents can ask their children what is meaningful to them during these routines, such as reading a bedtime story.
3. Be sure everyone gets adequate rest
Allowing children to develop new nap or bedtime patterns because of the quarantine can affect physical and mental health.
“While it may be tempting to stay up late and let everyone sleep in, try to keep your family members’ bedtime and wake-up times similar from day to day,” said Tanner. “If you or your children are having trouble falling asleep, consider introducing a relaxing bedtime routine.”
It can be as simple as “bath, brush teeth, book, bed,” she added. Shutting off TVs and mobile devices can also help, as studies show screen time right before bed can be disruptive to sleep — for children and parents.
4. Prioritize self-care
When flying with children, parents are encouraged that during an emergency to put their oxygen mask on first. This is also sound advice for parents during the COVID-19 disruption.
“Parents have a natural tendency to prioritize their children while neglecting their own needs,” said Hope Caracci, OTR/L, OTD, AOTA’s program manager for the Approved Provider Program.
“This neglect may result in declining mental health and an inability to effectively take care of others. Therefore, brainstorm strategies that may be put in place daily to allow time for one’s self. Discuss the importance of downtime with a spouse or family member, and schedule time to allow for it. Reach out and ask for help.”
“Self-care does not need to take a lot of time,” Caracci continued. “It may be a 10-minute walk alone in the sunshine or even as simple as using a homemade sugar scrub during a slightly extended shower. Therefore, be sure to schedule time for self-care and ‘put your oxygen mask on first.’ And in times when being alone is not an option, explore shared experiences that promote self-regulation, such as aromatherapy and calming music.”
5. Understand it’s not easy
Parents must realize that these are challenging times and not to feel guilty for a spike in screen time or a lack of a routine during the day.
“Consider setting one achievable goal for the day, such as going for a walk as a family, or providing words of encouragement to each child,” said Sagester. “Take time to think about what went well during your day and acknowledge moments of joy as you experience them.”
Visit AOTA for more tips for parents dealing with children and youth.
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