Life in iso can be difficult to get used to, especially for kids who are used to varied people and diverse activities each day. Foster kids often have trauma to deal with as well in the midst of this, and kids are prone to cabin fever. Add to that entitlement, which is already an issue for kids these days, but being in close quarters can be the cause of even more self-focus. However there are ways to combat that, and one is to give kids the responsibility to achieve things for themselves, even (or especially) in isolation. In light of that, we’ve put together a simple (and general) ‘mental health to do list’ for kids to tick off each day.
The goal is for kids to take responsibility for a few things themselves each day. The list includes things for their own well-being, but also with a view to expanding their vision to others, so they are building empathy. These things can be a powerful antidote to boredom, nagging, and self-focus.
The older the child is, the more ‘accomplishments’ they have to tick off. Parents/Guardians – you can encourage them to come up with their own ideas for completing them – and if they challenge themselves and complete it, their sense of accomplishment will rise. Most kids like goals and challenges – this way you can encourage them to create their own, instead of feeling like you’re constantly on call.
At the end of this post we’ve created simple checklists for different age groups that you can print out, and explain to the kids how it works and how it’ll help family life in close quarters.
Here are the accomplishment tasks:
Gratitude - What do I have to be grateful for today?
The youngest of kids should be able to answer this question! Gratitude is a surefire way to focus on something outside ourselves. Kids who receive all day and never express thankfulness will find themselves expecting the world to owe them happiness. But kids who’ve learned gratitude are more likely to be attuned to the needs of others, and grow in compassion.
Creativity – How did I stretch myself creatively today?
All of us need creative outlets – we’re creative beings, made in the image of a Creator. Giving kids an outlet each day that builds their creative skills and encourages them to experience new creative ideas is a great way to counteract boredom, reduce screen time and engage their brains in a constructive way. For littlies it might involve glitter, glue, markers or paper mache. For older kids, what about ukulele lessons, singing, cake decorating, story writing, short film making? Really, the options are endless for stretching kids creatively. And the online world at the moment is a treasure trove of ideas for helping kids create. Let them lead by helping them make a decision, then you can facilitate so they are able to pull it off.
Kindness – How have I shown kindness today?
Even in isolation we can find ways to be kind. Intentionality is the key here. Dropping some loo paper to the doorstep of elderly neighbors, bringing Mum some dandelions from the lawn, making a family member a coffee, folding the washing without being asked, even brushing the dog for 15 minutes – all are acts of kindness if done selflessly. Kindness focuses kids’ attention on the happiness of others rather than on themselves.
Learning – What have I learned today that I didn’t know yesterday?
For most kids, online schoolwork should be providing some of this, but there are so many other ways to learn. Conversing in our families with our kids about things we’re passionate about, or have experienced, can be a great way to engage them with new topics. Have you traveled? Tell them about the country you went to and how it differs. Teach them a new Bible story and explain how it’s relevant to today. Search online documentaries about things they’re interested in and watch together, then discuss things they may not have considered. If they feel they’re growing in knowledge, it’ll expand their interests – which is very healthy for the mind.
Encouragement – Who have I encouraged today?
This is in a similar vein to kindness, but it’s about seeing value in other people. Encourage them to be truthful… to genuinely see the good in others and to say it out loud. I try to say to my kids ‘if you think it twice, say it’. So often we think positive things about others but don’t tell them. I think it’s far better if we tell people the good we see in them. Encouragement is about blessing someone else with positive words… letting them know we notice their efforts or their abilities, and, by noticing, are cheering them on. Kids love this themselves, so teaching them how to do it for others will give them a sense of purpose as they see the joy it brings.
Alone – Have I spent some quality time alone today?
You know what? Being alone is good for the soul. Even kids and extraverts need time to process, to decompress, and to think. And boredom is actually good for the soul if practiced as a routine. Kids don’t need constant activity, they also need time to just be… it’s in those moments the brain awakens with questions and inquisitiveness, and creativity can begin to flow. Being alone allows their minds to expand, to breathe, to regulate, to rest.
Health – What gift have I given my body today?
Assuming our isolation still allows walking and close-to-home outdoor activities, isolation can be a time when we can engage in more physical activity because we simply have more time. Kids usually naturally look for a physical outlet, but putting it as an accomplishment means they may be more intentional about it. Walking, cycling, kicking the footy outside, creating a dance routine and teaching it to the family, cutting raw vegetables for a lunch platter, washing hands frequently and properly – these are all ideas for accomplishments in the area of health.
Together – Have I spend some quality time with someone else today?
This one might already be covered through creativity, health, learning or enjoyment. Just so long as there’s something that involves quality time with someone. This one is more necessary for older kids, as younger kids tend to demand together time. Teens can become reclusive, which is why in isolation they need together time to be intentional. BTW, watching telly with someone else is not quality time. Board games, story-telling, walking the dog, cooking together, eating dinner at the table as a family (technology free)… all manner of things can be great quality ‘together time’.
Enjoyment – What have I done just because I wanted to today?
This shouldn’t be hard. But it does raise a potential question: do the things our kids do, that they think they do for enjoyment, actually achieve that enjoyment? In other words, a number of kids would say they like screen time… the question is, does it actually achieve enjoyment, or does it drain them? If they’re able to differentiate, they may find that getting out in nature is far more enjoyable than they realized! However, allowing them to choose something just for them is important to add into this achievement list. (And, BTW, ensuring you have something in the enjoyment list every day wouldn’t hurt either – you’re not designed to be an endless supply of entertainment to others – more on that in a blog to come).
Remember – this is not to add pressure to your day, but to help your kids in being mindful about how they use their time. If they begin to take some responsibility, they might just ease up a little on you. And if not, just remind them that you need ‘alone’ time and ‘encouragement’ too!
Do you have more ideas for expanding the accomplishments of kids within this time of isolation? What about for helping foster kids get their heads around this new routine?
Just now, while reading these ideas to our 10yo daughter, she asked for a checklist for herself, excited about what might be possible. Now we’re going to write a list of all the creative things we’d like to give a go, and we might attempt one a day for the next little while from that list. Cake decorating here we come!
Let us know how you go with these ideas.