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Lockdown lessons for enhanced connection

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While the idea of a stay-cation may not hold that much appeal these days, winter months naturally suggest a kind of hibernation vibe. Sound familiar? Yes, we’ve become pretty good at staying at home this year, haven’t we!

The restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 Alert Levels 3 and 4 were undeniably challenging, but they also revealed some inspiring truths about home life; ideas and principles we can all benefit from going forward. Whatever the season, whatever the weather, our homes provide havens for our families. Places to ‘come in out of the wind’ to, to relax, to play, to connect, to thrive.

A key idea often quoted during lockdown was that kids wouldn’t necessarily remember what they did, but they would remember how they felt. If we stop and ponder that thought for a moment, we might find it somewhat encouraging, while at the same time somewhat daunting! As parents, not only do we set agendas in terms of activities, we also set the thermostats when it comes to feelings.

This can seem a big responsibility, especially because our kids are capable of some big feelings! But here’s my most powerful lesson from lockdown: connection is king. Connection reigns supreme when it comes to supporting our kids through all seasons of life, especially emotionally. Connection, however, doesn’t dictate huge demands. Here are five simple and achievable ways to enhance the feel-good vibes at your place.

Slow the rush

Family life can be typically busy, full and over-scheduled. While the rush often reflects the varied and valuable opportunities our children are benefiting from, we learnt one thing when instructed to stay home: it sure is nice to slow down once in a while. To not rush everyone into the car, to not watch the clock, to not sit in traffic…

Slowing down aids the incredibly valuable art of noticing and does wonderful things for connection. Connecting with our kids can feel a bit forced when life is busy and we’re jamming things into the day. When the pace is slower, connection can happen more organically.

So here’s a tip: as ‘normal’ life resumes and your family’s routine picks up pace again, try intentionally scheduling some space for downtime. Time to simply sit with your child – on the couch, on the front doorstep, on the beach (now that it’s allowed!) – without hurry or agenda, and savour the beauty of ‘being’ rather than the ‘doing’.

Keep it simple

We embraced simpler lives in a lot of ways during lockdown. We baked bread, we made meals using whatever ingredients we could find in our pantries, we read books, we constructed things out of cardboard boxes. Some of the simplicity was through necessity, but some of it took intentionality. The complexities of life were still there – household members of all ages were scheduling video conference calls, and live updates from every sector fought for our attention. The urgency to ‘keep up’ remained, but you could also tune it out – and if you did, the simple life quietly beckoned. Jigsaw puzzles were spread across dining tables, pizza dough was kneaded by hand and a simple family walk around the neighbourhood provided exercise and refreshment.

While technology certainly aids connection, especially when we’re required to remain physically distant from those outside our bubbles, it can also distract us from what’s going on with the people right in front of us. We don’t need to renounce technology and we certainly don’t need to isolate ourselves from the outside world, but we can turn down the noise and embrace simpler lives, even just periodically. This relates quite closely to our first tip: when we shut down distractions by slowing down and choosing simple, we create space for enhanced connection.

Set the emotional scene

Kids take their cues from us, the grown-ups. They look to us for what to do, and also how to feel. If we’re anxious, chances are our kids will be anxious too. Conversely, if we remain calm, they will be empowered to step into calm.

A profound lesson from lockdown was that the best strategy for flattening the curve of a virus and for combating anxiety was to be found within our own four walls – the refuge that is home. Our homes are ideally our safe havens, the quiet places we retreat to when the noise of the outside world becomes too much. As parents, we set the atmosphere in our homes. Our moods influence the moods of our children, but we can also take practical steps to foster a nurturing and secure environment – like limiting the intrusion of media and tuning out influences we consider unhelpful to our family culture, and instead focusing on the faith, values or attitudes that are foundational to our units.

That said, a vitally important part of looking after your family is looking after yourself. In fact, self-care is essential. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Remaining calm as a parent, while children look to you for their every need, can require a determined effort. You’re doing life-changing work, so give yourself a pat on the back (and ideally some chocolate).

Here’s a tip: when you feel your own emotions rising, pause and take some deep breaths. Step outside for some fresh air. Make a cup of tea and take a break to enjoy it. Prioritise regular self-care so that your calm breeds more calm.

Bite-sized connection works a treat

Lockdown or not, family life is dynamic. A parent’s attention is pulled in various directions throughout a typical day. We know that our kids thrive on our focused attention, but it’s easy to get disheartened when you’re under pressure time-wise. Good news: kids love quality time with their parents and caregivers, be it for one minute or one hour.

Yes, you read that right – just one minute of focused attention speaks volumes to a child. This was a key learning for those working from home during lockdown. A simple reframe of the ‘interruptions’ that naturally occurred when family life and work life shared the same space led us to see our kids as junior colleagues, and stopping what we were doing to give them our focus for a minute or two really wasn’t the major interruption we had perceived it to be.

Here’s a tip: whatever your day looks like, harness the power of the one-minute check-in. Bite-sized chunks of quality time can do everyone a world of good. If we check in with our kids throughout the day, we fill their buckets and prevent the fallout caused by hitting the end of the day on empty.

Remember to have fun

Fun is the underrated and overlooked golden pillar of family life. Despite the stress and anxiety of a global pandemic, families everywhere found ways to have fun during lockdown. Maybe they had more time on their hands to be creative, maybe they were so bored they resorted to madcap mayhem for amusement, or maybe they recognised the benefits to our wellbeing of laughter and letting lose. There’s more than enough seriousness in the world; let’s go home and have fun. This is what our kids will remember – again, maybe not the exact details of what they were doing to have fun, but the unforgettable feelings of sharing joy with loved ones.

Here’s a tip: say yes more often than you say no. Family fun often hides behind convenience. Yes, the grown-ups may prefer a neat and tidy day, getting things organised and sticking to a schedule – and chores and routines are important for all family members. But of even greater importance is the connection value to be found in some good-old-fashioned fun.

So say yes to a request for another game of hide and seek, to a picnic dinner inside a blanket fort or to being a part of your teenager’s latest TikTok dance challenge. Fun is worth our time, our energy and even the temporary relinquishing of our dignity!