I sat there stunned when the news broke. Deep down I had sensed that it was a matter of time before a decision was taken to close schools yet I was hoping we might get through the pandemic without that much disruption. Despite the fact that I saw it coming, it still took me by surprise when it was eventually announced. I hadn’t quite envisaged how long the closure was going to be. UK Schools were closed indefinitely from Friday 20 March 2020, with no GCSE or A-level exams in May or June! The news was followed a few days later by a further announcement that locked down of all of UK. Life as we knew it had suddenly gone on hold, all because of the invisible enemy called COVID-19.
What options do you have as a parent to keep yourself and your lively children sane over this period? How do you keep them motivated and/or entertained during an indefinite school break that's layered with home schooling? What do you do when you are stuck at home with them all day and all night with no end in sight? Thanks to social distancing, you can’t even take them to the theme park, or the cinema, or McDonalds, or the museum, or the leisure centre. What does that leave you with? Moreso if you are a parent who has recently started to win the screen time battle, you can see it all going downhill. You will likely lose whatever ground you’ve already gained in this area.
As gloomy as it sounds, there is no need to despair. With the right approach, right mindset and right information you will get through this together and come out a stronger family at the other end. This unparalleled situation provides the opportunity of a lifetime. Do you remember all those times when you wished you had more time to spend with your family? … Not forgetting those days when you bemoaned not having the time to teach your child basic life skills?
There is no better time than now to catch up. You probably will never have as much time to influence your child consistently on a daily basis. Even if you are working from home and need to be logged in to work, you still have much more time than you’ve ever had. At a minimum you will gain an average of 3 hours per day as you no longer need to journey to and from work. Additionally, you’re at home in your lunch hour and guess what, there’s even nowhere to go at the weekends.
One of the challenges of the lockdown period is that social distancing is the new normal. What impact will this have on teenagers who at best of times prefer to be socially distant anyway? What can you do to help your teen continue to develop the soft and social skills that will be assessed by potential schools, universities and employers when things go back to normal?
Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing some ideas to help you develop your teen’s soft and social skills. It is however important that we build a solid foundation before we delve into the day-to-day pointers. To facilitate this, I will highlight two key principles from Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Embracing these values will equip you with the right mindset and help you successfully implement the ideas that I’ll be sharing in the coming weeks.
Focus on Your Circle of Influence
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey explains that the situations we come across daily fall into one of two categories – the things we are able to influence (circle of influence) and those that are beyond our control (circle of concern).
Effective people focus on the things that they are able to influence. As a result, they get those things done and, in the process, become more positive and empowered. Unsurprisingly, their increased vigour causes their circle of influence to expand. On the other hand, people who expend their energy focusing on the things outside of their control tend to have the mindset of a victimised person, don’t get much done, become negative, disempowered and end up with a smaller circle of influence.
Applying this principle to the lockdown, there is no point moaning about the fact that your child’s school is closed. Neither does it help to complain about the amount of home schooling you have to do. There is hardly anything you can do to influence those decisions - they are outside your circle of influence. Rather, roll your sleeves up and proactively do something about the several things you can influence during this once-in-a-lifetime period. For example, you may not have control over the volume of work the school expects your child to complete but you are able to influence your teen to manage his/her time better.
Tackle the Important Yet Not Urgent
The Time Management Matrix is another nugget from Stephen Covey’s book. Here he describes how everything we do falls into one of the four quadrants outlined in the matrix below. The quadrant where you spend most of your time will determine how effective or ineffective you are.
Highly effective people routinely spend their time in the top right-hand corner of the matrix (Quadrant II). They proactively focus on important activities before they become urgent. They are not reactionary and they don’t constantly engage in fire-fighting and crisis management. Rather they have mastered the art of prioritisation hence get the most important things done well, and on time.
It is so easy to spend all your time during this lockdown period in the mundane (Quadrant IV), doing things that are not important and not urgent. After all, what’s the point? Everything is on hold. Sadly, such an approach could prove to be detrimental to you and your child in the long run. Effective parents do not waste moments like this. Instead they use the opportunity to revisit their strategy, set goals relevant to the situation and help their child develop new skills.
This lockdown period is one of the best times to draw up a list of those important things that you’ve always wanted to do with your child but have never had the time for. Once you create your list, rank the new goals in priority order, start to work through them with your child then watch your child thrive.
Develop a Routine
Whilst it is pertinent that you understand your circle of influence and strive to spend more time in Quadrant II, you will struggle to see substantial results if you approach life in a haphazard manner. Having a routine will help you form good and lasting habits, gain momentum and avoid being derailed. On the other hand, without a structure you would watch time fizzle out day after day and potentially make no progress by the end of the lockdown period.
Given the indefinite nature of the lockdown and the level of uncertainty currently surrounding our day-to-day lives, the temptation to simply go with the flow is persistent. However, inasmuch as you don’t need a very rigid routine at such a time as this, you need a fair level of discipline if you and your child are going to achieve anything worthy of note.
After you and your child create the list of goals mentioned in the previous section, you will need a robust structure to help you achieve them. A good routine will keep you committed, help you create a daily/weekly timetable or to-do-list and stop you/your teen from spending endless hours in bed, bingeing on social media, box sets etc.
A tried and tested way of ensuring you stick to your routine is to have an accountability partner. This can be on a one-to-one basis or within a group. Such a partnership will hold you to account on a daily or weekly basis and help you stay on track.
Whatever accountability option you choose, my advice is that you
- stay true to yourself;
- do what you've said you will do; and
- make the lockdown period count!