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7 tips to help kids adapt to the COVID-19 lockdown

Dr Gina Cleo
A father with a beard and tattoos brushes his toddler's teeth

Our homes are starting to feel smaller than ever

A father with a beard and tattoos brushes his toddler's teeth

Maintaining a normal routine at home is challenging when you’re in lockdown, so we spoke with Dr Gina Cleo, a habit-change specialist, to get her tips on helping kids adapt to being in quarantine.

1. Explain expectations

If your children are old enough to understand, explain what COVID-19 is in simple terms and why life will look different for a period of time, advises Gina. Set up expectations, such as ‘Monday to Friday are structured school days and weekends are for playing’. Then every morning, remind the kids of the day’s tasks. For example, ‘We’re going to do two hours of schoolwork and then we get to play outside.’

“You can even write down a schedule on a whiteboard and the kids can tick each task off when it’s done. It’s really important to have that communication so that everyone has the same expectation,” says Gina.

2. Stick to a schedule

Your normal life has gone out the window, but that doesn’t mean your schedule goes with it.

“Kids do really well with routine,” Gina says. “And when they don't have the routine, things can go a little bit haywire. So you want to try to maintain your usual hours as much as possible.”

This means getting your kids up at the same time on weekdays, getting them dressed and directing them to their desk or school area.

“Be protective and keep school time as school time,” says Gina. This will also help the transition back to school when it happens.

3. Have designated areas

Having a set area of your home or room dedicated to schoolwork will help.

“When the kids are in the study room, for example, they know it’s time to focus,” Gina says.

“That can help avoid questions like, ‘Oh, can we put the TV on as well?’ because they’re stepping away from their place of study and having playtime elsewhere. The aim is to have structured places to structure tasks.”

A young family prepares breakfast in the kitchen

4. Have a list of ideas for free time

Without some of your usual activities available, and without anyone commuting, you may have extra time on your hands, which means more time for fun! It’s easy to get overwhelmed trying to find ways to keep the kids entertained. A good place to start is by writing a list of boredom-busting activities together as a family. Then, when school and work time is over, you can pick something to do, whether it’s a board game, a craft activity or an online fitness class.

5. Keep healthy habits

Being at home more means the temptations in the pantry may be harder to resist. Keep your regular meal times and try not to snack too much, Gina advises. If you have more time to cook, being in quarantine is a great opportunity to try some healthy new recipes.

6. Set screen time limits

While TVs, computers and devices may help entertain children, too much screen time can be a risk to their weight, sleep, eyes and communication skills, according to The Sydney Children’s Hospital Network.

And, contrary to what you may assume, screen time limits may actually help diffuse disagreements.

“Rather than saying ‘you can’t watch telly’, say, ‘you can watch telly, but you get to choose when you want to do it.’ It’s sort of this mind shift for kids. It’s like, ‘Oh, I get an hour of telly’ rather than ‘I can’t watch telly’. Autonomy is really important,” Gina says.

When setting limits, treat study and fun screen time differently, Gina advises – fun screen time is what needs limiting. recommends parents also limit where and how children use screens, for example not at the dinner table and only for certain games and TV shows.

7. Have compassion

Because there’s a lot of change happening at once and you’re living in close quarters, Gina encourages you to have compassion for yourself and others if your routine slips.

“Sometimes we just need to let our hair down, break the rules and go, ‘You know what? It’s okay. We all needed that today.’ I think that grace period is really important.”

And, as long as a family treat or couch-potato session is only occasional, you won’t be forming a new habit.

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Dr Gina Cleo

Dr Gina Cleo is one of Australia’s leading wellbeing experts, with a PhD in habit change. She is a dietitian, but Dr Gina’s passion for wellbeing extends beyond just what we eat. She has dedicated her career to helping people understand their habits and how small, consistent steps can impact health and wellbeing. Gina has a secret love-affair with Microsoft Excel and chai lattes.