A family lockdown is just as intense as it sounds, and Marie Claire's Niamh McCollum is living it. So she called on Lorraine Thomas for expert tips for getting through the next few weeks or months (relatively) unscathed
When Boris Johnson’s first big address to the nation popped up on my office TV screen last Monday, I did what all decent non-Londoners living in London do – I got outta there, fast. In a time of unprecedented uncertainty, I was craving stability, and as much as I love my clunky East London flat, I knew I wasn’t going to get it there. So I ran back to Ireland, to ride out the wave of isolation with my younger sister Jodi and our dad in his pink (yes) countryside cottage. Now seven days into lockdown and we’ve laughed, we’ve yelled and, boy, have we (okay me) cried.
Apart from our annual family getaways in Mallorca and sing-a-long Christmas celebrations, this is the longest time the three of us have been in such close proximity since I packed up for uni six years ago. It’s funny how time apart can make you forget how, um, neurotic, your parents can be. ‘I just don’t understand how you could spill soup?’, my dad bellowed from the kitchen yesterday. He fixated on the tiny speck of tomato and lentil I forgot to wipe off the pepper grinder, after hastily preparing my lunch in the midst of a deadline. This sharp attention to detail also came into play when Jodi opened our family pack of tortilla crisps diagonally rather than ‘the proper way.’ ‘Dad’, she laughed, ‘there’s no one way to open a bag of -‘ Cue raised voices.
And then there’s sharing a room with my sister. The rate at which we go from giggling and playfully jamming on guitar (just call us the von Trapp’s) to having screaming matches about personal space is mildly amusing, albeit mentally draining. With what could be months of isolation still left on the horizon, I need some advice on how to keep my cool – so I enlisted the help of family coach Lorraine Thomas.
‘A family lockdown can be challenging for the whole family’, says Lorraine. ‘But it’s also an opportunity for parents to have a real connection with their children and nurture a positive and powerful team spirit.’ Here are her top tips on how to survive lockdown with your nearest and dearest…
1. Adopt a collaborative approach. Shift your mindset from ‘parent – child’ to an ‘adult community mindset’ where you’re all on the same team. You have different strengths and together are stronger, so treat each other with respect and listen to different points of view.
2. Have regular family chats. Talk about how the lockdown is going to work at a practical level and listen to everyone’s input. If you’re all involved in the decision-making – you’re all much more likely to make it work. It’s good to have a structure in these unpredictable times but be flexible. You may all want to work to different timetables, so agree key times when you want to come together as a family, for example, one meal a day. Focus on making that as enjoyable as possible – rather than insisting you all eat together all of the time. And have a cooking schedule – so everyone can turn their hand to cooking.
3. Respect everyone’s space. This may be the parents’ house, but having good spatial boundaries means giving everyone a space that is their own. So if someone is in their room with the door closed, avoid barging in. Not everyone will have their own room, but even if one person is doing work in the living room or kitchen, let them have that space for an hour or two. It leads to a more harmonious environment when everyone has some time alone without interruption.
4. Create a relaxing bedtime routine. Living together in a confined space can be very stressful at times so make sure that your physical and emotional wellbeing are a priority. If you’re positive, motivated and energised, this will impact positively on the whole household and help you all get through this. A good night’s sleep will have a significant impact, so turn your evening routine into a ritual. Remove any devices from your bedroom and avoid screens for an hour before sleep – it will make a difference.
5. Develop healthy habits to manage stress. Use the opportunity to develop healthy habits to manage stress – rather than unhealthy ones. Neuro-scientists can demonstrate that if we focus on managing a challenging emotion for just 90 seconds, we can reduce our stress levels significantly. They cite these three ‘Ms’ as effective in doing this – Mindset, Movement and Moment. If you find yourself going into meltdown – try this simple A … B … C …
Accept how you feel
Breathe deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth (when you do something to help your body to relax, it lowers stress levels), and
Choose how you are going to respond, rather than react. Take ‘Time Out’ and talk to your family when you’re feeling calm.
6. Have fun. Get everyone’s ideas about activities to do together. It may be a family film night, a game of Cluedo or a virtual pub quiz with others in lockdown. Or take time to look through family photos that haven’t seen the light of the day and share powerful family memories.
So rather than think about it – just do it. Make it happen – and aim for connection, not perfection.
Lorraine Thomas is Chief Executive of The Parent Coaching Academy