The Quarantine Diaries: Day 6

Parents, how are you holding up?

I admit, I went into the first full week with rose colored glasses. I had lesson plans, arts & crafts, a schedule. I was ready.

Here’s the truth: I was not ready.

Seemed to be a theme with other parents I talked to, as well. They had great plans to get their kids excited, engaged and keep them learning without leaning on the TV. But apparently every kid decided it was their mission to make us question our ability to handle working from home, raising our kids and playing teacher.

And man was that a wake up call.

Let’s recap the last three days:

Monday, Day 4: The moods my kids woke up in foreshadowed what the day would be like, but I naively overlooked them, hoping to make it a great day for everyone.

Don’t get me wrong, there were great moments, but overall, I’d give the day a 5/10.

The first tantrum was a mere 5 minutes after breakfast. Then my 3-year old (the one who demanded circle time on Saturday) could not have been any less interested. My 2-year old, however, wanted to read book after book and had a meltdown when, after 30 minutes, the baby had had enough.

But you don’t need to know all the details. Here’s the summary: lots of tears, lots of fights, a few great little moments. A challenging day that I didn’t expect to be so challenging.

Tuesday, Day 5: Walked into the day a little more cautious than the day before, but with big plans for the morning. I even set up their little table just for arts & crafts, playdough and anything else they wanted to do. For the most part, they were pretty good and relatively content in their day. My 2-year old asked me throughout the day why it was a school day and we were at home. My rehearsed response wasn’t enough for him, so I expanded it a bit. Instead of saying “we need to stay home so we don’t get sick,” I said, “we need to stay home so we don’t get sick, but it means we get to play with all our toys and read all of our books and maybe we can even pick a movie later!” That worked.

But it also reminded me how nasty kids can get when they watch too much TV in one sitting…

Wednesday, Day 6: They have officially lost interest in circle time. I tried to change it up a bit and encouraged them to bring a show-and-tell item to talk about (i.e. one toy from the playroom). That started out great until they both grabbed a shark toy and it turned into an epic battle of “BITE!!!” as they wrestled with each other and I tried to calmly – but quickly – move the coffee table out of their way. I tried to get their attention again by teaching them some fun party dance songs, like the Electric Slide and the Macarena. All three boys stared at me in disbelief and embarrassment. So, I guess that’s starting already.

Once I let go of the rigidity of how I defined “circle time,” things got infinitely better. They cleaned up the playroom the first time I asked to move on to the next activity. They played quietly and nicely with each other for almost 90 minutes with kinetic sand. They were thrilled to have a productive outlet that required focus and independence (I had them clean the grout in the kitchen floor; more on that later). And they were thrilled to have the ability to choose their snacks and go get them by themselves.

Grout cleaning

My Top Lessons

  1. Take a Drive – If the weather doesn’t allow you to get outside for fresh air, put everyone in the car and go for a ride. Just drive. 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an attempt at getting everyone to close their eyes and recharge for a bit – just go.
  2. Be flexible – The activities I had planned either didn’t go as expected or were met with hesitation or disinterest. Honestly, this caught me off guard; my kids are normally excited for the various things we work on together or different experiments we try out. They weren’t having any of it. And I felt upset and discouraged and frustrated (level 1 for those who are interested in our Energy Funnel). So I took a breath, reminded myself that it’s ok for them to not be interested in what I put together and found other things to do. In fact, as soon as I stopped trying to force activities in front of them and instead inspired creativity, the big two took off to the playroom where they created an entire storyline to act out and happily played together for nearly an hour while the baby napped. Being flexible comes with being aware of yourself and what’s going on around you – once you’re aware, you can receive and review more information and then use that information to make an intentional decision about what’s the next best move.
  3. Watch for your kids’ signs – You know which ones I mean. The ones that tell you they’re tired but won’t put themselves to bed. The ones that tell you hangry is fast approaching, but they haven’t communicated to you that they’re hungry or, perhaps worse, they’ve already reached the hungry point where nothing looks or sounds appetizing. Be aware of what your kids’ body language is telling you and work with them. Consider setting up a snack section in the kitchen with healthy and easy to grab foods.
  4. Think big – Sometimes, we forget that learning is often done best when it’s not called learning. It could be called playing, doing experiments, fixing things, trying something new – it’s all learning in various ways. So, in thinking big, I took a step back and thought about everything I was reading and hearing about continuing kids’ education while they’re at home. I decided to give my boys a productive task: helping me clean the grout on the kitchen floor. We made the homemade grout cleaner together, found extra toothbrushes and got to work. Voila! My lesson plan for the day: achieved. Science, check. Sensory, check. Cause and effect, check. Responsibility, check. Fine motor skills, check. Following directions, check. A seemingly simple task was comprised of lots of little pieces.
  5. Spend time with myself. I know I have to be my best self to help everyone around me who need and want my attention. I find that if I am all about them and not intentional about taking care of myself, then I don’t have the energy, focus, resilience and patience I need to make the days happen in a successful way. I have learned I don’t need a lot of time, but I do need some time. Time to think, journal, shower, breathe, exercise, make a call, write a blog. Don’t deny yourself some time to do what you need to do for you so you can be there for them.

Some Activities

  • Use a Book – One of the best activities we did was building a leprechaun trap, an idea that was spontaneously decided on as a result of reading a book called “How to Catch a Lephrachaun.” Read a book with your kids and see what type of creativity it inspires.
  • Assign a task – This sounds more intense than it actually is. I recently read that kids like to have tasks assigned to them, particularly the toddler/pre-K ages. They like to feel purpose and stretch those independence muscles. So I gave my boys a task: go fix it. Here’s the instruction I gave them: “Get your toolboxes, pick out a dump truck and a tractor. Ok, your dump truck and tractors are broken and we need to get them fixed quickly because [pause for your kids to tell you why they need them working again].” The boys jumped right to it and were so excited to be assigned a specific task it allowed me the 30 minutes I needed to get dinner on the table.
  • Experiments – I did a quick search for some easy, kid-friendly experiments you can do at home (with some simple, likely-to-have-on-hand-already supplies) and found a slew that I’m hoping to try. Check out the lemon volcano and the rainbow baking soda + vinegar to start.
  • The Zen moment – At least once a day, work with everyone in the house to have a quiet moment of reflection, stretching, yoga poses, meditation or quiet play. Put on some easy listening music. Set the timer. Insist that the house take zen breaks during the day to help everyone center, manage their emotions and feel a sense of calm in this strange moment of time. My toddlers love doing “yoga breaths” to help us all calm down and reset.

By Kristin Allaben

Consider reading The Quarantine Diaries: Day 3

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How Do You Talk to Your Kids About Current Events?

The world is a crazy, loud place. And it seems to have gotten even more crazy over the last few weeks. COVID-19 is scaring everyone, possibly because we don’t totally seem able to grasp how real and severe it could be.

For as confusing and scary and big as this is for us, just imagine how this feels for our kids.

I recently went Live on Facebook to ask our followers how they’re talking about this with their kids. How do you calmly and wisely keep your kids updated about what’s happening in the world instead of inciting panic? How do you answer their questions honestly and rationally, without inserting your own emotions, fears or worries into the conversation?

Most of you know I have three young boys: a 3 year old, a 2 year old and a 5 month old. The baby is easy; no questions there. The 2-year old is tricky; he’s aware of a change but isn’t able to communicate the realization and doesn’t know how to ask real questions (yet). My 3 year old, however, is extremely astute. He knows something is different. He knows we’ve altered from our routine. But the dead giveaway for my boys is that my husband is working from home during the busiest time of the year for him (tax season).

So the questions have come up:

  • Why can’t we just run to Target to get more diapers?
  • Why are you ordering more stuff online?
  • Why can’t we go to the grocery store?
  • Why aren’t we going to school?

And I’ve answered them all the same way: “There are a lot of people who are very sick right now, so we’re staying home so we don’t get sick and they can get better faster.”

For now, that seems to be enough of an answer.

And for many who shared their own approaches with their kids, it seems to be a similar theme: don’t volunteer too much information. Explain in the most basic terms what’s happening and then wait for more questions.

This has been an approach that has worked well for younger kids.

But what about older kids? Kids who are old enough to be aware of a little more change and why that change is happening? Kids who are old enough to have jobs and this news is impacting their ability to work, whether they’ve been told to not come in for an extended period of time or that they are working extra shifts at grocery stores or pharmacies.

Though I haven’t heard much from parents about what they’re doing with the older age groups, my guidance is as follows: be honest. Be calm. Check your emotions and anxiety at the door. Don’t be dismissive of their concerns; actively listen to what they’re saying or asking and be confident in your response, even if your answer is “I don’t know.”

Be human. Be their parent.

Take Action
Be sure to take a moment for yourself in all of this, too. It’s not possible to be calm, check your emotions and be anxious. We know what we have to do, we just don’t always know how.

Start by taking a deep breath then find someone to talk to. Whether it’s a friend, partner or coach, talking through things can be extremely helpful. Sometimes you just need to hear your worries out loud to start to control them.

By Kristin Allaben

Consider reading Are You a Life Owner or a Life Blamer

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Make the Moments Count

“Life is unpredictable and capricious,” writes the Chinese philosopher Mencius. It comes and it goes. People come and go. So, make each moment count.

My city recently lost its young mayor. A dynamic and well-respected 41-year-old who was on his way to a city commission meeting when he suffered a brain aneurysm. He didn’t make it. The city is stunned.

Why is it that we move through life in autopilot until something like this happens to grab us by the collar and shake us? Why is it we let things and people go by without really taking the time to stop, notice, appreciate, thank and just be fully present in the moment?

This reminded me of the value of reflection because reflection helps us tune in to, appreciate, learn from and be fully part of each of our moments.

The news of losing our young and great mayor shook me. It reminded me to ask myself – and to suggest that you ask yourself – the following questions:

  • Today, how will I slow down to be really part of my life and be present for and with the people in it?
  • Today, how will I notice that we all share this one great sky? Everyone I meet has an element of greatness, so how can I support them to find it and release it?
  • Today, how will I take a risk on something that I’ve been too timid to do – to tell that person I love them, to ask for the promotion, to be kind when others aren’t, to give up something to make someone’s life better, to go against the negative attitudes and voices to be the positive and optimistic one?
  • Today, how will I see that my moments are not infinite – so that each one must matter because it is the only one like it that I will have?

Take Action
Sometimes life shakes us or gives us a slap to get our attention (most recently, the quarantine efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19). In those moments, we can see how we are mostly not paying attention. So, welcome the shake or the slap to get you back to being more present in the moments. After all, the quality of your life is made up of the quality of your moments. Don’t let them slip by. Make each one count.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading Making Memories

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The Quarantine Diaries: Day 3

The quarantine is real. And it’s here. In an effort to flatten the curve, many are following orders to stay at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  

For so many people, the opportunity to work from home has allowed daily routines to continue almost as usual.

For others, they’re aware of the need to find ways to earn their paycheck while keeping themselves – and others – safe.

And then there’s the group of people who are still required to work and parent. In just the first few hours of the quarantine, I received texts saying it was going to be a long three weeks. I saw countless social media posts saying “this was a record yelling day” or “kids for sale” or “how are we going to survive three weeks of this!?”

I see you. I hear you. And this blog series is for you. It’s an opportunity to remember you’re not alone. It’s a chance to reflect on your own behaviors to determine how tomorrow could be better. It’s a chance to get a few ideas that might work for entertaining your kids (and a few of my thoughts on what did not work). We are in this together. Our collective mindfulness and genius will get us through it and maybe even make us better because of it.

So here we go.

First, some context so you know where I’m coming from. I’m a mom to three young boys: a 3 year old, a 2 year old and a 5 month old. Sometimes, our house is amazingly quiet in a “wow, look how nice they’re all playing!” kind of way. And sometimes, our house is very loud. The loud ranges from “wow, they are really physical” or “huh, I guess I should move that [breakable item] into storage” to “OH MY GOD STOP HITTING YOUR BROTHER WITH THAT BOOK!” or “THE LITTER BOX IS NOT AN INDOOR SANDBOX STOP PLAYING IN IT!”

Basically, my house sounds like most houses with kids.

My two oldest are in daycare 3 days a week. I’m home with the baby all the time. And I fit in my work as a Life Coach whenever I can. Fridays are what my oldest calls “home day” and my middle one calls “mommy days.” Fridays are the chance for them to decompress from their busy weeks. We spend the morning running errands and then play and read and watch TV over the remainder of the day. Weekends tend to include the occasional trip to visit family or friends, a fun activity or hosting play dates. And Mondays are just like Fridays.

That’s our old normal.

Now, we’re all at home. Together. For three weeks (minimum). Add to the mix a husband who is working from home during the busiest time of his year (he’s in tax) and take into account the fact the human food vacuums my children already are at their young ages and you can imagine the hilarity of our situation.

So let’s recap the first three days of quarantine.

Friday, Day 1: We didn’t go grocery shopping and Daddy was home. OH BOY. There was no physical break from each other because we were all in the house. There was no mental break or change of scenery because we didn’t leave the house. It was loud. There were tears. It was a rough day.

As my husband and I tucked the boys into bed, we agreed we’re going to need to define a new normal, create a new routine, to keep the house – and our relationships – intact over the next few weeks.

Circle Time

Saturday, Day 2: Better. Partly because we started the day with an intentional mindset, partly because it was just better than the day before. We started the day with a family breakfast and then my husband “went” to work. We didn’t see him until dinner. We had circle time, just like the big two do at school, where we read a few books and sang a few songs. We even got the baby involved which made it that much more fun.

We had gorgeous weather, so I took the boys outside for most of the day. It’s a little challenging running after the big two when you’re wearing the baby in a carrier, but we made it work. We played in the sandbox. We took out ALL the yard toys. We blew bubbles. We went on a rock hunt to get rocks out of the yard before we need to mow for the first time (more on this later). It was so nice out I let them play a little longer than I should have and we rapidly approached lunch time. That’s when I remembered that they’re still too young to go off schedule when it comes to food. The hangry was real. And it was loud. And it was messy. By the time I got lunch on the table (a mere 15 minutes later than usual), there were MOODS.

Nap time was too short and there were more tears and grumpy attitudes when the little two woke up. But all was made right with a snack (yogurt with sprinkles!) and back outside we went. We played for a while again and came inside for dinner, just in time.

And then I realized that my fun promises of taco night never included double checking we had taco seasoning. So while my husband and I laughed about the fake taco night we were having, the boys never knew the difference. They still built their own tacos on nachos (instead of shells) and preferred to mix everything in with some rice. We unintentionally made rice bowls. It worked.

Sunday, Day 3: A glimpse of the old normal. Family breakfast. Play time. Music and dancing. Reading. Legos. All the legos. Even getting introduced to an old movie with Daddy (Space Jam. It’s on Netflix, people! And I’m so glad I was able to give a thorough summary of the movie to my boys, including remember the aliens were the Monstars, but have trouble remembering if I moved a load of laundry from the washing machine to the dryer before I went to bed).

Though much colder than the last few days, we were lucky to get outside again. I was even able to escape with the baby and dog for a quick walk to stretch the dog’s legs. Just like every Sunday, the day flew by.

Does this sound like your first few days? Here’s what I learned:

My 5 Lessons from Days 1-3

  1. Get outside. Even if it’s for just a few minutes, the fresh air does you a lot of good. It resets you and helps your kids burn off energy. It’s also a great change of environment, which helps alter how you feel, usually for the better.
  2. Define your new normal. “Normal” is not in anyone’s vocabulary right now. So take some time to identify what needs to happen now, especially if you’re a parent working at home over the next few weeks. With everyone at home, there’s no real chance to focus 100% on work or parenting. It’s going to be a combination of the two and you’ll likely find that you will need to shift things on a regular basis. Sometimes work will win out. Sometimes parenting will. Be flexible and resilient. And cut yourself some slack. You’re in a new situation trying to get a lot done. Watch the irritation and aggravation that may surface as you confront what you want to happen compared to what can actually happen. Remember to breath, relax and roll with what happens.
  3. Create a routine. Once you figure out what has to happen, create a routine. Maybe the morning is for school work and the afternoon is for play. Maybe the morning is when you focus on your work and your kids are asked to entertain themselves. Maybe you work at night after they’ve gone to bed. (I’ve included our new schedule below for anyone looking for an idea, especially for parents with young kids.) Figure out what works for you and your family. Creating a routine helps the entire family feel grounded. And in a period of constant change, feeling grounded can help calm parents and kids.
  4. Communication with your partner. My husband and I realized in the first 48 hours that the next few weeks are going to be different. We can become victimized to it and let it stress us and test us, or we can realize that we will need to find ways to stay calmer and less confrontational when things start to stress us. Determine up front how you will talk to and with your partner, how you will express frustration and how you will share when you are at your wits end, so the other one can support, encourage and rescue. It is in this that the two of you will handle the challenges. Be on the same side. See each other as a loving ally.
  5. Be positive. Your kids are picking up everything you’re throwing down. If you’re giving off vibes of panic, frustration, uncertainty, etc., your kids will start to do the same. Be aware of your own emotions and response to it before it starts to impact your behavior, your kids’ behavior and the relationships between everyone in your house. We all have to build our own mindfulness practice – the things we do to stay calm when we feel like screaming. Having a go-to move (i.e. breathing, reading, telling a joke, having a favorite snack, taking 10 minutes) can be enough of an interruption so you can find your inner calm and come back to your situation positive and supportive. It’s when you do this that you can effectively share and guide your kids in how to navigate a constantly changing world.

As we embark on the next few weeks of drastic change, it’s important to remember that life will be very different. In the coming weeks, I’ll share with you some activities that have worked well with my boys, as well as some things that did not go over well. I encourage you to share any ideas you have or things you’ve done (with or without success), as well!

Our Fun & Games

Here are a few things we tried over the first three days (and things we’ve done in the past) that work well with our boys.

Rock Hunting

Outside Fun

  • Rock / Acorn / Stick Hunting – Give your kids a bucket and challenge them to pick up as many rocks / acorns / sticks they can find. Not only does this entertain them and give them a purpose, but it also helps you get your yard ready for the first time you need to mow. This worked wonders – my boys were enthralled, and our yard looks much better than before. PRO TIP: if you promise a prize for the one with the most in their bucket, be prepared to deliver!
  • Nature Walk – Talk a walk and help your kids see things in their own backyard they may not have noticed before. Point out the size and shapes of rocks. Point out the different types of trees. Help them see things like squirrels nests or dead branches or the early signs of spring. TIP: For older kids, encourage them to create a story about what they find. For example, if you find a large branch in the yard, create a story prompt and have your kids continue the story. “This isn’t just a branch. No, this was once part of a ship from a long time ago, a ship that carried hundreds of pounds of [insert object here]! How do you think it ended up here…?” (and let them finish the story)
  • Racing – This is obvious: set up a race. You can do the obvious race (running). You can do wheelbarrow races. You can do crab walk races. You can see who can kick the ball the farthest/fastest when you kick balls at the same time. Get creative.

Inside Activities

  • Kinetic Sand / Playdough – Let them do what they will with it, or give them some guidance on what they can create. Make it part of a story. Ask them to create their favorite food. Have them build something they’d like to see one day. Consider letting them use some cookie cutters, as well.
  • Science Experiments – There are a slew of science experiments you can find online. To start, we did “Dancing Raisins” (raisins into a glass cup of seltzer water; watch them rise and fall as a result of the bubbles) and melting cardboard (dip cardboard into water and watch it slowly dissolve; did this with regular paper, tissues and paper towel, too).
  • Baking – I’m a baker so baking has become one of my favorite things to do with my boys. Chocolate chip cookies are our go-to, but we’ve also done pancakes, waffles, banana bread and sugar cookies. PRO TIP: If you make sugar cookie dough with the kids, and use cookie cutters to make the cookies later, you’ve created two activities for the day. You an add a third activity with cookie decorating (frosting and sprinkles are the easy options; depending on age, you can also add a variety of candies).

Our New Schedule

I’ve seen a few suggested schedules for parents floating around social media over the last 24 hours, but here’s the schedule I’ve found works well for us. Feel free to use as a starting point or use entirely!

By Kristin Allaben

Consider reading Hiring a Parenting Coach Doesn’t Mean You’re Failing

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To React or Respond, That is the Question

Much of what we teach at The Forte Factor is to learn how to respond, not react, to whatever life sends your way. One of the things our founder says frequently is “life is as it is. It’s what you do with the information you’re given that determines the quality of your life.”

So, now that we’re officially facing a pandemic with COVID-19, I think it’s fair to say people are reacting, not responding. Buying out stock of Purell and cleaning supplies. A reaction. Stocking up on water and toilet paper. Reaction. Rushing to the doctor for a runny nose that otherwise would never have been given a second thought. Reaction.

Let’s take a look at what the difference between response and reaction really is.

To react means to say or behave without necessarily thinking things through. Often referred to as off-the-cuff, you decide quickly what you’re going to do next. Though spontaneous behavior can be a great thing in some situations, like improv, it can prevent you from making wise choices.

A response is when you take a moment to gather meaningful information – both internally (what you’re thinking, how you’re feeling) and externally (what’s happening in the world around you). What is true? What is hype? What is sensationalism?

The power of reaction is based in a person’s inability to calmly process new information. When new information is available, the brain considers this to be “change.” Change activates the fight-flight-freeze reactions, hence the widespread panic that we’re seeing now. People slip into their natural survival tendencies.

But what if instead you took a moment to understand the situation? Taking that moment ensures you don’t get owned by the fight-flight-freeze reaction and you allow your greatest thoughts, energy and emotions to focus on what you have to deal with so you give yourself greater options and opportunities. You don’t spend your energy being worried. You use your energy to wisely solve. Imagine what life could be like and what you could accomplish if you were able to manage your emotions and your response to external factors in a meaningful way.

It’s possible.

Have a strategy to know how to gather the right information, share accurate information and focus on keeping people safe. With this focus, you can more mindfully look at this situation and, using your calmer, wiser brain, develop a strategy to make the most or the best of whatever happens. You can’t control it, but you can wisely prepare for anything out of the ordinary. Start by stopping to gather information, work to understand the information, then create and implement a plan. We share this same guidance for both individuals/families as well as organizations.

So, as a mother to 3 little boys ages 3 and under, I’m intentionally deciding to be a “prepared aware.” I see the need to be prepared for what could happen (awareness), so I will be prepared as best as I can (my response). Using the guidance I shared with you above, my family will create and implement our plan to ensure we are aware and safe.

Take Action
Today, try to be aware of when you start to feel panic. It can show up as anxiety, fear or anger, so watch for your triggers – the things that make you feel that way. Then, challenge yourself to close your eyes and count to three. This is to interrupt that noisy worried brain to get it to calm down to see what is true so you can make a better decision about what to do next.

Panic is a reaction. Prepared is a response.

Be prepared.

By Kristin Allaben

Consider reading Your Check Engine Light

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