All bets are off. While normal routines have gone out the window, self-isolation brings its own challenges in keeping your child healthy during an extended period.
It probably feels like the vast majority of advice for parents in self-isolation is geared towards young children. That’s because high school students, especially in Year 11 and Year 12, are fully capable of looking after themselves. They may not appreciate, however, the need to change their normal habits to accommodate all the disruptions the coronavirus has made in their lives.
Here’s what you can do to help raise your teenager to be happy and healthy in self-isolation.
Establish a routine
You don’t want to smother your teen but putting structure around the day is helpful to high school students who may not be quite ready to manage on their own. Treat Monday through Friday like normal school days and expect them to get up, shower and change out of their pajamas by their normal school starting time. Stop for lunch at a regular time and make sure your child is taking breaks at regular intervals. Also insist on normal bedtimes during the school week to ensure they’re getting enough sleep.
Exercise when you can
If there was ever a time to embrace exercise, it’s now. It’s one of the few reasons we’re being encouraged to leave the house. According to Beyond Blue, exercise has a positive influence on mental health because it:
- Promotes the release of endorphins and serotonin, natural chemicals that improve your mood.
- Helps you sleep better, which is also helpful in alleviating anxiety.
- Gives you a sense of accomplishment.
Whether your child is sporty or not, it’s likely they will have to establish a new exercise routine. Encourage them with the following tips to start something new:
- Start small – Taking a walk in the neighbourhood for 20 minutes a day is a good way to begin. Cycling is also a great way to get sunshine and fresh air.
- Make it part of their routine – Make daily exercise part of the schedule at a time that best suits how your child operates. Morning exercise works well for people who procrastinate. If your child suffers from a mid-afternoon slump, getting outside around 3:00, when school would normally be over, is a good strategy.
- Do something fun – There’s no end to online workouts and exercise apps, many of which have been adapted for self-isolation. It’s also a good time to get your child involved in activities like walking the dog or doing gardening projects, which they may discover they enjoy more than they realised.
- Set goals and monitor progress – Now is a great time to work towards a bigger goal like running a 5km race or long-distance cycling.
- Make a commitment to others – If your child isn’t self-motivated to exercise, make it something you do together or as a family. Make a date with your teenager to walk on the beach or stroll with the dog.
Whatever form of activity your child chooses, make sure they spend at least 10 minutes in the sunlight every day. Fresh air and sun will help boost their mood.
Keep the focus on healthy eating
One good way to build a healthy immune system is by keeping a variety of fruit and vegetables in the house. Fresh produce is best, but tinned and frozen food also contribute to good health. Make sure your teen is sticking to the old five vegetables and two fruits plan as a guide to their eating while in isolation. Keep a pot of vegetable soup on hand for snacking along with a fruit salad to encourage your teenager to make good choices.
Most teenagers are going to be a lot less active simply by virtue of staying at home. The incidental exercise they get while at school, socialising with their friends and commuting back and forth to their activities is eliminated. If they played a team sport, or participated in any organised sporting club, they’re also going to have a big reduction of spent energy. This won’t necessarily translate into a reduced appetite and might become a problem for some children.
Boredom can also lead to unhealthy eating practices so be mindful if your child is bingeing or unnecessarily restricting food intake. With new shopping guidelines in place, it’s an ideal opportunity to discuss menu planning, home grocery supplies and initiating conversations around healthy eating. Include your teenager in decision-making around meals and cooking at home.
The WA Department of Health has an excellent selection of healthy, easy recipes good for the whole family.
Lastly, keep isolation baking to a weekend pursuit. As the weather gets cooler, it’s easy to fall into the habit of seeking comfort in home baking. Since we have no idea how long the self-isolation orders will last, keeping the treats to weekend-only events is probably a good idea.
Take mental health breaks
Every child’s circumstances are going to be different but one thing is for sure, teenagers are not meant to be cooped up at home for weeks or months on end. Make sure your child has time to relax and is connecting with friends online on a regular basis. Encourage them to take up a hobby they enjoy, spend time with a pet, or practice mindfulness.
Thanks to COVID-19, we’ve lost the screen-time debate. During self-isolation, we’re all spending far more time staring at a screen and it’s going to be hard to manage the time your child spends online. Help your teenager find things to do that aren’t related to the internet. Good choices include:
- working on a jigsaw puzzle,
- painting or drawing,
- reading a book – one with actual pages,
- planning and cooking a family meal,
- playing cards or board games,
- practicing photography,
- playing, or learning to play, a musical instrument.
It would be wonderful to know how long social distancing and self-isolation rules are going to last. For most high schoolers, the coronavirus has created a difficult and unwelcome situation at a point in their lives when they want freedom. Keeping your teen healthy and in a good frame of mind now will go a long way to helping them develop their independence as they head towards university.
If you haven’t already, visit the Raising Teenagers series of articles for other good advice and strategies. Each article is designed to provide support to parents with teenagers who are planning on attending university.