How Mindfulness Can Help You & Your Child During COVID-19

Mindfulness has become a bit of a buzz word in conversations around how to deal with the stress of the Coronavirus pandemic, and the associated changes in routine and uncertainty regarding when things will get back to normal. This very important practice has also started to make its way into educational curricula globally.

We spoke to Nan Lutz, mindfulness coach and Mindfulness Africa Director, to find out exactly what mindfulness is, and how it can be utilized to help parents and their children cope.


What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is something that we often do naturally. It’s about being in the present moment, and paying attention to what we’re doing. In essence it’s “stop and smell the roses”, to count to 10 or take 3 deep breaths. It’s not the addiction to the busyness and distraction, to the daily grind of our pre-coronavirus day-to-day lifestyles. By being mindful, we bring an attitude of presence and understanding of who we are and how we show up in our own being. Kindness and compassion are a really important part of this – being kind and compassionate to both others, and to ourselves. 


How can mindfulness help in our current situation?

When we’re in a prolonged state of anxiety, or facing a situation that stresses us or makes us fearful, we revert to our “lizard brain”, the primal or reptilian part of our brain that’s all about having lunch, or being lunch. This is a default, survival response, and it’s why we have a negative bias as humans. This is also known as “fight or flight” mode. Our brains are wired to perceive both physical and imagined threats, and respond by preparing us to flee or fight – sending blood to our extremities, away from our brains that can rationalize that we aren’t actually about to be eaten. This response is designed to help us survive, by releasing adrenaline and cortisol, but we don’t have the physical exertion to release these hormones, like a zebra running away from a lion would. 

One way around this anxiety response is mindfulness. You can use mindfulness to develop awareness of the situation, and bring kindness and compassion to yourself to balance that fear response. In this way, we’re able to make more skillful decisions and cope better with stress. 


What are some techniques that parents can use with their kids to be more mindful?

  1. Create a routine

    • Create a new routine with your child, and make sure this is one that’s helpful for both you and your child in terms of workload and support
    • Don’t try to include an 8-hour schoolday in this routine
  2. Explore with kindly curiosity

    • Take the time to notice the fears surrounding juggling your work and your child’s school work, and bring awareness to those fears with kind curiosity
    • This means exploring your fears and anxieties without judgement or the need to immediately do something about them – let your feelings just exist
  3. Change your attitude

    • Children will model your attitude – change your frame of mind from “this is a disaster” to “I will overcome this” or “this has been done before” or “I can do this”
    • View mindfulness as learning, and allow it to take up some space in your child’s “school day”
    • Make a choice to show up and be present with your children, giving them your undivided attention for a period each day to create that soothing connection
  4. Be kind to yourself

    • Make time to fill your own tank, by doing things that bring you energy and fulfillment
    • Don’t stress about finding more time in your day for mindfulness. Bring it into your child’s play, or be mindful when you are having a relaxing bath or shower
    • Practice being kind instead of criticizing yourself. This will help soothe your nervous system
  5. Practice gratitude

    • Set a time in the day to write down something you’re grateful for, and place it into a “gratitude jar”
    • At bedtime, ask your children what happened today that went well, or that they are grateful for. You can also ask what they’re looking forward to tomorrow, expanding their mind and learning ability
    • Write down 3 things that you’re grateful for in a daily gratitude journal
    • If you’re religious, use your daily prayer ritual to practice gratitude
  6. Spend time with pets

    • Stroking a pet’s fur will introduce a new texture sensation that can help bring you out of a state of fear. This can also work with soft toys
    • A dog’s facial geometry is comforting to people. Stare into a dog’s eyes to get your brain to release oxytocin, the love & connection hormone
  7. Mindful breathing

    • When in a stressful situation, take a moment to take 3 deep breaths, focusing on the inhale and the exhale
    • Use a breathing buddy with your child – a soft toy or pillow that can be placed on their stomach as they take 3 deep belly breaths, or practice gentle breathing. Have them focus on their breathing buddy as it rocks with their breathing
    • Stop and take 10 breaths – this action of pausing can interrupt negativity and fear
  8. Movement

    • Take a walk around the garden or house, taking time to notice things like a flower or insect using all your senses
    • Dance around the room with your child
    • Do mindful stretching when you wake up in the morning
  9. Garden together

    • Gardening enables you to care for something outside of yourself
    • If you don’t have a garden to plant some seeds in, use carrot tops, potatoes or beans in a jar on your windowsill


Practical ideas for parents to help kids in a panic situation

Sometimes we, or our kids, get into a state of panic or anxiety that’s difficult to break out of. Here are Nan’s top tips to help bring you or your kids back into a more present state:

  1. Take 3 deep breaths, focusing on your breathing
  2. Stroke materials with different textures, to soothe and realign the brain. If you or your child are particularly anxious, carry something with a soft texture with you in the car or your bag
  3. Use your senses to notice things around you: Use 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 to notice:
    • 5 things that you can SEE 
    • 4 things that you can TOUCH
    • 3 things that you can HEAR
    • 2 things that you can SMELL
    • 1 thing that you can TASTE

If you’d like more information on mindfulness, you can go to or to for information on online mindfulness courses.

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Juggling Working From Home & Home-Schooling

The Coronavirus pandemic and resultant lockdown has been difficult for everyone, but particularly for parents with children. Being suddenly thrown into a situation requiring parents and children to adjust to this new normal, with routines out the window, has been a challenge for even the most organized parents. A well-planned day can quickly turn into a disaster, with plans falling apart, the stress of parents having to juggle working from home and sudden work-related situations requiring their attention or concentration, coupled with everyone’s stress and anxiety of not knowing what is going to happen, and when. Emotions such as tension and exhaustion in homes with smaller children in particular, seem to be at an all time high.  

We spoke to Dr Geneveieve Da Silva, an educational psychologist and mom of 3, about what kids need most from their parents during this time, and how parents can split their time effectively between working from home and helping their children with their schoolwork. 

Here are her main tips: 

1. Examine & Adjust Your Expectations

Before you paint a picture of what the perfect homeschooling and working from home environment could look like, take a good look at the reality of the situation, and review your expectations of yourself and your family. Your own work has changed, your children’s schooling has changed, and our expectations can’t be the same as what they were 3 months ago. Be realistic in terms of what you can and can’t do – this will remove pressure from yourself, and your children. Taking on your child’s education is a full time job – and you already have one of those! Decide how much you can manage to fit into your day, without overwhelming yourself. Balance is key here. If you take on too much, you will keep failing, so rather take a step back and set yourself up for success.


2. Create A (Flexible!) Routine

Determine how much time you need to spend working from home, when you need to work, and where within that you can carve out space to tackle schoolwork. If you have a meeting at 8am, can you engage your kids before this? Can you take half an hour at 10, an hour at lunch, an hour after work? Don’t aim for full-on schooling here, rather engage your child in a learning experience, giving them your attention and time. Be flexible with this routine – a structure provides safety, but can become overbearing if it’s inflexible, adding to your (and your child’s) stress. Use a time-block approach by committing to spend half an hour “in the early morning” with your child, rather than “from 08h15-08h45”. This allows you to juggle things taking a little bit longer, starting a little bit late, or unexpected work calls! 


3. Be More Goal-Oriented

Focus on what you need to get done, rather than how much time you need to spend on it. Switch your thinking to being more outcome-driven. For example: “finish this worksheet before you can go play”, instead of “sit and do this worksheet for half an hour on the dot”. Schools and teachers will vary in the level and amount of work they’re sending, and the mechanism they expect it to be completed by. Your child will also have their own abilities, concentration levels, and capacity. Have an honest conversation with your child’s teacher about their expectations of you and your child in this time, and keep communicating with them. If your child struggles to sit and complete 3 pages of Maths worksheets, but can easily recite their multiplication tables to you over the dinner table, speak to their teacher about other ways to prove your child has grasped the concept. 


4. Do One Thing Each Day

Parents are also under pressure when working from home: to ensure that they’re performing, are able to keep their jobs, and justify their salaries. The compulsion is there to give your child a handful of worksheets or activities to keep them occupied so that you can get ahead with your own work!  Communicate with your child to get them on board with your responsibilities, and what they will need to manage on their own. You may not get through the schools task list every day. That’s okay! Rather focus on one aspect of your child’s education each day. We’ve been conditioned to believe education can only happen at school, or in a 6 hour day, in a structured, controlled environment. We’ve forgotten that learning can happen in various ways, and doing one thing, like reading with your child, is enough. Remember that a young child can only concentrate for roughly a minute per their age – meaning a 5 year old can sit still and concentrate for approximately 5 minutes. Don’t try to push past this – rather have your child sit still only for what is really necessary.


5. Re-Look At Your Ideas Of Education

We’re very content-driven, wanting a lot of information NOW. More important than content is the skill of learning. This is a lifelong process, and something we do every day as human beings without realizing. Developing your child’s curiosity, and teaching them how to find answers to their questions is a more important skill than memorizing content. Children are naturally curious, and you can develop this skill by watching them play, and engaging them in conversations around their play. Have your children reflect on stories you’ve read, or connect the dots between cause and effect when a ball rolls off of a table or a cake burns. This will help develop their perception of consequence. Even if you just engage your kids in conversations around their play, and answer any questions that are on their minds, you’re helping them learn. Converting tasks into games, bringing out your own inner child to make learning more fun, and using unusual objects like flowers from the garden or stuffed animals can all help make learning more engaging. 


6. Use Your Resources

Lockdown has parents feeling very alone. Don’t forget to use all the resources you have at your disposal – this includes free educational resources as well as your family and friends. Ask family members or friends to spend some time on a video or voice call with your child, reading them a story or engaging on a particular subject while you work. A Grade 5 teacher’s advice: if nothing else, try to get your child to read. The skills learnt during reading can overflow into so many other aspects of education.


7. Schedule Your Me-Time

Get some time for yourself, even if it’s when everyone is in bed. Make time for 5 minutes, by yourself, to breathe, settle, and think through your day. Don’t beat yourself up for what you didn’t get through, rather celebrate what you did achieve, and take time to focus on the good despite all the crazy. You may be experiencing feelings of guilt around the time you spend with your family versus working. Remember that you need to fill your own emotional tank before you can give to your child. We don’t blame a car for running out of fuel – we understand that we need to fill it in order to get something out. The same principle applies to your emotional, physical and mental energy. You need to keep yourself refreshed and filled, especially in such a strange and stressful situation where so much is being asked of you, and draining you. Taking time out to do things that fill you is not wrong – it’s prudent. It’s the way our bodies, minds and emotions work – try not to feel guilty for doing this. So spend some time figuring out what gives you energy, what fills you up, and how you can do this on a daily basis during lockdown. Block this time into your daily routine. It’s also important to find healthy releases for your frustration and negative emotions. 


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Online Learning: The New Normal

May 2020: The world is a very different place to what it was a few months ago. Coronavirus and lockdown, social distancing and school closures have changed how we need to learn. After spending your whole school career learning one way, you may be struggling to adapt to this new normal. Here are some tips for creating new habits to help you adapt your habits for online learning:


1. Have a dedicated study space, like you would in a classroom. Make sure it’s quiet, with a comfortable desk and chair, enough light (preferably natural) and limited distractions.


2. Make sure you have a laptop or desktop with a good WiFi connection. Create shortcuts on your desktop to all the online learning resources and programs you’ll need for quick and easy access.


3. Make a timetable for yourself, like you’d have in school. This could look like: 

  • 08:00 – 09:00: Tune in to an online Maths lesson
  • 09:00 – 09:30: Do homework from online Maths lesson
  • 09:30 – 10:00: Tea & snack break
  • 10:00 – 11:00: Study a chapter in Biology textbook
  • 11:00 – 12:00: Spend time outside & eat lunch
  • 12:00 – 13:00: Tune in to an online English lesson
  • 13:00 – 13:45: Do homework from online English lesson


4. Remember that online learning is more intense than face to face learning. If you’re in Grades 10-12, you should only be doing 3-4 hours of online learning; in Grades 6-9 this should be 2-3 hours; in Kindergarten to Grade 5 you should only be doing 1-2 hours of active learning per day.


5. Make sure you spend time outside or being active every day. This will keep you healthy and improve your mood.


6. Spending time reading or watching educational series (like Planet Earth) are also great for your brain when you’re not studying.


7. Make time for your hobbies – these will take the place of extracurricular activities while you’re not at school. 


8. Try to socialize with friends online or over the phone. Social interaction is really important for your development at this age and will help you to validate any concerns or struggles you’ve been experiencing.


9. Set academic goals for yourself, and reward yourself when you’ve achieved them. Speak to your parents about your goals, so that they can help you keep on track, and celebrate when you’ve reached them.


10. Plan ahead! Although there is still some uncertainty in terms of when schools will go back to normal, plan your studying and your time as though your exams and tests will go ahead as planned. Planning ahead will help you with boredom, lack of motivation and anxiety. Your parents can help you with this too.


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Teaching at Home: Tips for Parents

Most parents have suddenly been faced with the challenge of managing their children’s education from home. From a lack of resources, to a lack of ideas, to a lack of knowledge on effective homeschooling techniques – or just a lack of patience! Parents are struggling to keep up with schoolwork set by teachers to be done at home, or with the questions and concerns of their own children, regardless of the time and effort that teachers have been putting into providing the necessary support for teaching at home. 

It’s important to remember that the goal of teaching at home during lockdown isn’t to replace schooling in its entirety, but to maintain some form of routine, keep kids busy, ensure variety in their day and facilitate ongoing learning. 

We had a look at what practiced homeschoolers have to say on how to teach your kids at home. Here are their 7 top bits of advice:


1. Don’t panic!

Go easy on yourself and your child – this is the first time either of you is doing anything like this and you were thrown into this situation without much time to get your head around it. It’s okay to make mistakes, to not enjoy every minute of it, or to not know what you’re doing all the time. Reach out to groups who have experience with this, ask your friends for ideas on how they’re managing their own children’s education, and read advice from experts. 


2. Deschooling

This is a popular homeschooling concept. Your kids (and you!) need to unlearn that education needs to happen in a certain way, at a certain time. It’s okay to let your child follow their interests – this will make less work for you, and they will learn while they’re doing it. Now isn’t the time to recreate a strict classroom environment and schedule! Teaching at home gives you the option to be more flexible and allow your children to learn through experience.


3. Have a morning meeting

Have a check in with your child each morning to talk about their wellbeing, the schedule for the day, discuss the previous day’s work and any behavioural issues that may need to be addressed. This will also give you time to find out what they would like to learn about in a day, and help you with point 2! Ask your high school children about their specific needs – they are capable of directing their own learning, whereas primary school children need more interaction and socialization. (Is your child pre-primary or younger? Why not try our Little Sparkz?)


4. Accept screen time

Screen time is almost inevitable in the current situation. Making sure that some of this is educational, broadening your child’s mind and engaging their critical thinking skills. This doesn’t have to be hours in front of a YouTube video on Calculus – it can be time spent exploring the National Geographic Kids website, or a documentary on something that interests them. Likewise, spending time interacting with friends and family online is important for kids’ social development during this time.


5. Set realistic expectations

Your kids do not need to learn for 6-8 hours a day! Most homeschoolers learn for 3-4 hours per day at most, in between chores, being outside, reading and fun activities like watching TV. Set clear expectations on what you’d like to achieve in your morning meeting – and review and adjust these the following day. 


6. Follow your school’s guidelines – but be flexible

Your school may have set certain guidelines for activities to follow on a day to day basis while teaching at home. Fit these in around your own work commitments, your child’s energy levels and emotional state. Don’t forget that this is a stressful time for both parents and children, which is likely to take its toll on concentration and focus. 


7. Use online resources

There is a wealth of free, online resources available for you to make use of while teaching at home. Do so! Some of these will allow you to set your child up behind a computer or laptop and direct their own learning for an hour or two, while some may need more input from you. 


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