Family in isolation: Creating space and fun

There is no need to buy too much food because delivery services or friends and relatives can bring food items to your doorstep.
There is no need to buy too much food because delivery services or friends and relatives can bring food items to your doorstep. PHOTO: REUTERS

With thousands of Singaporeans in self-isolation because of the Covid-19 crisis, families may be wondering how best to prepare if they need to hunker down at home.

At least 38,000 people are serving out stay-home notices (SHNs), which, like other 14-day self-isolation measures such as leave of absence (LOA), are aimed at inhibiting the spread of the coronavirus.

A person issued an LOA can leave his home briefly to buy essential items, but someone on SHN cannot do so.

Experts say that preparing emotionally for self-isolation is at least as important as making physical preparations.

Tensions are only to be expected if family members are thrown into unfamiliar proximity for a prolonged period, so it helps to talk about conflict beforehand.

While some parents may have cabin-fever dreams of themselves screaming at their offspring on day 10 under lockdown, staying calm is possible - with planning.

These guidelines to ease the stress include suggestions regarding what medicine to stock, how to make peace with your restrictions and how to keep restless children occupied.

Official advisories can be found at


Ms June Yong, who is in charge of editorial content at Focus on the Family Singapore, suggests discussing boundaries upfront.

She says: "Involve the children in thinking about what you can do as a family to manage space constraints, routines and screen-time and device use.

"For example, if one child needs to work on an e-assignment, can he use the shared desktop at a certain time, while his sibling tackles her homework that does not require the computer?"


When it comes to physical preparations, Dr Michael Wong, a family physician and consultant at Raffles Medical, advises getting supplies that will ensure a balanced, nutritious diet.

This includes groceries with a long shelf life, such as frozen and tinned vegetables and fruit, rice for carbohydrates, and tinned meat and fish for protein.

There is no need to buy too much food even if it has to last two weeks, as food delivery services or close friends and relatives can bring food items to your doorstep, he says.

Those with underlying conditions such as diabetes would do well to have at least a month's supply of their medication in case of any emergencies.

Besides monitoring family members' health in case of Covid-19 symptoms, he recommends having medicine on hand for common illnesses, such as paracetamol for fever, antihistamines for allergies and anti-diarrhoea medication.



Talking about conflict before it erupts lays the groundwork for parents to reach for appropriate ways to react and gives the children a chance to raise their own concerns and needs, Ms Yong says.

Brainstorm solutions to deal with raised voices by thinking of places in the home where one can cool off, and pre-empt arguments by asking the kids to take turns when it comes to prized resources such as digital devices.


"It may be more helpful to think about trying to parent calmly for the bulk of each day, or to aim for at least three to five positive interactions with each child daily, rather than setting an impossible standard of perfection (of never losing your cool)," says Ms Yong.

"If you feel you're losing control, say it out loud: 'Mummy is feeling upset and would appreciate some space. Please give me 10 minutes to cool off in my room.'

"Stating our needs early can help our kids be aware of our feelings and conscious of their actions."

She recommends parents take "sanity breaks" by stealing away for 15 minutes of quiet when everyone else is preoccupied.


Ms Yong says: "Spouses need boundaries too. Some people need peace and quiet to work; others enjoy occasional banter or background music. It helps to state each other's needs and preferences."

Set realistic expectations regarding working from home, doing household chores and childminding, and team up on tasks such as one parent supervising the children's homework while the other cooks.


Structure is good, but do not get too hung up on keeping to a minute-by-minute schedule.

Ms Yong suggests building in time for school work, chores, exercise, play time and breaks.

"Bear in mind that a young child may be able to sit through a task for only around 20 to 30 minutes."

Homeschooling parent Dawn Fung, founder of Homeschool Singapore, a community of homeschoolers, suggests a heart-warming scavenger hunt.

Within 20 minutes, each child must look for five items in the home which remind them of a special memory associated with mum.

Each family member then shares why they picked the items. The children can go a few rounds with different themes, such as looking for only red items.

Mrs Anita Low-Lim, a member of Media Literacy Council and senior director at Touch Integrated Family Group, suggests child-friendly alternatives when even Netflix begins to pall: Go Noodle encourages families and children to stay active indoors through dance and meditation; WhizKidScience is an educational YouTube channel by Aiden, a teenager who conducts fun science experiments with materials that can be found at home; and But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids.

The podcast is available on Spotify and features answers to questions submitted by kids, such as "Do animals get married?" and "Who invented words?"


Ms Sha-en Yeo, who runs a business, Happiness Scientists, which uses positive psychology to support people to be happier, suggests reframing the enforced solitude.

Ms Yeo, who has written resources for parenting during Covid-19 at, suggests looking within to think of goals that you may have neglected or pursuing personal projects, such as trying new recipes.

"Instead of using words like 'stuck', adopt a growth mindset by seeing potential in spending this time connecting with one another," she says.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 29, 2020, with the headline Family in isolation: Creating space and fun. Subscribe