‘You’re always going to wonder if you’re doing things wrong. But that’s what it means to be a mom, to care so much about someone else that you just want to be as perfect as possible.’ -Naya Rivers.
The pandemic has been a challenging time for all of us, and the stress has multiplied for people who have another life and bundle of joy dependent on them: Parents. Parenting is already a complex and intricate process; the fear, anxiety, and stress revolving around the pandemic has only made it more challenging. The "Home" space has become your office, your child’s school, a play arena and what not. All of these changes that too for an indefinite period can be pretty overwhelming, but the process of parenting doesn’t take a break, right? It is vital to make sure your child feels safe, their lifestyle and routine is maintained, and they learn how to manage their emotions and behaviours.
Here are a few ways to make sure your child does not miss out on key experiences during their developmental years and to foster a healthy parent-child relationship :
Answer their questions and address their fears:
Children are curious beings, and with information and input coming from different sources, their inquisitive nature is at its peak. This information can also make children anxious and feed their fears. Recognise your child’s feelings and frustrations. Calmly say things like-I understand you’re feeling frustrated because you aren’t able to go out and play with your friends. Ask them for suggestions about what they would like to do. It is a hard time for them as well, with so much uncertainty and sudden change. Empathise with their fears and feelings. Honestly talk to your children about any frightening news they might have heard. Tell them it is okay that people are getting sick, but they need to remember to take precautionary steps like washing hands, staying home and wearing a mask while going out. Reassure them and tell them that scientists and doctors are working hard to help sick people; find ways to make things better. The information delivered to them must be genuine, straightforward, and at the same time, age-appropriate.
Fix a daily schedule:
During the pandemic, maintaining a routine can become even more vital. A certain rhythm in life can be very reassuring for children. Bedtimes become essential to keep the cycle going. There is a lot of screen time involved with all the work and class happening on a single screen. Make sure to break down the school work as much as possible. Include daily tasks and chores in the schedule. Make time for socialisation with friends and family; it is good to keep in touch during tough times. Make sure you have included activities like family dinners, exercise and games as well in the regime. You can also give them tasks including hygiene, cleanliness and reorganisation to perform regularly.
Spend quality time with your child:
This pandemic has provided us with an opportunity to bond with our families. Spending time with children can help them feel closer to you and open up. Some fun activities like cooking together, gardening or playing games at home can go a long way. Organise an evening of board games with your family where everyone switches off their laptops and phones to play games like snakes and ladders, scrabble, ludo and what not. The children miss going out and playing with their friends, and so this could be an enjoyable activity for them and detox for you. You can choose the time frame, and your child could choose the activity. Show them some extra affection. During these challenging times, we could all benefit from a couple of extra hugs and kisses.
Set goals and celebrate small achievements:
A small high five can go a long way. Set mini-goals for your children, like completing their homework, finishing up a chore, or cleaning their bedroom. Celebrate these small achievements. Small rewards like making their favourite dinner or giving them a piece of candy, or letting them choose the movie for the night can go a long way. Even good behaviour like not fighting, getting along with a sibling or volunteering to do a task can be rewarded. I’m sure you might not reward these actions on a typical day, but nothing good and positive should go unrecognised in these challenging times.
Socialisation from home:
Socialisation during these childhood years is crucial. During these years, children learn what kind of behaviour, attitudes and values are appropriate and the forms in which they must be displayed in various settings. Children learn values like respect, honesty and helpfulness by being told and through action. This pandemic has curbed physical socialisation, but these experiences need to be recreated in the confinement of our homes. Reading books with moral values can become very important. Movies, where actions and their repercussions are clear, can indicate what behaviour is acceptable and what isn’t. Video calls with friends and family can be a simple but excellent way of keeping in touch with the outer world. While learning, roleplaying many situations and conversations can help children visualise and grasp the message better.
Don’t lose out on culture:
Culture is an integral part of determining who we are as individuals and how we fit in as a part of a community. From the time a child is born to the beliefs and values taught to the very food children eat are a part of our culture. There are multiple cultural influences in a child’s life like parents, peers, social environments, family traditions, media, etc. Celebration of festivities, music, art, dance, food and lifestyles can contribute significantly to child development, and due to the lockdown and isolation during the pandemic, this can be quite a challenge. We can not go out, but we can make sure that we keep our cultures alive in our own small way and involve our children in the same. It can be singing folk songs, trying your hand at your folk art or just a mini celebration of a cultural festival with family traditions.
Creation of purpose and motivation:
Sitting in front of a screen and working during these uncertain times can often be demotivating for adults themselves; thus, the degree of impact it has on children must be exponential. A drive, goal or a sense of purpose is essential to keep us going. This needs to be instilled in the lives of the children as well. Ask them what they want to do or what they want to be in life. It may be quite an unrealistic or long-term goal, but this is a way to bring in the value of hard work and tell them that they need to achieve their desires. Encourage playful exploration and challenge the children just enough to push them out of their mundane thoughts and think outside the box.
Avoid aggression and physical punishments:
Try not to indulge in any forms of physical punishment. Hitting, spanking and other forms of corporal discipline can cause injuries and have lifelong effects on the child. They aren’t effective methods of behaviour modification; instead, they idolise aggressive behaviours in children when their parents and role models engage in the same. Especially in these difficult times, children might feel very insecure and unsafe if exposed to any form of physical or aggressive punishment. If at any point you feel like you might shout or you are outraged, try and take a few deep breaths or, for the time being, exit the situation.
There are various other healthy ways in which you can attempt to modify your child’s behaviour and make sure poor behaviours are not encouraged. Firstly you can try channelising and redirecting their energy; very often, children engage in misbehaving when they have nothing to keep them occupied or when they crave attention. You can involve them in various creative activities and not let them sit idle. Sometimes though, you just have to talk through their actions, understand them and tell them that their actions were wrong and unacceptable. Positively reward good behaviour, especially while trying to mend a bad habit; small encouragements and rewards go a long way. One classic tool in modifying behaviour can be the use of time-outs. Ask your child to sit and introspect about their actions and understand where they went wrong. Tell them they were wrong within a few words and emotions as possible and give them a set time to retrospect.
Take care of yourself:
Lastly, caregivers and parents need to take care of themselves. Make sure you eat healthily, get enough exercise, get enough sleep and give yourself some ‘me time’. With work, children, family and a home to take care of, it is essential to take breaks and detox. If you are more than one parent, take turns with the kids and divide the tasks. Make sure to reach out to friends and other professional psychologists and therapists when you need help or feel overwhelmed.