Over two weeks into the lockdown, my usually sunny dispositioned child had continued to have that joyful attitude despite not being able to get outside or see his grandparents or friends. When asked by one of my friends over the phone if he was bored at home, he immediately said that he was not and that he enjoyed getting to play with his toys and have his mama and papa around all day, but that he did miss going to the park and pool, but that was ok! Can you imagine?!! Every parent’s dream huh?!
Having heard that from him, my husband and I assumed that all was well and that our spunky kid was quite unaffected by this whole lockdown business, as he kept himself busy playing with his toys and was generally happy through the day, and we were grateful for that!
However, a few days after that phone call with my friend, when I asked my son what he wanted to pray about, without skipping a beat he said “I want to pray for all those parents who can’t play with their children because they have to work all day, like my papa”!! The “like my papa” bit really shook me up, because not once had we thought that our lil boy felt like we weren’t playing enough with him, in fact, quite to the contrary, we felt we did manage to do that often enough, as our jobs allowed it! Only then did we realize that though he was genuinely happy through the day about the fact that we were around, he probably wondered why we wouldn’t play with him on demand, despite being home all day, as we normally did on holidays!
That’s when the reality of the fact struck me that each child, whatever be his/her disposition, is affected to some degree and in some way by this whole pandemic imposed lockdown.
“Children’s experiences with the coronavirus pandemic will vary greatly. An only child, or a child who doesn’t get along well with siblings, may be more vulnerable than a kid who has a sibling playmate. Children of anxiety-prone, socially isolated parents may be more vulnerable than kids of parents who are skilled at helping each other cope. Kids who were lonely before the pandemic, and already felt that the world was against them, may be struggling more acutely now.”
After reading about the effect the pandemic might have on children, I called a few friends who had young kids to learn about their experience. What I found fascinating was that even within the same household, my friend’s 5 year old introverted child was extremely happy being cooped up with family, while her 1.5 year old extroverted toddler was more cranky than usual, as the lockdown has forced him to stay home all day long, when otherwise he’d be taken out for a stroll at least twice a day!
What have you noticed about your kids’ experience so far, how are they doing?
My own experience and that of my friends’, made me think hard about what I could talk about that would keep these unique dispositions of every individual child, and the different parenting and home environments, in mind, yet be relevant and hopefully helpful to all kinds of parents and children, all of us who have been affected in their own unique ways by this pandemic?
What kept coming to my mind (from the research I’d done over the years on parenting in general, and now in particular) was, to go back to the basics, just the bare minimum of what parents could realistically and intentionally do through these demanding times, but more so, what would strongly convey to each of their children that irrespective of how crazy the world is going outside, that they are valued, loved and would be taken care of and safe with their parents.
And that’s what I’ll be trying to bring out over the course of this series of 5 blogposts, the basics!
But before that, we need to understand;
WHAT CHILDREN COULD BE STRESSED ABOUT:
“Children may be struggling with a number of issues around social distancing. They may be feeling disoriented and confused as to what's happening, anxious about their parent's jobs or wider family members' health, missing their friends, or struggling with lack of active play opportunities”, says, Dr Amanda Grummer, child psychologist and founder of the Good Play Guide.
HOW THIS STRESS COULD MANIFEST:
Behavioural problems like difficulty with attention and concentration may arise, which can impact learning. You may see increases in irritability and defiance, sleep and appetite changes, and general worry about what is happening now and what will happen in the future. Children and even older ones, may have more difficulty separating from you, seeking more attention. Be sensitive to these signs and symptoms, and give grace and discuss their concerns as necessary.
If you want to explore this in greater depth, here is a fantastic article that describes in detail how stress is manifested in children’s behaviour.
There are umpteen things that you could do as a parent to support your child through these times, but like I mentioned, in this 5 part blog series, we’ll look at the basics.
In this first post, we’ll explore the need to adjust our own expectations and communicate new boundaries to our children and how we could do that.
Loving our kids intentionally: Adjusting your expectations and communicating the new boundaries to your child:
With this lockdown, just like parents, kids too have had to deal with a whole load of “new abnormal” things- from missing out on school and meeting their friends/relatives, being able to go outside to play or even just constantly having to be careful about hygiene, and all of this together can be overwhelming!
So if your 11 month old baby or your 4 year old child cannot understand that their parents are “working” when they are on a phone call at home and so they need to be playing quietly during those 20 minutes, it is normal for them to not be able to do so, and helpful for you to be able to re-calibrate your expectations of them, and communicate this to them in case of toddlers and older kids. And what would help is for you to:
- Explicitly explain new boundaries to your child (obviously this does not apply to little babies!). This is really crucial as kids might not understand why they can’t go and hug and play outside with their friends anymore or why mum and dad can’t play with them despite being home all day.
We had to explain to our 4- year-old multiple times that though we were at home all day, mama and papa were not on a holiday and so could not play with him whenever he felt like it during the day. But we also reassured him that we’d have a fun family time (see more in a later the post about that) every evening with him, and that even during the day, unless we were on a call, he could come and ask us if he felt like he wanted to play with us, and we would do it if we could, but if we were busy, we would not, and he would have to then continue to play by himself.
We wondered if this would work with a 4-year-old, and it did! Beautifully! Of course we had to repeatedly remind him of this, but he gets it each time we do, or at least 8 out of 10 times he does!
- Be mindful that children with different temperaments will have different needs and therefore they might react differently in the same situation, and you as parents need to alter your expectations of them accordingly. An anxious child might get more clingy than usual when she/he sees you at home all day and specially when you are unable to attend to him/her due to work, while a child who is more independent, might find it easier to play by him/herself for small amounts of time. Whatever be the temperament of your child, being mindful of their reactions to this lockdown and knowing the root cause, helps you adjust your expectations accordingly. Doing so, will help both, you and your child, to cope better through these times!
- Set realistic work expectations. Sit down with your manager (or those whom you manage!) and set practical expectations of what kind and how much of work can be done in a time like this where almost everyone is adjusting to this “new normal” way of working. I know this point has nothing directly to do with your kids, but it definitely has a huge impact on your time and mental health, and thus on your parenting!
- Do a daily check-in on your requirements. What is the typical response from your child: acceptance and eagerness or resistance and behavior flare-up? If the latter, chances are things (your expectations regarding their productivity/performance/learning in this time away from school etc…)need to be toned down.” says Michele Borba, author of “Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World.”
While hygiene expectations stay (or are more than normal these days!), some areas where me and other parents of young kids have found it helpful to adjust our expectations and explain new boundaries to the kids are:
a. About when and for how long we can play with our child (as mentioned earlier)
b. About the house being in order: With our 4-year-old locked down in the house all day, we’ve given him permission to let his toys be lying around the living room all day, provided at the end of the day he clears them up (with help from us!). Most days he does actually clear out his toys, other days, he forgets or is too tired and those are ok too!
c. About how much screen time the kids are getting: This is a big one, and as far as possible, most parents who can manage to keep their kids occupied with non- screen activities, it’s a huge win. But if there are days where you don’t have other options/strength/will, to not show them more than the usual amount of screen time, don’t beat yourself too much about it, they will survive without their brains being turned into mush! Just keep reminding them that these are exceptional times and that it would change once we don’t have to be locked down only at home.
These are tough times for parents and kids. Even as adults we sometimes find it difficult to adjust to unexpected change in plans. But time and again, I’ve learnt that when life throws curveballs at you, it presents an opportunity to stretch ourselves and build endurance and we grow a little more for the better, when we do re-adjust our plans/expectations. This applies to all areas of relationships, and definitely to parenting! As our children watch us doing this kind of recalibration, and when we take them along and explain new boundaries, they too get an opportunity to practice being OK with change and build their emotional and mental endurance muscles! All of this will of course help your relationship now, but more so, learning to adjust to change will serve our kids well when they step out into the world outside that is ever changing, and now, post this pandemic, even more so!In the upcoming post we’ll look at how we intentionally love our kids when we take steps to manage our anger towards them.
Author: Pranati Bhalerao Zachariah (Development sector professional for over 8 years. She is passionate about child development and fascinated by how children learn through play. She is mum to a delightful 4 year old and wife to an awesome husband!)