ALL THE LESSONS WE’VE LEARNED ABOUT PARENTING IN A PANDEMIC
Let’s admit it, last year was a year, many parents would rather forget. The year that closed schools and forced our kids home to study was full of challenges many of us did not expect and were not prepared for.
But the carnage of a disastrous school year has also revealed the power of the human spirit to survive when the odds are against us. Despite the difficulties, there were highlights and it’s important that as parents we remember our stoic resilience to survive the worst health pandemic in this century.
Here are some important parenting lessons we’ve learned in the pandemic:
1. Children are adaptive.
We learned that children could cope with big changes. At the height of the pandemic, our children couldn’t go to school. They couldn’t see their friends. They did not have teachers to physically support them in their studies. They survived better than we could imagine.
What we learned last year was that we can support our children through major changes. We do this by being honest with them about the situation. We gave them the space to voice their concerns and we showed them that we love them and were there to support them no matter what.
Our kids are back at school now, but they can be sent home again without warning. This time we will be more prepared because we know how to support them if lockdown happens again.
2. Kids can thrive in downtime.
During the pandemic, social distancing prevented our kids from doing a lot of the activities that they were used to. With no soccer practice or music class, our kids (and us) were stuck with large chunks of time that we had to fill. We discovered that our children appreciate downtime as much as we do. We didn’t have to worry that they were using downtime to watch endless television or play computer games. Instead, they did other things like cycling around the yard, shooting hoops with their siblings, or walking in the park. If we left them a book, they sometimes curled up with it and read for hours.
This year why not review how many extra activities you would like your child to join and give them some downtime to just hang out at home with you?
3. Supermom (or dad) are overrated
Super-parenting is out of fashion. We discovered that we didn’t have to be supermoms and dads for our kids. Working from home with our children was new to most of us. We had to work out clear boundaries with the kids. We learned that our kids do not expect us to be perfect. That it was okay if some days we were too busy to cook the perfect family feast or too tired to play with the kids. We discovered that we do not have to take on all the household chores ourselves and that meals cooked together are great fun.
Love does not need superhuman effort. Isn’t it great that our kids love us just the way we are?
4. Fresh air and sunshine are good
During the pandemic, social distancing stopped us from doing a lot of the activities we take for granted but we realised we could still go outdoors. Most of us took advantage of the outdoors. We started invited the kids to join us when we walked the dog, we asked our teenager to join us on our morning run and we found creative ways to plan family road trips and picnics.
The next time everyone at home is cranky, head outdoors. It is therapeutic.
5. Children suffer stress as much as adults
COVID-19 may have spared our children from physical illness, but it did not spare their minds. Living in a world out of their control, children were vulnerable to the demands that were forced upon them. Deprived of things that they have taken for granted growing up was not easy. Our kids were told they couldn’t go to school, see their friends, visit their grandparents, or play their favourite sport. Some of them struggled through schooling on their own. Many of them picked up our stress while trying to deal with their emotions. Not all of them told us how or what they were feeling.
We learned in the pandemic that we can help our children deal with big emotions if we can understand what they are going through. Many of us learned that observing, listening, and talking with our children were important facets of good parenting skills. We can continue to use these skills long after the pandemic is over.
Checklist to support your child’s mental health
Here’s a checklist of the tactics you can use to support your child’s mental health in difficult times:
- Observe your child’s behaviour.
Children don’t always have the words to express how they feel. Put out your ‘feelings antenna’ to gauge your child’s ability to cope with a situation and take appropriate action. Look for behaviours that are out of the norm. For example, tearful outbursts, tantrums, withdrawal, anti-social behaviour, cruelty, or lethargy.
- Present facts rather than give orders.
Don’t get into the habit of just telling your kids what to do. Try giving them a truthful account of what is going on and why you need their cooperation. You may be surprised by how much information they can absorb.
- Give your child a chance to speak.
Encourage your child to talk about his or her feelings. Depending on the age of your child, you may have to engineer situations that encourage open and frank discussion. Role-play is an effective way to get younger children to express their emotions. If you have a teenager, try inviting them to your morning run and use that time for some quality heart to heart.
- Help your child develop a routine.
Routines are effective because it gives your child structure they can control. Routines can relieve stress and help them adapt to change. Don’t forget to include opportunities for entertainment and relaxation.
- Show them you love them.
The best thing any parent can do for their child in stressful circumstances is to show them you love them.
Read more: What To Do If Your Kid Hates School
It may seem impossible but eventually, the pandemic will disappear and assume its place in the canon of global traumas alongside other mass traumas like 9/11, the World Wars, the Great Depression, and the Spanish Flu. Our children as they grow older will have the ‘do-you-remember” and ‘where-were-you” exchanges with their peers. The role of parents is to help make these memories more bearable for our kids.