By Helen Brydges
Families are under a kind of stress most of us have never experienced before. But, even when times are tough, all parents have strengths they can build on with the right support. Knowing what to expect as children grow up makes parenting a lot easier, especially during a global pandemic. Children’s regular routines have been disrupted, as childcare, camps and schools have closed and families spend much more time together, often while parents are working from home. Learning what children need to do their best helps us guide them in a positive way. Here are some tips for helping your children thrive during this uniquely difficult time.
Build a manageable routine. Daily routines are calming for both parents and children. Toddlers, for example, thrive with regular mealtimes, playtime, nap time, bath time and bedtime. It’s okay to be off schedule and a little disorganized sometimes, then get back to the routine when you can.
Pay attention to your own feelings as a parent. Your feelings set the tone for your children. Here are some questions to consider: What are your kids doing that’s making you feel good? What’s most frustrating to you? What do they respond well to, and what just causes more conflict? Which battles do you need to fight, and what can you let go for now? Where do you need some new strategies, and who could you turn to for help in working out those strategies?
Learn about what to expect in each stage of development. Knowing what to expect can help you respond appropriately to changes in your child’s behaviour. There are a lot of helpful resources developed by pediatricians and child development experts. Check out these websites for some useful tips: childdevelop.ca/coronavirus; caringforkids.cps.ca/resources/resources_and_links.
As children grow, they have to learn how to manage their emotions, to communicate what they are feeling and experiencing, and to build healthy relationships with their peers and adults. That’s harder when everyone is experiencing anxiety and stress. Some children will have greater difficulty managing their stress. Helping children understand and express their feelings positively reduces tension now and builds communication skills they’ll need throughout life. Here are some ideas to help guide your children in their emotional development.
Practise with your kids. Young children build these skills mostly through practising with their parents. Investing attention in them now will lead to more confident and competent children later.
Don’t forget the baby. Infants are sensitive to the stress levels of their parents and caregiver and to disruption in their usual routines. Be as consistent and calm as you can. Talk, sing and read to your baby, and watch how they respond to you.
Give some extra attention. Toddlers especially need lots of attention – offer as much as you can or they’re likely to get it in less positive ways. “Thirty hugs a day” is a great goal.
Read, read, read! Reading together is terrific, and it’s just as good for older kids, who can take turns being the reader, as for younger ones, who need to be read to. Older children may want to sing or dance with you or with younger children.
Talk to your child about their worries. Ask children what they’re concerned about. Let them talk about their fears or about missing their friends, and ask about what’s going on in the world. Help them understand that their feelings are okay.
Parenting during the pandemic is not an easy task, but one that can be met with resilience, with a purposeful approach to coaching and encouraging your children.
Helen Brydges is the head teacher at the Glebe Cooperative Nursery School.