The last 14 months have been tough on children with two waves of Covid, multiple lockdowns, constant changes in school openings, online education and most importantly in coping with the stress of recovering from Covid or caring for family members who were infected.
There is no universal normal
The question we get asked most often is whether a child is normal or whether’s it’s normal to behave this way or that way. There is no universal “normal”. While every child’s “normal” is different, there is a “normal” that’s specific to your child.
f your child shows changes in moods or behavior, they aren’t necessarily something to worry about, but monitor them and compare them to your child’s behavior before the pandemic.
Talk to your pediatrician or chat with us if you feel your child has drifted from her/his normal.
Screen time — the thing parents want for themselves but not for their kids
Everyone knows that too much screen time is not good for young children — especially for children younger than 2 years. But why is screen time not good for children? Primarily because your child becomes less engaged in their real-world environment, weakening development of social skills. Moreover, longer exposure to rapid image-changes increases the risk of attention problems.
But the reality is that most people do give children quite a bit of screen time, even to children younger than 2 years. We’ve found two practices really helpful in regulating screen time.
- Reduce your own screen time. Try and eat dinner together without the tv on. When you’re taking a break, don’t pick up the phone to browse. When you have to do work on the laptop or video calls, try to do it in a different room and try to keep a regular schedule.
- If you do end up giving screen time to your children, use it when you need it the most — like when you need some downtime after work, or to occupy the child while you do a work call etc. But try to limit it to less than an hour a day.
Our own well-being translates into our children’s well-being
We need to acknowledge that we are all under stress in these pandemic times. Job stress, stress of near and dear ones getting Covid, stress of taking care of kids and working from home, etc. But it is important to both improve our own well-being and to not let our stress make us angry or irritable in our communication with our children.
One practice that helps is to check in with how the child is doing at the end of the day and to explain in simple terms why you were stressed or how you will be in a better mood the next day.
Balancing working from home and child-care
Try to involve your children in your work environment at home. Tell them what you are working on in simple terms if they’re old enough to understand. Setup zoom calls with your coworkers where you can all have your babies/toddlers on the call.
Most companies have accepted that working from home comes with the baggage of child-care intersecting with some of the work hours. Set your expectations and schedules with your colleagues and manager based on this reality.
Schools on and off and online education
Several studies have shown that children don’t lose out much in language and reading skills over long breaks, but they do lose out some percentage points in their math and science learning. This is primarily because parents are more likely to read books or tell stories or communicate on a daily basis to kids, so the kids still improve or maintain their reading, language and comprehension skills. But not all parents can help the kids with math or science and not all parents can afford online tutoring or online learning apps.
We think it is ok to accept that there may be some loss in the pace of learning due to schools being closed. Don’t be too hard on yourself or on the kids.
Some practices that help in improving learning from online classes—
- While this might not be possible for all families, try to dedicate a specific location in the home that can be free of clutter and distractions to support kids’ ability to focus.
- Understand the need for ‘brain breaks,’ which can consist of short bursts of physical activity — such as a brief walk on the terrace or in the apartment or snack.
- If your school allows for flexibility, encourage your child to focus on content that interests them most.
Teenagers and older kids
The pandemic has been an especially rough time for adolescents. Young kids want to be around their parents. Teenagers, however, gravitate toward their peers. They want to be more independent. Instead, many are cooped up at home, separated from friends and missing milestones.
It’s stressful not to see their friends or to miss out on experiences they would otherwise be having, but parents can help their children navigate these losses.
Validating your teen’s feelings is important, as is encouraging them to think beyond themselves. Adolescence is marked by an awakening to the wider world. Help your teenage children think about how the world could be in a year or in a couple years and how it can shape what they want to learn, what tools they want to pick up at school to navigate the changing world and how they can help shape the community around them. This fills them with optimism and a sense of purpose.
Babies and under 2-year old toddlers
A lot of parents worry that their baby/toddler is missing out on learning opportunities by not socializing with other babies/toddlers. But the reality is that when children grow up, most of them don’t have much memory of their impressions from when they were less than 2 years old. So even interaction, play and spending time with parents/grandparents can help your baby/toddler’s development and they don’t necessarily need to play with other babies.
You don’t have to enrich every minute of your kids’ lives
Our last and probably our most important suggestion is to embrace the idea that parents don’t have to enrich every minute of their kids’ lives. Kids didn’t needed all that parental stimulation and all those teachable moments even before the pandemic. It’s important to let the kid discover the world at his/her own “normal pace”.
If you don’t stress yourself about this, then your interaction will be better with your kids and it leads to an overall better environment.
Originally published in Medium: https://firstname.lastname@example.org/parenting-in-covid-times-2c93dc9f49c2