These are strange times – strange at least for adults that is. But how strange is it for children? The younger the child, the fewer touchstones they have available to grasp just how long-term and different this pandemic has made their lives. Children are often incredibly resilient, adaptable, and accepting of new situations, which can both allow them to cope well but also to not always be aware just how different life is for their older family members. And us adults – well how do we even begin to know how to explain what is going on right now? Everything right now feels difficult, partly because so many things are happening for the first time. I think it is important that we remember children experience this feeling far more often than we do! So how do we cope? Here are some tips.
With lockdowns and restrictions on who should attend schools and nurseries, many parents have found their lives turned upside down. Childcare options are increasingly limited, and childcare itself is morphing into schooling. Managing working from home with any number of young children is unlikely to ever be an efficient and stress-free way to operate. Allow yourself to be realistic about what can be managed. Do you feel like you are letting your children down if they are not getting five hours of education from you each day? Well, don’t! Your children will not fall behind in life through not being at school – they cope with summer holidays and half-terms just fine.
As a parent you were always your child’s first teacher, only now the curriculum that your child is following is being set by someone else. On top of that, what is important to you may be different from what is important to your child. With different priorities, the best solution is to listen to what everyone wants and to respond kindly. Communicate with the school if the work set is too much, make sure your child knows they are not letting anyone down, falling behind or failing.
Always be honest – but be honest in an age-appropriate way. If you are asked questions about lockdown or the pandemic answer them as you see fit with your own children. Keeping off social media and news sites can help reduce anxiety as they tend to be full of information that can feel overwhelming, but that for the vast majority we have no control over. Let your child know it is OK to be tired, worried, bored, sad, lonely, or confused (and it is OK to be happy, joyful, excited, and hopeful too!) Then tell them what you can do together to help each other. Having a strong connection includes knowing how you are helping others, from odd jobs rounds the house to checking in with each other, tangible activity reduces worry
One change of behaviour to help everyone out of unsettled lives is that of routine and consistency. It helps in almost all aspects of life, but right now it could be especially useful. For a child of any age, the nursery or school day provides valuable routine throughout their day (or half-day), and without routine, the time at home can feel aimless. Feeling like you need to spend a set amount of time on certain activities may not help – it could just cause some activities to be rushed and others to drag on. Rather than stick to a rigid timetable, you could try having the same touchpoints every day. Eat together if possible, to break up the day, and make sure you have some normal social conversation time. If you are being the parent, a teacher, and an employee then you will be pulled in different directions during the day – make sure you are organised by also expect interruptions. Expecting them makes it slightly less stressful when it happens!
Above all, be aware of what you and your children are feeling. Do not worry about what other people think, self-care is really important! As young children may not be well practised in self-care, then you need to do the caring for them. Make sure they have breaks in their day, try to give time when they need it, keep upbeat and positive if they are feeling down. Emotions may build-up – try not to be alarmed if your child looks sad or even has a cry. It may be very hard for them to express what they are feeling, especially as everything is new and there is underlying anxiety in many aspects of life. Just make sure they know you are there when you need them, and above all else at this time, they come first.
By Jeremy Clarke, Senior Montessori Consultant at Leeds Beckett University