Let’s be honest, it can be difficult. There’s a reason why we’re either full-time parents or working parents. Trying to do both simultaneously can get physically and emotionally exhausting and it is OK to admit this. Being a full-time keyworker, managing a business and trying to be the best mum possible was starting to feel overwhelming because I was putting unrealistic expectations on myself. I was trying to do everything as though we were not in a pandemic and tiring myself out.
Whether you have a new born, toddler or a teenager, it can be difficult to understand how to adjust to this new way of living because every stage has different needs. As parents, not only are we trying to adjust to this “new normal” ourselves, but looking at the effects it has on our children and trying to figure out how best to support them emotionally and intellectually.
The last six weeks of lock down have been challenging but also opened my eyes to a new way of living. I have found it has been an opportunity to take a step back and look from the outside in. What would I have told a friend if they were feeling the social blues and focusing on all the cant’s rather than looking at an opportunity for growth and change? This is what I would be saying: these are my 5 top tips to Parenting in a Pandemic:
Take each day as it comes
Try to live in the now and focus on the near future. With things continuously changing and progressing, it is important to focus on small amounts of information at a time. I know it can be easy to think, “How long will this last?” and believe me, I too have had this thought; however, every time I think about the uncertainty of the future, I use techniques to help me through. The first technique is really easy and can be helpful in so many different situations to manage anxiety.
All you need to do is sit somewhere comfortable, focus on you and breathe.
Imagine 5 things you can see.
Feel 4 things you can touch, or are touching you.
Listen to 3 things you can hear.
Take in 2 smells that you are drawn to.
Focus on your mouth and 1 thing you can taste
This simple grounding exercise can really help you to focus on the here and now, which is so important in current times.
Another technique is to set small daily and weekly goals. Having small, manageable and achievable tasks can encourage you to keep going.
Try to keep to some sort of routine
In our pre-pandemic life we had a weekday/weekend routine. Most of us like to know what’s coming next and losing the routine we were so used to can make us feel our life is out of control. The same goes for our children. Routine brings them a sense of security by knowing what is coming next. Keep to the usual eating and sleeping patterns and use your lunch breaks to eat with them so you don’t miss a meal. If you have a partner or living with other adult, tag team between yourselves so you both get the opportunity to have some focussed work time. If your children are young enough to have naps, try to fit in the “must do” tasks from work in those times. (Don’t worry about using the TV babysitter, sometimes it’s a life saver!)
Joe Wick’s morning exercise class is a great go-to to start the day - even for the little ones! We try it and more times than less my son is laughing at me attempting to exercise, but it’s good because we’re releasing endorphins, those beautiful happy hormones that help us to keep going.
This being said, it is important to remember to be flexible and adaptable. Not each day is the same, so have a routine in mind and re-jig it dependent on how things go.
Enjoy your children
(As much as you can) Try to think of it as, how often do we get the opportunity to spend this much time with our children? If you work full time, like me and my husband, it’s probably only the weekends. Even then, we may have events or other things that are booked into our diaries. I’m trying to look at it as extended maternity leave! Just from being at home for the last five weeks, I have seen a vast improvement in my son’s speech and language development which has been amazing to see first-hand. I know and understand how much he learns with his childminder and I definitely appreciate all that she does to help his learning and development. To see him grow each day by being able to work from home has been invaluable.
I appreciate it can get demanding sometimes, especially when you have explored all avenues but if you’re struggling with activity ideas, ask friends, family, nursery staff or childminders. More heads mean more ideas!
Talk to your children about working and get them involved if age appropriate. I give my 15 month-old a pen and paper and ask him to make notes (scribbles) to keep him occupied (for all of 30 seconds), and then he moves onto his toys. Just involving your children can take away the curiosity and they can go back to whatever they were doing. You can do this!
To yourself and your children. We have never been in a pandemic before and we
are all learning new things about ourselves and each other every day. I’ve heard so many parents worry about how to manage education, and trying to be a teacher when they are not sure on how best to support their child’s learning and development. What if I told you they do not need to know everything academically right now and in fact they are learning so much from us as their role model in relation to managing situations? Our children are learning about resilience, problem solving skills, creativity and so much more just by observing us. No, we may not all be academic teachers -but we are teachers of life skills. Our children are watching us manage ourselves in this pandemic and learning how to think outside of the box when faced with new challenges.
As an Early Years Practitioner in my previous working life, I know that children love and thrive from learning through play, so try activities that can support their learning and development in new and innovative ways. Try cooking or baking– there’s lots to learn here: time management, measuring (maths), reading and literacy. Whilst you take your daily exercise walk, talk about what you see but look at it in detail. Rather than “Oh look, a dog” think about what colour is the dog, what sound does the dog make, what type of hair does the dog have, whether the dog is on a lead, etc. There are so many things to talk about, just get creative! Release yourself of your own pressures and expectations and try to enjoy the learning process. Talking with your children can really go a long way; it’s all about a different perspective.
Remember your children may also be experiencing “loss of normality” so try to give them choices, which will help them to build their self-confidence and fill them with empowerment.
Look at the little achievements they make and praise them for their successes. This is all so new for them too and by acknowledging their adjustments and good behaviours we can all enjoy each other and turn this experience into something positive.
I’ve slightly touched on this above but communication is key in any scenario. Talk to the people in your house if you feel things are getting too much for you. It may sound tedious or funny but just debriefing with your partner at the end of the day to discuss how the day went and what you would like to do differently the next day, can be so helpful. Being on the same page means that you feel relaxed, supported and more able to attend to your children’s needs. Keep in touch with family and friends through the different mediums we’re lucky to have. We try to do one call a day. Incorporate games and quizzes or other activities to give yourself something to look forward to.
Talk to your children about how they are feeling, what they would like to do and explain what we can do as alternatives in current situations. For the younger ones, get down to their level and see what they’re trying to tell you. Give them your finger so they can take you to what they would like. It can be difficult to understand non-verbal communication but try your best and, most importantly, remain patient. It can sometimes be difficult, especially if you have work to do or a deadline to meet, but just explaining this and reasoning with them can help. Remember if you’re anxious, you will emanate this feeling and others can pick up on it, increasing their anxiety and creating a stressful environment. Take a step back, try the grounding technique or ask for help. We’ve video-called either parents to entertain our son whilst we get some work done. It may not last long, but it’s another activity.
For some of you, the novelty of video calls may have worn off and you might be missing real human contact, which is completely understandable. Other alternatives could include talking to passers-by on your walk, a little hi, hello, how’s your day? can go a long way.
Most importantly don’t forget to say “I love you” and give cuddles (they’re free!). We all need physical and emotional affection, so keep spreading the love where you can.
Look at what you do have and what you can do with these resources. I know it’s not what we’re used to, but it is giving us an opportunity to be creative. I hope these tips are helpful and reassure you that you are doing the best you can in the circumstances we are in. Keep smiling and remember parenting in a pandemic, is just parenting your way.