As January 2021 turned the corner, it ushered in the most challenging era for parents in perhaps 100 years – uncertainty about schools closing and opening, lockdowns, curfews, mandatory wearing of masks in public, physical distancing, limited access to student-friendly resultants, restrictions on movement, limitation of public transportation, little time and space to have fun, and much more.
Those parents who will have the greatest challenges are those who have not fostered a healthy dialogue with their children. The situation can be compounded by the reduction of income and being at home for longer periods than usual. Nevertheless, regardless of the circumstances, I want to encourage parents to view this time as an opportunity to be creative and more involved in their children’s lives. I also want parents to know that their children are watching them and are learning lifelong lessons as to how to manage a crisis.
The failure of parents will not be due to the presence of the unabated, life-threatening pandemic, but instead how they respond to it. It is not just about how involved parents are in their children’s lives, but it is also about their attitude and narrative used during this time.
Hence, here are a few tips for parents during the COVID-19 pandemic, from the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and some of my own:
• Avoid entertaining conspiracy theories about COVID-19 in the presence of your children. Do not let them hear you discussing these theories over the phone or on other mediums. This will cause confusion and uneasiness in the children. They need to be aware, without a doubt, about the reality and seriousness of the pandemic.
• Keeping it positive during the coronavirus outbreak. It’s hard to feel positive when our kids or teenagers are driving us crazy. We often end up saying “stop doing that!” but children are much more likely to do what we ask if we give them positive instructions and lots of praise for what they do right.
• “Be willing to talk. They will already have heard something. Silence and secrets do not protect our children. Honesty and openness do. Think about how much they will understand. You know them best.” – (UNICEF) The pandemic is real. Therefore, be willing to share as much age-appropriate information that you can. This can assist with their sense of security.
• Be open and listen. Allow your child to talk freely. Ask them open questions and find out how much they already know.
• “Be honest. Always answer their questions truthfully. Think about how old your child is and how much they can understand. It is OK not to know the answers. It is fine to say “we don’t know, but we are working on it”; or “we don’t know, but we think”. Use this as an opportunity to learn something new with your child!” – (UNICEF)
• Set aside time to spend with each child. It can be for just 20 minutes, or longer – it’s up to us. It can be at the same time each day, so children or teenagers can look forward to it.
• Remember that the education of your children is needed for healthy personal development. Elementary and secondary school learning is just the beginning of basic education. It forms a part of a complete package of intellectual, moral, social and spiritual learning. Do not rob them of this opportunity simply because it is more difficult at this moment.
• For the tiny ones (babies to two years old), spend time laughing and playing with them, listening to music and reading stories to them.
• For those ages three to six, spend time listening to them, sing, dance, color, be curious about their world.
• For those ages seven to early teens, talk about something they like – sports, music, celebrities, friends. “Cook a favorite meal together. Exercise together to their favorite music.” – (UNICEF)
• Demonstrate a keen interest in their learning. Talk with them about what they are leaning. Review their schoolwork.
• Praise them always. For even the smallest incremental improvement – grade C to C+ – you are to praise them.
• Create a schedule of household chores. Make sure everyone who is old enough, is on the schedule – this includes the parents. Post the schedule in an open place in the house for all to see. Get the input of the children when creating the schedule.
• Stick to routine. Make sure to maintain set bedtimes, limit television watching and play times. Do not let your guard down because they are all home now. Children thrive best with structure. It is even more needed during the pandemic when everyone will be home for longer periods.
• If your child is attending school via video, make sure it is treated as seriously as when in-person teaching is done. Set the proper place with no distraction. Do not play loud music or the television when the child is in school.
Parents, the academic success and the healthy emotional development of your child during this very challenging time in our country depends on you.
Do not blame them for failing when you have not shown interest in their daily lives.
Do not shout at them to go to bed early when you have not demonstrated the importance of a healthy night’s rest.
Do not insist that they sit in front of a computer screen for hours to attend school if you cannot show a keen interest in what they are doing.
Right now, I am asking you to stop and turn to your children – look them straight in the eyes and start connecting with them. Love is not just a word; it is an action. Education flourishes in a bed of compassion, understanding, grace and love.
• Barrington H. Brennen is a marriage and family therapist. Send your questions or comments to email@example.com or write to P.O. Box CB-13019, Nassau, The Bahamas, or visit www.soencouragement.org or call 242-327-1980 or 242-477-4002.