Thanks to Annina Maunula for contributing this article!
The current Covid situation has driven many families on an escape journey to their own homes. We are now in a situation where, surprisingly, family members have time for each other, whether they want it or not. For some people, isolation may be the salvation of a relationship, while for others, a ticking time bomb full of frustration, quarrels, and children jumping on walls. Yes, the children.
It’s easier for an adult to understand why familiar and safe routines have to be thrown in the trash, why friends can’t see each other, or why you can’t go to the park to play. But, especially for young children and their parents, isolation can feel like a prison sentence. I (Annina) have been working in early childhood education for 13 years with hundreds of children. I also have two of those Gremlins at home. Here are a few tips from my experiences.
1. Talk to your child about the Coronavirus.
Yes, you can and should talk to your kids about the current situation. This is very important as it can be difficult for children to understand the information they hear on television, the internet, and the news. Confusing information can even cause anxiety and fear, and must be addressed.
- Start the conversation by asking how much the child already knows about the topic. If your child is very young, you can avoid going into details and instead focus on emphasizing how important, for example, a good hand hygiene is.
- Ensure your child knows that people are helping each other. It creates a sense of security and the knowledge that people are doing something about it can help a child very much. So tell them about health workers, researchers, and decision-makers who are working hard to prevent the virus from spreading.
- Tell your child why it is important to stay home. When asked about this, one child said it was important to stay home, so you won’t die. No. Reassure your child that it isn’t because of death. Rather, it is important to stay at home so that not all people get sick at the same time and doctors have enough time for everyone.
- Accept every feeling. It is a big thing for children (and, teens in particular) to give up their friends and the changes in their everyday life can be very overwhelming. Don’t underestimate the feelings of a child or a teenager by saying that there are bigger problems in the world than giving up hobbies and friends.
- Finally, make sure your child is all right. Remind them that they can talk to you at any time.
2. Make a daily schedule and follow routines.
Routines help younger children to calm down, but they also help structure the day for older children. Your daily schedule can be an hour-by-hour plan or only roughly planned. The most important thing is simply that during the day there is some plan to follow through.
- Involve children as much as possible in everyday tasks. They learn responsibility when given it. For example, for a 4-year-old, you can say, “I have a really important 5-year-old’s task that needs to be done and I’m giving it to you because I trust you.”
- You must decide and create boundaries. Sometimes, of course, it’s also good to give children a few options, so that they can practice making their own decisions as well.
- Inform your children of things in advance. For young children, this is particularly important. Do it even with the most mundane everyday routines. For example, tell your children that they still have 15 minutes of playtime before dinner. Tell them again when they have 10 minutes left and so on. A bell or a fun sound alarm can be also used to tell them about the remaining time. This way the kids have time to prepare and it’s easier for them to handle feelings of disappointment when they have to stop playing.
3. Talk about emotions.
Talking with your child about their emotions is key to child development and improving your child’s mental health.
- Don’t be afraid of a crying or raging child. Let them storm safely, tell them why they feel bad at that very moment, and stay calm. Small children don’t know how to name their feelings and may sometimes even get scared of their own reactions. It is also important to make the child realize that the parents are not afraid of his or her feelings.
- Your best tool is your own voice. When you speak to a child by lowering your voice, calmly, and at a slow pace, you usually get the child’s attention better than by raising your voice. Be confident, don’t talk hesitantly or conditionally. Crouch down to the child’s level, look them into the eyes and touch them as you speak. Children respond to touch and focus more closely on listening to what the parent has to say. You can calmly justify your thoughts and tell them about causes and effects.
- You are not a bad parent, even if you get angry and frustrated at times.
- Admit your mistakes. Realizing that parents are just people and do foolish stuff at times can even be comforting to a child. Tell them how you’re feeling and tell why you lost your temper or acted a little funny. You can’t expect your children to apologize or explain their emotions, if you don’t show an example and do it first.
4. Take care of your relationship with your partner.
It’s entirely normal to get so absorbed in your kids’ lives that you forget to take time for your romantic relationship. This can later lead to resentment or fall-outs – it’s therefore crucial to regularly set aside time for your partner.
- Help each other. Take turns with kids so that the other can relax for awhile.
- Do things together. It is often said that it’s good for both partners to have their own hobbies, but doing things together is also important. Try to do something together for at least one hour a day. Take advantage of when the kids are asleep.
- Settle disagreements after the children have gone to bed. This way you will hopefully also avoid shouting when you automatically keep your voice lowered.
- When the relationship between the parents is warm and respectful, children also feel safe.
- Not everyone has a partner or supporting people to help with children. Raising children is hard work, both mentally and physically. So all the credit to those amazing people who are raising their children alone. You are heroes!
5. Praise and pay attention to your children.
Parenting children with positive actions like praise and paying them attention are incredibly important. Positive feedback is likelier to result in less emotional issues later on (like anger management) and allows your kids to become more in tune with their emotions.
- Kids should be hugged, kissed, tickled and handled. Keep them close. Even in the middle of doing chores, you can grab your child into your arms for a few seconds, hug them, and, for example, tell them how they slept in your arms when they were a baby. Closeness and touch are good ways to calm down restless children. Many children try to get attention from their parents with negative behavior. For example, a child may tease their sibling or behave more defiant than usual if they feel they’re not getting the attention they need from their parents. Paying attending to your kids can help avoid this behavior.
- Praise your kids. You can even try to correct your children’s behavior in a positive way so that they don’t even notice that you’re correcting them.
- “You did an awesome job collecting all the toys from the floor. Even the ones you threw under the bed! Good job!”
- “So nice of you to give your sister her doll back.”
- “Wow how fast you got the shoe on! Let’s see if the other one goes on even faster! “
- Avoid using negative language like “no” as much as possible. Children grow by reflecting themselves based on other people’s reactions. What am I like? How do others see me? If a defiant and restless child repeatedly hears only the word “no” and sees the parent’s frustration, their self-esteem will not be able to grow and they will therefore not be able to change their own behavior. You can and should still use the word “no” sometimes. Just remember to consider other options too.
Finally, I would like to remind you that there is no such thing as a perfect parent. It is ok to get mad at your kids and tell them to hurry up. You are not ruining their childhood, not even if you are yelling at them for leaving an awful mess behind. No one will judge if you decide to eat ready-made meals or skip the weekly cleaning. British pediatrician and psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott’s concept of “good-enough mother” is often understood that the parent doesn’t have to be perfect and less is enough. It is not meant as a consolation. It means that good enough is the best. We parents tend to screw up a lot of things when it comes to raising our children, but in the end the most important thing we can offer our kids is love.