It’s hard to believe that we have been on a ‘corona-coaster’ now for almost a year. As a mother of two young girls, aged 8 and 3 years old, the past year has been challenging to say the least, and as a parent, all you want is to make sure your little ones are doing okay whatever the situation.
There is no guidebook on ‘how to parent during a pandemic’ (or if there is, let me know where I can get it!), and as every family and their circumstances are different, what works well for some, may not work so well for others, and what works well today may not work tomorrow! But hey, that’s parenting, right?
For the most part, my 3-year-old is relatively unaware of COVID-19, although in recent weeks, ‘corona’ has become part of her vocabulary and I am now being asked questions like ‘Is coronavirus good’ and ‘is coronavirus our friend?’.
Children are so resilient and accepting (at times) of what has become the new reality; having some really cool pink face masks with unicorns on them has helped!
For my eldest, the pandemic is a different story. She is acutely aware of what is going on. She regularly tells me how ‘Covid ruins everything’ when we are talking about what we can and cannot do until COVID-19 goes away. Her world has changed so much, and her age group have been dealing with lots of loss and disappointment.
I think we all accept at this stage that there is no ‘one size fits all’ in this scenario and thank goodness for that! Some of the most supportive take home messages for any of us who are trying to survive parenting in a pandemic, and let’s be honest, surviving this is where most of us are at right now, is to find something that works for you and your family, to take each day at a time and to give up on the social comparisons with others.
There are some things that have really helped us with parenting during this pandemic.
- Self-care is vital. As a parent you are carrying a huge amount on your plate and there is a mammoth level of juggling required, even for the most organised, motivated, and productive of us. Most of our supports and resources have been taken away at this time due to limiting contacts so now more than ever, self-care needs to be a priority. As parents, we are the biggest resource our families have right now, and if you constantly put the needs of others ahead of your own, this will take its toll. Self-care isn’t selfish, it is self-preservation, and it will invariably help you cope better. It is an old saying but it is so true, you cannot fill an empty bucket from a dry well. We need to proactively make it a habit and therefore it takes thought, planning, and needs to be prioritised. Ask yourself what nourishes you, what you need, what you enjoy and what is accessible to you right now. Think about your mind and your body. Some areas you might like to focus on could include rest, movement, nutrition, hobbies, connecting with others, your physical environment, what gives you energy and what drains it. Your selfcare is unique to you. Try and integrate moments of selfcare throughout your day. As a parent, your child will pick up on how you deal with stress, worries and how you cope. This is a great opportunity to build in some healthy coping mechanisms as a family such as relaxation, meditation or simply listening to an audiobook together. Being in the same environment 24/7 can mean our tolerance levels for things might be a little lower than usual. Creating opportunities to destress or simply creating peaceful moments can be very helpful for everyone.
- Routine and activities can be a lifesaver. All families are different, but for us, the days that are filled with too much screen time just do not go well for the girls! My children are at very different stages, which can be challenging at times when they are spending so much time together; and as with most siblings, some days they get along and some days they just don’t. Having a combination of planned activities and free playtime during the day, some together and some apart, and then getting outside to burn off all that pent up energy really helps! If you can plan activities ahead for different stages during your day, it helps with routine and structure for them and for you. You might even get 10 minutes to savour that much needed cup of coffee! Check out our Family Toolkit Planner.
- Sleep and a good bedtime routine. This is an area that we try to keep consistent regardless of lockdown, school nights or weekends. Getting good quality sleep is essential, and over the last decade there has been a huge amount of research published on the importance of sleep. As a parent, you will be very aware of how tiredness in children can impact on their emotions, behaviour, and their thinking. There is nothing more powerful that will deplete our emotional and physical resources than lack of sleep. I need at least 7-8 hours’ sleep; I am no martyr when it comes to this and I definitely don’t subscribe to the ‘I can survive on 4 hours sleep’ brigade. Sometimes it means just giving Netflix a miss and get those zzz’s. Your mood, your body, your brain, and your family will reap the rewards of this too! Listen to Mental Health Ireland’s podcast episode on Sleep with Dr Matthew Sadlier.
- Many hands make light work. I was delighted to see ‘now is a good time for your child to take on a household task’ included in the home-schooling list of activities. Depending on their age, getting children involved in household chores not only helps you but gives them a sense of responsibility and achievement in their day too. Both my girls love getting a gold star for doing little jobs like tidying their toys away or setting the table. We all need opportunities to achieve different things, and at the moment, a lot of that opportunity is not available to us. Setting manageable, age-appropriate tasks also gives children the opportunity to feel they are contributing to family life.
- Conversations about the pandemic. It is inevitable that you will get some questions from your children about the pandemic and end up having conversation about coronavirus. There are lots of resources available that can support you as a parent in discussing this, taking into consideration the age of your child and the level of information you feel they can process. Given that it has been just over a year since we became aware of Covid-19, your child may have more questions now or may revisit some things you had discussed previously. My eldest had just turned 7 when we first started discussing COVID-19 and during lockdown 1.0, she shared that she had decided she did not want to hear anything about it on the TV or the radio. We made the decision that as a family that there was nothing we could control about the outside world during the first lockdown, so there was no use on focusing on that. What we could control was adhering to the restrictions and our day-to-day, so I let go of the need for regular news updates, which helped me too! Lockdown 3.0 has raised more questions for her and as an 8-year-old, she is thinking more broadly about the pandemic and the world in general. There is a lovely resource that was developed in the UK and this has been helpful for us in talking about coronavirus. Read it here.
These are just some of the things that are helping our family through the pandemic. Every day is a new challenge and a new opportunity to find something that works for you and your family. Be gentle with yourself,
Written by Nicola Morley, Development Officer with Mental Health Ireland