New Delhi: Last year through the country-wide lockdown showed us what disruptions are all about. This second wave that engulfs our country and subsequently forcing many States into lockdown is indicative of how volatile our days have been and will continue to be, and the importance of taking the challenges, one day at a time.
As homes turn into WFH office spaces, as bedrooms become make-shift classrooms, as devices are shared and used to communicate, learn and work, parenting in Covid-19 times requires a different mindset. I have been saying this from the first lockdown in March 2020, that Pre pandemic efforts were blessed with an ability to shift some responsibility to the school, the classes that children enrolled themselves in, playdates organised. It is essential to have some 'personal space' be it for the children or the adults, but in the lockdown world, the 'chain' does not really break and the circle is a continuous series of days that at times may lead to frustration for both the adults and the children caught in that 'bubble'.
The summer months in this country, do nothing to 'calm' nerves either, and as one waits for the cool monsoon months, and things to normalise, the reality of the times is that 'normalisation' is still a distance away in this marathon called Covid. Therefore, it is important to put all of this in perspective, if we have to approach the next 15-18 months with a sense of purpose and make these months count more than ever.
Acceptance that these times are different and difficult will be a good starting point for parents. Approach it like a 'forced' adventure, one that can you in fact control. The priority must be wellness and wellbeing, and attention paid to what you are feeling, and compassion for what your children are experiencing. As adults, our conditioning over a period of time, allows us to 'manage' emotions, unfortunately, which children as 'work-ineprogress' cannot do, and therefore they need direction and role modelling, tons of patience, and lots of unconditional love.
It sounds easy to pen this down on paper, well, truth to be told, it is not. This navigation is maneuvering a ship through stormy waters, and while there will be calm that eventually happens, the timing is something that remains beyond control; hence it is important to create short-term and long-term goals to keep that ship afloat.
Make Weekday Goals
Every educator has been emphasizing the need to create some sort of routine for your children. Children thrive when given freedom, but remember, they need to structure that in a way that allows them some purpose as well. Over the years, as a mother and an educator, I find that children feel 'comforted' when given freedom, but also a direction, a path, and some goals to achieve. It allows them to think and plan and gives them a sense of ownership and responsibility. These could be the fun exercises you lead every Sunday with them after watching their favourite serial. It is important that the environment is relaxed and not rushed, and Sunday works best devoid of work tasks (please keep them away), and their school routines.
Think of this as a 'contract' between your child and you and defining the 'week's goal' will help both parties to have clarity and reduce the disappointments that usually arise when a parent 'expects' something, and the child has totally missed the point because she/he was not paying attention and does something completely different. This routine would include negotiations on screen time, play time, study time, reading time, eating time, exercise time, bath time, tidying up time, tv time, etc. I use the word negotiation because this cannot be a one-way street with you dictating what time they should eat, sleep, etc. It involves a dialog and the rationale and explaining your points of you to get their buy-in and being open-minded to their suggestions. As adults, you can navigate this conversation to what you would eventually like it to be, but involving children in a discussion makes them 'listen' and also 'locks' them in.
The 3 strike rule
Have clear consequences for when the routine is compromised. I do not mean that for half an hour of extra playtime means they are denied their favourite meal. What I mean is that for resistance to give up screen time for extended periods, there must be '3 strikes' after which the child automatically accepts that there will be consequences for 'pushing' the deadline cut-off. The importance of being consistent is also a clear sign for the children and must be adhered to. Often parents give in, and this then becomes a battleground when the parents do not want to bend the rules. This approach leads to fewer confrontations, and tears because once the child has consented to something, he/she is aware that there will be consequences and yes, expect some resistance and pleading and sometimes mood swings, but children get over this very quickly when they realise their parents mean business! This is the same moment to get over compared to when there are no rules.
What works in your own family setting
Set your own expectations as a family. I cannot emphasize this. While I am a huge advocator for using social media sensibly, at times I realise parents start to use these comparisons. For that matter even on social chats when parents share notes with each other about their children e what works for your family is unique to your household circumstances and do not make the mistake of thinking it can be modelled along the lines of what someone else is managing. This is a huge trigger point for conflicts in homes, and best to always be appreciative of what others manage, but as a family, you have to set your own goals.
Laughter and plain old 'monkeying' around is very important if you have to keep the mood light and lively. This also works wonders for acceptance levels when parents have to set deadlines. A happy, joyful atmosphere is important especially with the kind of overwhelmingly sad news that is reported every day. Your job as a parent is to keep your children safe, and happy and also to keep their morale up. They do not need to know all the facts of the world, as this leads to anxiety which is another trigger point for tantrums as children also get worried and are unable to always express this through words.
Spot signs and address them quickly
Knowing the pulse of your children and what works and what does not must be your biggest driving force. Leave the academic goals aside for a moment, know what makes your child happy, what is confusing your child, what is tiring your child, what is difficult for your child and accepting that, you will be able to reach out to different professionals e be it your child's teacher in a school or a therapist for intervention. When you are not able to manage the emotions as a family, and the sooner you get professional help, the safer it is for your relationship. This could be a behavioural change or an academic dip, or even an emotional indifference, it is very important to spot the signs and address them quickly.
Find some me time
Ensure that the time you spend with your child involves quality interactions, and also some time for the child to manage independently explaining you have household chores or work tasks or need to connect with the family of friends socially (this is important for them to know so that they also put a price on these relationships). This 'distancing' is also healthy, as lockdown times demand every minute of your energy, and as an adult, it is unrealistic to believe you can sustain like a superhuman with the same tenacity. Distancing therefore allows for personal time, which is just the oxygen that your relationship needs. What it also does is that after your personal 'quotient' is in a happy place, allow you to give your child all the attention, energy which is the memory they must be left with. Not a parent who is drained with work tasks, and emotional about a friend not well who is leaning on them for support. This passes over to the child who will no doubt exhibit this behaviour in time as a response to something you may suggest as a way of 'acting' out. As they say, get the oxygen mask on yourself before you even begin to help those around you!
These are some basic reminders to get you through the months ahead. Remember, no parent has a complete fix on this, and no child is perfectly going to follow all rules and all one can do as a family is making this relationship about communication, mistakes, corrections with some funny and happy memories.
By Fatema Agarkar, Educationist and Founder of ACE
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