It seems that the precious peace and quiet never lasts more than a minute. Parenting is hard at the best of times, let alone, having to cope with the turmoil of a global pandemic whilst juggling your work. Perhaps you’ve had to apologise to your colleagues on Zoom for the screeching in the background, or maybe your productivity has gone out the window because you’ve been busy breaking up fights between siblings. As you continue to work from home as a parent, there will undoubtedly be moments where you feel like pulling your hair out and saying that things are difficult right now is an enormous understatement. We’d like to offer you some parenting strategies and tips to help you restore some semblance of order at home, which has now become your new workplace.
Establishing structures and routine for home
With the chaos and disruption that COVID-19 has unleashed upon the world, maintaining order within your home is even more important right now. Having established rules and boundaries at home lets children know their responsibilities and what can be expected of each member in the household.
One way to establish structure may be designating spaces to specific activities, such as an area for rough-n-tumble play that is far, far away from your workstation or an adult-only space that you can use as a temporary refuge to escape from the Peppa Pig theme song.
Another tip is to sit down with your child and collaboratively write up a schedule or timetable that details everyone’s activities and responsibilities for the day. Make sure you put this timetable up in a conspicuous place like the fridge or above the telly. This may help to reduce the ambiguity around what everyone should be doing throughout the day. It is a good idea to hold a family meeting to involve everyone when setting up these structures for the house. That way, you can refer back to the rules as something that was agreed upon by the whole family to encourage the commitment to respecting these rules.
Noticing and rewarding the good behaviours
As human beings, our natural tendency is to put our energy into fixing the problem, which makes a lot of sense because, sadly, our problems rarely fix themselves! However, in the context of parenting, this can be problematic if all we are focusing on is our children’s problems and never their strengths.
Parents often neglect to notice or pay attention to children when they are behaving beautifully because the time and energy of parents are constantly stretched. Yet, developmental psychology tells us that parental attention is a powerful reward as children have an inherent desire to bond and form attachments with their parents. If the only times that parents are available are when children are screaming at the top of their lungs or wrestling their sibling for a turn on the Xbox, then these behaviours will become reinforced over time. Therefore, it is important to take the time to appreciate children when they are on their best behaviours!
As you spend more time at home with your kids during this pandemic, take notice of the good behaviours that are easy to miss – like when your child waits patiently without complaints or clean up after themselves – and reward them with praise, attention, affection and approval. Getting into the habit of rewarding your child not only encourages more positive behaviours but also enhances the quality of your relationship, which might indirectly decrease the occurrence of negative behaviours. Think about what kind of behaviours you would like to see more of in your child so you don’t miss it when they happen. Ultimately, the key is to make sure that you pay more attention to the things you love about your child than the times they give you a couple of new grey hairs.
Be patient and compassionate
At this point, you are probably sick of reading the sentence ‘we are living in a strange and unprecedented time’. But as cliché as it sounds, it is nonetheless very true. Just as we are struggling to adjust to the dramatic changes to our everyday life, so are our children who have had to live through a very disruptive school year. 2020 has been an extremely stressful year for both adults and children so a little patience and compassion would go a long way for all of us.
We need to understand that children’s behavioural difficulties may be a reflection of the anxiety about the current state of the world. As such, we need to listen to children and help them make sense of their uncertainty. Practice empathy and put yourself in their shoes – what does the world look like to a young mind right now? Rather than immediately admonishing your child for every misdeed, take the time to unpack what the function of their misbehaviour may represent and what they are trying to communicate with their actions.
Don’t forget yourself
Lastly, save a little bit of that patience and compassion for yourself too. You don’t need anyone to tell you that raising a child is tough work! Being a parent doesn’t come with an instruction manual. And in times like these, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’re not good enough or are never doing enough. These feelings of inadequacy can often guilt parents into putting the needs of others above their own. Ironically, parents often forget to be kind to themselves despite being the ones who takes care of everybody else. But you can’t expect yourself to care for others when you’re burnt-out! Make sure you schedule in time to yourself in your calendar. You’re less likely to skip self-care if it’s pencilled down in your schedule. Give yourself a pat on the back for hanging on during a global crisis and recognise that you are doing your best. Thank you for taking on a thankless job!