If you're a parent like me, then we would probably share some similar experiences when it comes to parenting. I feel blessed to have a supporting wife and wonderful kids. For me, our children are one of the most valuable assets we have. And I'm sure your children are the same for you. In my children, I see infinite potential. They constantly remind me of what's possible. They keep me young. They keep me healthy. They keep me grounded. Of course, it has not always been plain sailing. We have our moments, the 'bumps-along-the-way' as it were; the tantrums and the meltdowns (both child and parent!). But it was nothing that we could not get over with and move on. Until...well...you guessed it...the emergence of #COVID19 leading to schools around the world loosing their physical presence. The moment when schooling went virtual and the home takes on an added role; that of a classroom.
When we talk about anything 'disruptive', schools shutting down has got to go down as one of the most unexpected 'disruptive innovations' and defining moments in modern day education. Not only has it forced a rapid, knee-jerk reaction to distance learning, with Zoom classes and independent learning, it has, more profoundly, tasked parents in becoming even more involved than ever before in their child's education.
“Events over the past few weeks have, if anything, asked us to radically assess our relationship with our children.”
For many, it has come as a shock to the system, not the least as a massive disruption to the daily routine of millions of families across the globe. As if the balancing act of work / life was not precarious enough, distance learning, in the manner upon which the gauntlet was put down, has completely set the finely balanced work / family life orbit off-course. Its effects can be seen across the globe with working parents playing 'stay-home' tag team as well as having an impact on the arrangements for children whose parents are divorced or separated.
It is understandable that the build up of anxiety and stress of the uncertainties of #COVID19, with the added pressure of managing a 'new normal' for the family can lead to a vicious circle of added stress and anxiety, ultimately leading to strained relationships between parent and child.
The following might be considered as a series of 6 key pointers in overcoming the challenges parents face with the hope of leading to a more peaceful relationship between parent and child.
#1 Talk It Out
Talking is important. In any traumatic experience or tragedy, talking it out with children can be the most single valuable component to creating a peaceful relationship with your child. No doubt it may be uncomfortable, hence as a parent, you may want to initially assess whether you are ready to start the conversation. The simple things which may have been taken for granted like going to school and meeting their friends, going out to the park in the afternoons, or even going out to get some ice cream may not be possible in the short to medium term. In fact it could not have been predicted that only a few weeks ago, these simple acts were possibly part and parcel of our daily routine. We would never have been able to imagine that they can actually have a profound impact to the way we operate. As parents, we currently may not have the answers to simple questions like 'When can we go out for ice cream again?'. The fact is, it's OK not to have answers at this stage. What's more important is to allow a healthy conversation to develop and potential solutions to be created collectively. However, for the most part, we should be allowing the child to talk, for us to do the listening and provide support. Talking it out is profound because...
It allows for valuable feedback from the child with respect to what they see, hear and feel. They may not understand or comprehend what is going on, which may leave them feeling alone or misunderstood. This allows us as parents to understand how they feel and how we can aid them if necessary.
It also allows comfort and hope in being able to freely express their thoughts and feelings, and being heard. This allows us as parents to support the child and creating stronger bonds as both parties are able to work together and share experiences.
Tips to Talking It Out :
Allow your best focus and attention to prevail throughout the conversations.
Remove things that may distract or interrupt your engagement with your child (e.g. mobile phones, emails, phone calls etc.). Devoting your undivided attention to the conversation will go a long way in strengthening the relationship.
Start with small questions like 'You may have seen some changes happening lately. Do you have any questions about it?'.
#2 Try Something New
Although physical distancing may reduce our face-to-face contact, our social contentedness will be more amplified than ever. The internet's role as 'the' hang out forum to meet, learn and share experiences is more relevant than ever. More creative innovations and solutions in addressing the 'new normal' will mean that learning something new online will be easier, with a multitude of choices. Art tutorials, science projects, cooking classes, podcasts, learn to write, play some games, even create a new games; you name it, the internet has it. The difference being is that now, we will see ever more creative and simpler ways to learn something new online because of the specific attention devoted to everything online. This is a great opportunity to leverage the abundance of new things to strengthen the relationship with your child. In summary:
Leverage free and inexpensive ways to learn and play online together with your child
Physical distancing may happen but we can be Socially Connected online
Use the freed up time to try something New as a family. Examples include creating a new piece of family art, or cook / bake something, or even a simple picnic in the balcony / garden together.
#3 Let Them Lead
It is said that leaders are born in times of adversity. Challenging times can be seen as times for growth. They are character defining moments. Due to the 'abnormality' of the situation, it allows one to re-assess themselves and more importantly to step up. On this premise, it may also be a good time to allow the child to lead, if they haven't already. During times of quarantine, you may find that there will be more time freed up from your normal routine which now can be devoted to the family. This is a good opportunity to let the child lead in suggesting certain activities which they may want to do, for example creative activities like artwork, reading or making new things. This is a perfect time to allow them to lead the process as our role would be to encourage and support them. In doing this, we allow trust, ownership and responsibility among other things, to develop between the parent and child by allowing them to lead tasks and activities. This can lead to happier, safer and a more relaxed atmosphere. Key pointers include:
Encourage them to come up with fun things that you can do together
Support their interests through guidance and being creative
Most importantly, remember that it should be Fun!
#4 Retain the Routine
With a 'new normal' coming into play, it will be easy for the old routine will be pretty much turned on its head. Developing and maintaining a routine for the child helps in so many ways in developing their level of ownership, accountability and independence. Now there are many schools of thoughts regarding this but in my opinion, a routine is best to provide (my children at least!) some level of independent stewardship in their lives. Maintaining a routine will keep a degree of consistency in daily things like meal times, bedtime schedule, learning as well as play time. The routine should not only be for the child but worked together with the parents' work routine. This will mean that as a family, you may now have the opportunity to take advantage of the simple things like mealtime or playtime together, which may have been missed before due to your work schedules. In essence, the key pointers can be summarized as follows:
Work together a joint daily routine for everyone (including the parent!)
Display the schedule so it is clear for everyone. This gives a level of accountability for everyone
Consistency is the key. Try as much as you can to adhere to the agreed tasks and timings. This gives a sense of trust among each other.
Make it Fun and interactive! Ticking off tasks will also give a level of ownership for everyone involved.
#5 Take Time Outs
As much as it is important to maintain a healthy well being for your child, your own health and well being is vital, if not more, important. You're probably well aware of the emergency drill where a flight cabin looses pressure and oxygen masks are released; we are always asked to secure the mask on us first before helping others. The same is true when it comes to our health and well being. We can't possibly be effective physically and emotionally for others when we ourselves are 'tapped out'. Physical and mental exhaustion can lead to deterioration in communication, anxiety and stress in the parent / child relationship. Compounded by quarantine scenarios, things can get heated quite quickly! Some key pointers to identify and overcome this include:
Quickly identify when your (or the child's) energy levels are low. Sometimes it may just be that some fuel is needed. (There's some truth in the term 'hangry'!)
Allow yourself to be excused from the situation. At times, removing oneself physically from the situation can help.
Bring your attention back to the present and not locked in on the past or the future.(e.g. if there was something which your child had done which upset you, or which you think may have grave consequences down the line). In both cases, you have no control over them. What you do have control over is to be present.
If you have a partner, work together to help each other. Allow your partner to Take Time Out or vice versa while the other take the baton.
#6 Have Fun!
At the end of the day, let the time that we have with our children be memorable for all the right reasons. Seek out joy in the time that we spend with them. I'm not saying we won't face tough times. All I'm saying is that in spite of the challenges, sometimes it's in the small things which we encounter daily with our children that add up to make our time with them memorable. The smile. The giggles. The laughter. The questions. The small notes. The drawings. They are the small moments that all add up. At the end of the day, don't forget to have fun! To recap...
Acknowledge the small moments
Feel the Gratitude for having the opportunity to being able to be present and acknowledge the moments
Enjoy them and Have Fun!
It is understandable that even as this article is being written, things are still evolving on a daily basis. As such, taking things on a day-by-day basis is possibly one of the better ways to approach these uncertain times. Some days will be better than others. But what will move us forward is the knowledge that we all have the potential to come out of this with a stronger and healthier relationship with our children.
I hope that you have found this helpful. Please share it with someone who you think may find it beneficial. Let's support each other during these challenging times. My sincere gratitude and love to you. #StaySafe and #StayHealthy. Kamil.