Parental support during the COVID-19 pandemic
By: Aifric Houlihan
Updated: 08 April 2020
As we embark on the third week of our strange new way of being, things may be starting to become more stressful and difficult as the novelty of staying at home begins to wear off and our new reality sets in. The most recent public health recommendations and Government restrictions put in place have transformed all of our lives and have changed the way in which we function in day to day life. Practically speaking, our usual routines and way of living have had to face some major upheaval. This in turn has a knock-on effect to our stress levels and mental wellbeing.
Being a parent brings its inevitable challenges at all times, however, during a crisis such as this, brings new and unprecedented challenges. Parents now have to face challenges such as working from home/loss of income, home schooling, loss of childcare support, isolation from others and managing anxiety in the home. Single parents and parents in a couple alike will have to learn to adapt to cope with these new challenges.
There are some useful links below in relation to how best support your children. However, this article is primarily in relation to support for parents during this time.
Talking to your children/managing their anxiety as well as your own
There is a lot of anxiety around what is going on – even if you are not talking to your children directly about what is happening it is likely that they will have picked up on the seriousness of the situation. You might feel like you are protecting them by not acknowledging the gravity of the crisis. But it is likely that many children will feel anxious about the current situation. They will be missing their grandparents and friends, worrying about passing the illness on to family members, worried they might get sick themselves. It is important to talk to your child about their worries or concerns. Give them the space and time to voice them. It can then be helpful to acknowledge their concerns, acknowledge if you are feeling them also, but follow up with a way that you are being proactive in doing something about it. An example might be that they are worried their grandparents might get sick. It can be helpful to say that this is a natural concern to have, but that you are all adhering to the social distancing rules and staying away from them for this period of time so that they will be safer. Remind them that they are already doing everything right so grandparents are not at risk.
By giving your children the space to talk about their anxieties it will mean that communication will be open between you and they will know that it is ok to share their concerns with you.
There will be times when tensions are high and stress levels may cause you to snap at your loved ones, we are all human. If you do find you are losing your patience with your children, apologise and explain that you are stressed. Children will tend to think something is their fault so reassure them it is not their fault and it is the situation that you are finding frustrating.
Keeping the children occupied
A massive aspect of the new restrictions is how to fill the days and care for the children while working from home, essentially trying to do two jobs at once. If your household has two parents who are trying to work from home, it could be helpful to take it in turns where possible, so that one parent can be trying to work while the other watches the children. It is important to communicate to the children which parent is “on” and when. If the other parent can go to a separate room and close the door then the children will hopefully know not to disturb.
Try to remember that you don’t have to get the home schooling perfect – do the best you can in this situation. The usual rules don’t apply in these circumstances so if you’re finding it hard to implement old rules such as less screen time, maybe look at the rules which you are willing to bend in order to make life a bit easier for everyone.
Be creative – challenge the children to come up with inventive new ways of playing within the home. Ask them to think of ways you can bring your favourite outings to the home. For example, a trip to the home “cinema” and pizza making in the kitchen. With Easter coming up an Easter egg hunt is something that can be done in the home/garden.
A really easy and quick way to de-stress and regroup is to be mindful in the moment throughout the day. Meditation is great but not everyone has time to commit to practice every day and for some the thought of meditating is like another chore as opposed to being relaxing. Instead, try to take 3 mindful moments throughout your day – they don’t have to be time consuming or extravagant. For example, it could be a cup of tea, lighting a candle or standing in the garden for a couple of minutes and noticing what you see, hear and smell around you. They can also be things that you are grateful for throughout the day such as a hearing your child’s laughter. Writing your 3 mindful moments down at the end of the day is a great way to train your brain to be more mindful and present throughout your day. It can also be nice to look back on your mindful moments from throughout the week to remind you of the things you are grateful for. The beauty of the 3 mindful moments in your day is that even at a time where we are stuck in our homes and somewhat restricted, there are endless possibilities eg. having a warm shower, washing a cup, stretching etc.
Take stock of the time you are getting to enjoy with your children. Appreciate the small moments of play and laughter when you can. Try to think of the opportunities that being in the home can offer as opposed to the restrictions that have been imposed such as seeing them have fun.
When the children go to bed try to use that time to unwind and relax yourself by doing things you enjoy for a period of time. Where possible try to get an early night as sleep is so important to our wellbeing.
While it is important to keep informed about the Covid-19 situation, allocate yourself time to do this. Maybe choose the 6pm or 9pm news to watch once a day if you find you are becoming overwhelmed by it. Similarly, it might not be helpful to have a constant stream of Covid-19 news on all day when children are around the house.
If social media is not helping, then limit social media. If social media is something you enjoy to keep in contact with your loved ones and it doesn’t effect your mental health negatively, then use it as you see fit.
Be “good enough”
Remember that even if it might feel like it, you are not alone. Nobody is perfect and we are all just trying to do our best. There is no perfect way to do this. Be kind to yourself and others. Although we do not know how long life will be like this, we do know this is not forever. Try not to predict or look into the future so much. Take each day as it comes. Had a bad day? Get an early night and start again tomorrow.
It is important to remember you do not have to use this time to take on more than you can chew. It’s true that for some it is an opportunity to use spare time to learn a new language, start a new hobby etc, for others it is just about keeping the show on the road. You don’t need to add more “shoulds” to your day. Do what you can and try not to feel guilty about all the things you could or “should” be doing. Know your own limits and go easy on yourself. Remember that being the ‘good enough’ parent is being the best parent. No parent is perfect, nor should they be.
The above is some general support for parents during these challenging times. If you feel you would like to speak to someone one to one for additional support, MyMind’s Counsellors and Psychotherapists are available to do online sessions and this can be booked either by visiting the website www.mymind.org, by telephoning 076 680 1060 or emailing email@example.com.
By Aifric Houlihan, Psychotherapist.
Further resources for supporting children:
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