This article provides a guide for parents supporting their children (and themselves) throughout the period of school closure.
Parenting is not easy. Although it is a privilege and often a joy to watch your children grow into an independent young adult … it is often also really hard work. It is also too easy to be too hard on yourself and to think you are not doing a good job.
The following advice is for any parent facing homeschooling, within the context and added pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Make sure your child knows that you love them and that you are proud of them. Even when life is busy or stressful, and it feels like you are in survival mode, a word or a hug will provide them with the reassurance that they need.
- Praise your child when they do something well or of value.
- Encourage your child to try new things by setting this example and being that role model. Do not just tell them ... show them.
- As the parent, be honest about your own feelings - you do not have to be perfect. We all get things wrong and shout or say unkind things from time to time. If this happens, say sorry to your child afterwards and explain why it happened. They will learn from you that it is OK to make mistakes.
- Be clear about what is and what is not acceptable - and tell them why. Children need to know what is right and what is not, and what will happen if they cross the line. Follow through on what you say as otherwise they may get confused or stop respecting the boundaries.
- You are the parent, so you will sometimes need to make the tough decisions. If your child sees that you always give in to them, it can make them feel very powerful, which can be frightening. Children need to know that you are there to keep them safe.
Talking with Your Child
- Any worrying or difficult behaviour might be short-lived, so give it some time first. All children go through stages of feeling anxious or angry and they can show this in lots of ways, for example, tantrums, crying, sleeping problems or fighting with friends or siblings. They might be adapting to a change in their school life, or friendships, or just trying out new emotions, and will generally grow out of worrying behaviour on their own or with family support.
- Talk to your child every day. Even very young children can understand their feelings and behaviour if you give them a chance to talk about it. Take it gently and give them examples of what you mean, for example, ‘When you said you hated Molly, you looked really angry. What was making you so cross?’, or ‘When you can’t get to sleep, is there anything in your mind making you worried? Older children might not want to talk at first. Sending a text can work better if this is the way your child likes to communicate. Let them know you are there if they need you.
- Ask your child what they think would help - they often have good ideas about solving their own problems.
Starting a conversation can be difficult, especially if you are worried that your child is having a hard time. It does not matter what topic the conversation starts with - it's about the opportunity it gives you both to talk about feelings and to provide comfort. Try these conversation starters with your child to see how they are feeling.
- General Conversation Starters How are you feeling? What do you want to talk about? What was the best and worst bit of your day? If you could start today again, what would you do differently? What did you do today that you are most proud of?
- Serious Conversation Starters What was the biggest problem you had today? Do you want to talk about what is going on? How can I support you through [issue]? Is there anything that you need from me? Space, time to talk, time to do something fun...?
- Fun Conversation Starters What is your favourite song at the moment? Would I like it? If you were an animal, which one would you be? If your life was a movie which one would it be? What's your favourite thing about school and why? If an alien had landed in your class today, what would you have been embarrassed for them to see?
You are the leading expert when it comes to your child. You can tell when they are not in the mood to talk, or when they aren't responding to your attempts. Reassure them that if they do not want to talk now, they can talk to you at any time.
You can also follow up conversations with encouragers: I love you; nothing can ever change that. You can talk to me, I am here for you. If you need to talk to someone else, that is okay too. If you talk to me about what is worrying you, I can do my best to help. Even if I do not understand, know that I want to. We are going to get through this together.
If you are concerned about anything that has come up in a conversation, try your best to tell them how you see things and be clear about any actions you are going to take. Try to provide comfort and reassurance.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought sudden changes in all our lives and routines. Spending time doing a positive activity with your child can help reassure them and reduce their anxiety. It is also a great way of providing a space for them to talk through their concerns, without having the "big chat".
Talking to your child about how they are feeling can be hard. By taking 20 minutes with them to do an activity you will both enjoy, you’ll create a relaxed space to start that conversation. Here are lots of fun activity ideas, conversation starters and advice to make talking easier and help you and your child. Here is a list of activity ideas that you can do with your children over half term:
- Get ready, get set… bake. Baking is a great way to have fun together indoors and there are so many bakes to choose from.
- Strictly Dancing. If your child loves to dance, let their feet do the talking. Ask them to pick out their favourite song and dance like you mean it!
- Indoor Picnic We cannot head out to the beach with a picnic blanket at the moment, but we can have one indoors. Layout a blanket put together some of your family's favourite finger food and have a picnic in the comfort of home. Indoors picnics have one simple rule - you can only eat when you are sitting on the picnic blanket!
- Sing-along. Turn on your favourite songs and sing along. Want to make it into a game? Challenge them to sing in the style of their favourite film or TV character.
- Indoor Treasure Hunt. Hide some things (such as toys, messages or even sections of a story) around the house, create some clues and see if your children can guess where they are!
- Tech-free Games. Take a screen break with tech-free games like 20 questions, cat's cradle, marbles, jacks, the floor is lava, skipping and more. There are so many traditional 20-minute games to choose from.
- Build an Indoor Fort. Use blankets, bedsheets, cushions, chairs and fairy lights to create your own cosy little fort. Be warned: it will take several attempts to keep it all up, but so worth it once you are inside. A mug of hot chocolate is a great fort accompaniment.
Looking After Eachother
- If your child is having problems, do not be too hard on yourself or blame yourself. Although it can be upsetting and worrying if your child is having a bad time, and it makes your relationship with them feel more stressful, you are not a bad parent. Children often take it out on those closest to them, so you might be feeling the effect of their very powerful emotions.
- If you had a difficult time growing up yourself, or have had emotional problems or mental health problems, it can be very worrying to think that the same thing might happen to your child. But the love and care you show them and the fact that you are trying to help will protect against this. Getting help for them and perhaps for yourself too can give them the best chance of feeling better.
- If things are getting you down, it is important to recognise this. Talk to someone you trust and see what they think. Many people go on struggling with very difficult situations because they feel they should be able to cope and do not deserve any help.
- Friends and family can often help - do not be afraid to ask them to have your child for a bit if you need some time out to sort out your own stuff. You can repay them when things get better for you.
- It’s easy to say take some time for yourself but in reality, this may not feel possible. You might be too busy, exhausted or hard up for exercise or hobbies. But even a night off-duty, a Netflix boxset or your favourite dinner (and a big glass of wine) can help.
- it is important to try to keep to a good routine. Sticking to similar wake-up times and bedtimes will make going back to school easier.
- If your child has been given homework to complete, then try to help them plan a time they can do it so it isn’t something they worry about, and so they can enjoy their time off.
- Sometimes children can become a little anxious about going back to school. Why not take the opportunity to make plans and talk about things coming up in the next few months that they could look forward to, like a zoom party, a BBQ party in your garden?