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Juggling work demands while overseeing the learning programs of children during school closure and lockdown measures can be a challenge. Clinical psychologist Andrew Fuller provides some helpful advice.
Keeping calm during COVID-19 might not always be easy for parents as they juggle altered work-, family- and school-life routines.
Some may feel pressure and anxiety that comes from being in isolation and not having direct face-to-face support from their network. Couple this with the prospect of children spending time on smart devices, declaring ’I am so bored’ and ‘there is nothing to do here’ quite rightly strikes terror into most parents.
Here are some practical strategies and tips I offer to parents who may find themselves in this challenging situation.
The Big 3: Andrew Fuller offers his ‘Big 3’ tips to parents
Cabin-fever, locked-in syndrome and social isolation are no help to anyone. Connection beats disconnection hands-down. Even if we are not interacting in the room with people as much, it is still important to maintain connection with others in the world and deepen our links within our families. Use digital technologies to keep in regular touch with family and friends.
You are supporting remote-learning
Flip the notion that you are home-schooling. You are a parent, not a teacher.
Your children need you in your usual supportive role. Now is not the time to give pep talks about hard work, structured study times or critiquing their efforts.
Less is more
This is an opportunity to strongly connect with your children and let them have no uncertainty that you believe in them.
There are several key messages you should consistently tell your children.
- You are safe;
- The world will go on; and
- I love and believe in you.
The basic sense that you want to give them is, ‘I have no idea exactly what you will end up doing with your life but I know you are smart and you are wonderful and you will make a great contribution in the world’.
Leave the discovery of their path to them. Choice empowers children.
Listen and support
The role of parents and adults in listening and talking to young people through this time is crucial.
As the situation progresses the types of challenges we face will change as will the general reaction of most people. Fears of death are common at the best of times in middle childhood and are added to by the sometimes, morbid thoughts of teenagers. These are not the best of times.
This may bring an over-estimation of the likelihood of fatality in either themselves or other family members resulting in clinginess, checking on everyone’s whereabouts or frantic distraction. Some others may become reckless as if being ‘death-defying’ will prove to themselves that they are stronger than this threat.
A few young people will be able to express their fears directly and be able to have conversations where risks can be appraised.
Awareness of feelings will vary. Some will acutely sense fear and may experience disturbed sleep. Other will be ‘out of sorts’ and grumpy with little understanding that their feelings relate to changed circumstances.
Find a safe place for yourself
Spending increased amounts of time together as a family can cause conflict.
You may need to find a safe place for yourself at times where you can re-collect yourself. Sitting in your car, alone, might be such a place.
Try to keep family routines as stable as possible. If you are spending more time with one another attempt to give family members as much space as they need. You may even consider develop a signal that indicates to others that you need some alone time.
This is not the time to overly restrict screen -time. Young people use devices to socialise and learn, and gaming is a good source of connection with others and also distraction (provided it does not become compulsive).
Andrew Fuller is a clinical psychologist and author, who has worked with schools and education authorities globally and specialises in the wellbeing of young people and their families. He is a Fellow of the Department of Psychiatry and the Department of Learning and Educational Development at the University of Melbourne.
Andrew’s Learning Strengths website provides insights on children’s learning strengths and how to support their learning.
His new book ‘Tricky Behaviours: Managing challenging and confronting children while staying sane!’ is available in September – view the teaser, ‘A pledge to my child’