19 minutes read

Blogs on parenting during Covid-19

The SFSC team have been producing regular blog posts that have been published in our SFSC Covid 19 newsletter which is going out every other week during the period we are socially distancing. We know from our work with families that the current context is a hard one to parent in and provides many stresses and challenges for all. It is in the light of this that we draw on the SFSC curriculum and the expertise of our team to provide support at this time.

SFSC programme

Children and household tasks

“I am going around in circles picking up after everyone” “no one does anything to help” “it is an impossible task”.  These are a few of the common statements we hear when running parenting programmes when talking about household chores. And certainly parents are talking about this now when everyone is home needing to eat, work, study and play in the same place.

Parents often share that they carry out the majority of the chores at home often because they ‘want things done properly and promptly’. This statement is true to the person, it’s ‘the way they do it’ and ‘they way they like it’.  

As adults we are often able to carry out house chores efficiently which is why we usually just do it, but this was not always the case; as children we weren’t so skilled. We learnt through watching those around us, play, trial and error. 

When we look at temperament in SFSC we explore that what is the right way for one person may not be right for another, and this need to be considered when we are looking at household tasks too. 

So if, for example, a young person hangs out the wet washing it might not be straight or as orderly as you would hope but we want to focus on the effort put in. So, they did the task, that’s a great thing, they felt proud that they did the task, they might check on the clothes a day later and see that they are still wet. We could talk to them about what factors make clothes dry more quickly. They will possibly learn from that first time and, if so do it differently next time. They may also start to see that task as ‘their job’ and it could become part of a routine which will raise primarily their self esteem and self discipline but also their social competence. 

SFSC tells us to say “yes if you can, and no if you must” and this can be applied to housework too, especially during lockdown when we are all home together. If your child can help you with something or do a task, let them have a go. If they are not keen to help, encourage them to do so, these are vital skills they will need to learn if they are able to function as adults. And remember, if it is a job that is not appropriate to their age or stage, it is still the case that you can model what to do and make sure they are still learning from you. 

Circles of Support

Modern Western culture places considerable pressure on us to be ‘more independent’.  But, as the weeks in lockdown roll on, the reality and negativity of independence is being felt as isolation and loneliness;  we are cut off from members of our family, friends, work, school and life itself. This is not a ‘new normal’ any of us would have chosen, but it is one we are having to face.

The SFSC parenting programme explains that our need to be together is part of the very foundation of human life, forming and informing our ‘roots’, giving us a sense of identity, belonging and pride. Throughout the world and, throughout time, people have traditionally gathered together in what the programme calls circles of support to show their kinship and love, to mark an event, celebrate, support, empathise, commiserate, acknowledge and show solidarity. There are many examples:

We mark our beginnings and endings with the welcoming of a new baby, the celebration of a new job or by gathering to grieve for the loss of a loved one who has died.  When we face tragedy and distress, like a terrorist attack, the Grenfell disaster and now,  a worldwide pandemic, communities come together to understand and deal with a situation, care for the vulnerable and recognise the work of those supporting others : our Thursday evening ‘clap for carers’ being an example of this.  There are many customs and traditions to mark our transition from one stage of life to another.  These rites of passage include things like weddings, school proms and assemblies, graduations and award ceremonies, a house warming party and ‘special birthdays’ like an 18th to mark the age of ‘legal adulthood’.  Finally, celebrations and acknowledgements are times when families, communities (schools, sports, social and faith groups, for example) and, even entire nations come together to remember all that brings them together: their history, ancestry and purpose. 

Gatherings offer everyone a feeling of belonging, a sense of identity, and a sense of being with people who share a common aim: friends and family are an antidote to loneliness. Memories are created, our ‘history’ is lived. Most importantly for families, communities can pass on their values, traditions and customs to the younger generations. The message of gatherings around birth and death are clear: life is precious. We should never underestimate the importance of these circles of support in enhancing our relationships and educating our children. So, whilst we have been unable to celebrate (outside our homes) the festivals of Passover, Easter and Vaisakhi or the breaking of our fast during Ramadan this year, we can all find ways to gather and share, especially with the use of technology.

With some thought and creativity, families can still pass on the values which are important to them, even though our traditional gatherings are on hold for now. Children themselves can be encouraged to be creative, so that they are not just meeting with their peers through social media, but sharing virtual hugs with their cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents with drawings, poems, pictures and stories.  They may even find ways to sign each other’s shirts or have an end of year prom. Until we can all meet again.

Supporting Teenagers

With current lockdown measures still firmly in place supporting older children can be difficult. You’re up against social-media, Netflix and Whatsapp, nevermind the absence of them being able to see their friends. For those teenagers that may have just started to date or to have a part time job, these rites of passage have been dramatically taken away while families are on lockdown. During lockdown, teenagers may swing from boredom and frustration to nervous and angry, and a load of other emotions on the way. And because of their teen brains feel invincible in the face of the virus, making it harder to enforce distancing. with potential challenges for parents.

So what can we do during such a time to steer our teenagers away from too much digital display and ensure they follow social distancing guidelines?

Validate their feelings/concerns: Older children are far more exposed to the ever growing information on Covid-19, with social media spreading news by the minute. It is important to be open, have discussions and address any questions or concerns they may have. With social distancing being the rule, the absence of socialising will undoubtedly be a challenge for older children. Validate their feelings and acknowledge that you know how frustrating it must be. To compensate for the absence of face to face social networks, perhaps try to be a little more relaxed on the time they’re spending socialising with friends online.  

Mental health / wellness: The current situation causes worry for many, so it is important to ensure your teenager’s mental health is looked after. Encourage conversation around concerns and direct older children to the many organisations providing great tips and resources.Take a look at this.

Encourage a time-table/daily plan: Older children are used to the responsibility of routine at school/college, so try to support them in doing the same at home. Give them the responsibility of planning their day ensuring they’re getting a good balance between work, ‘”socialising” and exercising. Encourage a good night’s sleep, rest and healthy habits. 

Enhance your relationship: Whether you are working or not, now is the best time to enhance your relationship with your child(ren). Try the SFSC model of Special Time that was featured in issue 1 of this newsletter.

Make use of technology: For children addicted to their screens BT have created “Code a Cake” which uses baking as an analogy for coding, providing online experience for the wannabe gamers out there. It is aimed at 6-11 year olds but provides great introduction and insight into the world of coding, so older children may find it interesting too 

For the avid gamers, if feasible, invest in a new game that requires movement e.g. dance or sport games; this way you’re not restricting the game console, rather, you’re encouraging exercising / burning energy – win:win. 

Allow them to be creative: Now is the perfect time for our children to be creative. Got spare paint in the cupboard? Maybe let them redecorate their room or move their furniture around – this will allow them to create a personal safe space when they want to be alone. Encourage aspirations by allowing older children to research, plan and be creative. Sit down with your child and encourage them to develop goals for their future. 

Be patient: We are all in this together, so remember that there is no right or wrong way during this difficult time. Whilst older children may have a better understanding of the current pandemic than younger ones, it is still important not to forget they are experiencing big changes and are having to adjust to new circumstances. Be patient and understand that emotions might get frayed.

Modelling in Lockdown

With families spending so much time at home without the usual routines of school and work, the word ‘discipline’ has become a very one important for us all. When parents discipline children, they may often be ‘reacting’ in the moment to a particular behaviour with the belief that children need a ‘negative’ consequence or punishment to control/change that behaviour.

The SFSC parenting programme provides a process of positive and corrective discipline which is intended to teach rather than control children.This empowers parents to ‘respond’ to a child’s behaviour rather than ‘react’ and helps children choose to do the ‘right thing’. Positive discipline works by increasing children’s respectful behaviours, leaving less room for negative ones. Children who behave well, feel good about themselves and when we feel good about ourselves, we behave more positively. This positive cycle works for all members of the family, increasing self esteem: our ability to cope with whatever life throws at us- more important now than ever. 

The most powerful discipline tool parents have is: themselves. From birth, children learn by watching what their parents do.This is called ‘modeling’.From how to speak and walk as toddlers to core values like fairness, respect, honesty, responsibility and accountability; children learn by watching their parents. The SFSC parenting programme puts modeling as its number 1 step in the ‘process of discipline’. The impact of modeling is so important that it is considered repeatedly throughout the curriculum and parents are encouraged from the outset to understand its power by looking at their children to see how their behaviour is mirrored. This self reflection by parents asks them first to consider, ‘Is my child’s negative behaviour resulting from him copying my behaviour?’ This is not about parents blaming themselves (as children grow, they are not the only influencers in their lives), but parental modeling can teach or remind children how to do things in the ‘right’ way.

Parents who are mindful of what they are modeling can offer subtle teaching to their children on all behaviours. This really is about ‘actions being louder than words’.

Parents might want to model clearer ‘schedules’  at home of learning/working, playing, exercising, relaxing, praying, chores, family time. This is a time when parents really can lead by example. Modeling can bring about positive changes without punishment, lecturing and stress and calmer, happier parents will model  calmer, happier children.

Thinking about our roots

Time. Never enough? We finally have time. Families at home. Schools closed. Too much time?

When schools were first closed, many parents’ first concern was how to homeschool their children in maths, science and all the other academic subjects. As the days and weeks have passed, we have all fallen into some sort of ‘new normal’ routine, trying to keep the mind, body and soul nourished. But are we missing an opportunity?

Our education system is intended to take our children forwards with the knowledge they will need in later life to live as productive members of society. But, how do our children decide upon their futures without a better understanding of who they are, and what values they have: where they have come from?  Their roots.

We are all unique. We all grew up in different families. Many of us came from different countries, speak a second or more languages, have different faiths. Our roots will be made up of our ethnicity, our culture, our family and spiritual history. Our culture is how we do things, our traditions and customs, the food we eat, the way we dress, our expectations for our children, our choice of entertainment and so on. Educating our children about their roots will give them a strong sense of identity, and the high self esteem they will need to face the challenges of life. 

We can educate our children about their roots with lots of fun and free activities. For parents who have already attended the SFSC parenting programme, they can revisit the cultural and historical rites of passage activities which include:

  • Children can talk with parents and grandparents who will be able to pass on stories about parents’ countries of origin. 
  • Children can be encouraged to learn to cook and eat traditional foods, listen to music important to previous generations and learn a traditional dance. 
  • Families can work together to create a ‘family tree’, and then ‘study’ countries of origin, Older children can consider cultural values and can research cultural heroes and heroines.

Families with children of all ages may want to think about the creation of new traditions based on old values – we may not be able to see our friends and family at weekends for example, but perhaps we can arrange a game to play with these people online or on the telephone until we can meet face to face again one day.

Temperament in lockdown

We’re a few weeks into lockdown now and everyone’s adapting to the new normal but some individuals and families maybe finding it easier than others to make the shift regardless of situational factors like finance, adequate space, access to a garden etc. Some of us simply cope better with change, perhaps having less sensitivity to being cooped up in a space, or to someone else’s noise or mood. The imposed confinement might suit the temperament of some.

Temperament is an innate quality we are born with which dictates how we approach the world and interact with others and can include how active we are, how we react to new things, adjust to change and how easily we are distracted.  It is so fundamental to our uniqueness, who we are and how we behave and so is presented towards the start of the SFSC curriculum.

Our unique temperamental patterns may remain relatively consistent over time or may appear to change when we feel compelled to mask our natural feelings or behaviours in order to fit in. Temperament which colours our personality and character is an important internal factor influencing behaviour.  As such, when a child’s personality or temperament doesn’t quite fit or match other family members it can be a real challenge for everyone especially during this period of lockdown or at other difficult times. 

There is no right or wrong, better or worse temperament; neither can a parent choose or create their child’s temperament. Therefore, it is essential that children be accepted for who they are. Parents may well find some personalities easier to handle than others based on their own temperament; unsurprisingly, compatibility between a parent and a child’s temperament can affect the quality of their relationship. Compatibility does not mean that temperaments have to match, as a match in one area may cause as much conflict for one family as a mismatch in the same area for another (imagine if every person in the same family has lots of energy).  Parents are not expected to change their temperament either, but may need to alter or adjust their caregiving to better meet the needs of their child – understanding your own as well as your child’s temperament is key to developing harmonious relationships.

The reflective tool provided in SFSC enables parents to discover and compare their temperament traits with each child.  By being aware of temperament a parent can better understand themselves and their child, appreciate their child’s uniqueness, and deal with problems that may lead to misunderstandings and conflicts.  Remember, the goal is not to change the child, but to help them to do well by nurturing their strengths and providing support for their struggles so they can be, and feel, more comfortable and competent at home and in the world. 

Thinking about structure

At a time when things are very uncertain we should consider how we might make things feel secure for the children/young people around us. Evidence shows that structure helps people feel safe, secure and comfortable. Knowing what to expect helps people to feel they are in control of their world and in turn happier in themselves (high self-esteem). This applies to adults as well as children!

Now might be a time to create what is familiar for a child, so if they had very structured time before the lockdown and responded well to that it could be worth creating structured time throughout the day. And even if structure and routine was not so important, it might be that adding a little more to our day during this difficult time may help us get through it. Evidence shows that creating structure for children can be a very effective way of managing what can be a challenging environment – it helps make expectations clear – think clear instructions – if we know what we are aiming for we are more likely to achieve it! 

What do we mean by structure and routine? You might want to think about

  • Having a consistent time to get up and go to bed, eat our meals and relax
  • Breaking up our day so that we include fresh air and exercise where possible
  • Everyone participating in some activities like household chores or family time
  • Dividing up activities into book time, tv time, game time, cooking and so on

The amount of structure we might want or find helpful varies. So consider what will work for each person.  This is a chance to revisit temperament and to look again at development stages. 

The next stage is how we implement the new structure. Sharing information about what is happening and discussing why change is necessary may help. Being clear about the change and what is expected will also help the process of change (clear instructions) and how we communicate that to all involved (family meeting). 

There is an element of trial and reflection required when attempting new things (solution building). So ask yourself: does it work, are they happier in themselves? And this is a chance to find out what our children think about how things are going, so remember to ask them too. If there are elements of our routines that are not working, then revisit the structures we have created and change them!  Remember everyone else is going through this too, so use your networks and share what has worked for you and ask others to tell you their solutions and ideas.

Special time in lockdown

If we’re all in it together, healthy relationships will get us through in the best shape and leave lasting positive legacies.  SFSC’s parenting strategy Special Time builds a child’s self-esteem and enhances the parent-child relationship. However, children in early childhood and family pets might be thrilled at having parents around full time during the imposed lockdown but teenagers and young adults in late childhood less so, nonetheless they will benefit from Special time just as much.

Teenagers natural inclination to spend time with their peers, to seek out pleasure, new frontiers and generally challenge authority may cause angst and frustration for all the family.  Young children’s demands on your time, keeping them positively engaged maybe exhausting.  Special Time may not have been a priority for some families, or simply too difficult to previously accommodate with other life stresses, but fortuitously, the order to stay at home presents an invaluable opportunity to embed/continue Special Time as a measure to manage behaviour, get through difficult times and build positive relationships now and for the future. 

Special Time is beneficial to the overall wellbeing of parents and children of all ages.  Our new normal during the coronavirus pandemic should incorporate Special Time with each child on a daily or weekly basis as we create schedules, build and stick to routines which all the evidence supports as beneficial to overall wellbeing too. Parents can use this time to allay concerns, answer direct questions about what is happing or may happen in the future.  Parents can use this time to give positive attention which may create more freedom for other day to day tasks outside Special Time including working from home as children become more self-disciplined and self-reliant.  This window of time will give room to listen and share feelings without judgement, express confidence in children’s ability to cope and bounce back from adversity, support older children in complying with guidelines to keep themselves and other people safe while they may not understand the ramifications of their actions or simply feel invisible. 

Children and their parent’s wellbeing is very much interdependent, new and challenging behaviours are natural responses to trying situations we find ourselves in. Investment in Special Time promotes the wellbeing of both children and their parents during difficult times and in the future.