By Tanu Shree Singh
A friend who freelances is on the verge of panic attacks what with no work and a young child at home who is bored out of her wits. My younger one is cribbing about classes being held online and him not being able to meet friends. The gardener just took next month’s salary in advance and has been told to stay home with the assurance that no money will be deducted. The air is thick with worry and fear. The future looks uncertain from where we stand and the present is no better with constant onslaught of information and a set of kids who have no idea what to do with the time at hand. I feel that is the bane of our times. We ended up monitoring and controlling their lives so closely that suddenly they have no idea what to do. Rather than overwhelming ourselves it is time to take it all one day at a time and think about some things that might help with the morbid reality:
Maintain a routine
Routine is the most important thing that becomes the first casualty. Sleep times go for a toss, there is no exercise, and screen becomes a babysitter. Routine is extremely important for a healthy mind and body. Adequate sleep and exercise cannot be compromised upon even if we are holed up. No, I do not mean army level of routine. Just a basic schedule. Innovate a bit when it comes to exercise. If you have a staircase, use it. The boy is using thick books for weights! Spot jogging, yoga – there are a million ideas out there. And my older one informs me that many workout apps are offering guidelines for free. Check those out and arrive at your workout routine with the kids.
Deal with your emotions first
We are all anxious. And children excel at sniffing anxiety. They know that you are scared which doesn’t mean that we need to hide our feelings. They sniff that too. Educate self from reliable sources (definitely not WhatsApp) and come to terms with it first. Accept your fears. And also your inability beyond a point to do anything about it. The best thing you can do right now is isolate yourself but during that isolation, you also need to look after yourself. Remember the airplane announcement at the beginning of the flight about pulling the oxygen mask to yourself before helping others? That advice holds good for life too. First help yourself come to terms.
Acknowledge the child’s emotions
We want to protect them. We want to wipe their fears away even before they verbalise it. And in the process somewhere we negate the existence of their feelings. Words like, ‘You don’t have to worry,’ do not help. What we need to do is acknowledge their feelings. Help them with appropriate labels and words to be able to verbalise them. The biggest hurdle that a child faces is to understand his feeling and get them recognised by others. So our first step to help them is to understand what they are going through and know that it is valid.
Are we really good listeners when it comes to kids? I have asked that question to myself many times and been shown the mirror by the man too. Yup, I can be a terrible listener. But in times of uncertainty it becomes essential to listen. Even if the child is saying the same thing over and over, listen. Let them know that their voice matters. Talk to them. It is okay to also nod and tell them that you get the fear because you feel it too. Work out a strategy with them. Recently, a friend sent me the most adorable audio clip of her daughter with her idea of fighting the virus. Of course, it wasn’t scientific. But it gave the child an opportunity to channelise her fear and come up with a solution.
Missed birthdays and parties
We have seen many birthdays in our lives. I can not even tell last year’s birthday from this year’s. But for children it is a big deal. Quite a few kids will miss their friends’ parties or not have their own and it will be disappointing for them. Your distress or irritation won’t help either. Work out an alternative together. Decorate a room, call it the party arena or whatever more creative name you can come up with, bake a cake together if the provisions are taken care of, make party hats out of newspaper, and google for more ideas! Pretend parties are the best kind of parties. If the child has missed a friends’ party, how about a virtual get together? Remember, it is important for them. Their larger picture might not be as big as yours.
Time for gratitude journal and mindfulness
You have nowhere to go. Neither does the child. Those research articles that you have been reading on gratitude on your commute to work need a relook now. Make gratitude journals. You can decorate it however you want to. If you are a lazy bum like me, use the notes feature of your phone to maintain a daily log. Many apps also exist for the same. Every one of us needs to do this. At the end of the day jot down three things that you are thankful for today. You’d be surprised how this exercise changes your perspective after a few days. Some times simple things like these reveal what we are truly grateful for. Indulge in mindfulness exercises with your child. For a minute close your eyes and focus on the sounds around and jot them down at the end of it. Simple things to keep you in present. If you search online, you will find many more such ideas. Use them. You and I both know fretting over something which is not in our control will not get us anywhere.
This will pass. And decades from now when we sit around a freshly minted crop of younglings, we will relate stories of the dark times to them that extend not to just this pandemic but also beyond. Till then, all we need to do is stay calm and parent on. Take care of yourself, stay indoors and be mindful towards others. This is the time when we take a stock of what matters and what doesn’t. And it also presents an opportunity to us to set an example for our kids. Rather than fretting over the cancelled holiday and the helpers not coming for daily chores, perhaps we need to assure our employees that they will be cared for. We are faced with a choice today. And our choice is being watched by the next generation. So it is not just our family’s well being that we need to look out for. We also need to look at the bigger picture and remember that the colours we paint in today stay for generations to come.
(The writer has a PhD in Positive Psychology and is a lecturer in psychology. She is also the author of the book Keep Calm and Mommy On. Listen to Season 1 and 2 of Tanu Shree Singh’s podcast Difficult Conversations With Your Kids.)
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