The Parent Practice: Talking to your children about Coronavirus, nailing homeschool & missing social interaction

Right now, we are in a crazy new norm, where many of us have very little clue what we are doing. Parenting in lockdown can be totally overwhelming, and if you’re anything like me is flooded with questions on a daily basis. How do you go about talking to your children about Coronavirus? What do we do if our children seemingly have no interest in homeschooling or doing any kind of school work? Should we be worried about the lack of social interaction they are experiencing? And how do we keep everything together as parents whilst also trying to keep our heads above water on the work front?

Such common dilemmas facing parents across the land! Here is Melissa Hood, founder of The Parent Practice to help show us the way…

My 6-year-old said to me “Mummy I wish this virus thing wasn’t happening.” I didn’t know how to respond because I wish it wasn’t happening too. What is your advice for talking to your children about Coronavirus?

Of course, our children are disappointed and frustrated with how things are right now. They find it hard to understand that they can no longer do things like go to the playground or see their friends or grandparents. Birthday parties and holidays have been canceled and we may not be able to get their favourite cereal or pasta anymore. Adults are also feeling disappointed, frustrated, anxious and overwhelmed. We all wish ‘this virus thing’ wasn’t happening. But we’re the grownups and we have to deal with what is happening and our children will learn if they see us dealing with our feelings in a calm way.

Research using fMRI scans shows that when people try to suppress feelings their emotions are still occupying space in the brain. That research showed that naming the feeling helped it to dissipate. When we know how we’re feeling we have more choices about how to respond. If we don’t recognise the emotion and acknowledge it, the feeling is driving us. Acknowledging emotions allows us to access our higher order rational brain so we can find solutions to problems.

So when it comes to talking to your children about Coronavirus, the best thing you can do to help your son is to acknowledge that this situation sucks, that of course he feels bored and lonely and irritated with his siblings and cooped up and powerless. This is not a negative moan-fest but it is a necessary airing of emotions to allow him to move through them. By talking to your children about Coronavirus, it helps them learn that they can tolerate uncomfortable feelings and use positive strategies like exercise or listening to music or caring for an animal to deal with them.

My 8-year-old daughter is pretty unmotivated about school at the best of times. How on earth can I get to do school work at home?

Start by acknowledging how she feels about school work. Don’t say “There’s no point moaning about it. You just have to get on with it.” Set up a schedule broken down into smallish chunks of time for work, exercise and play.

Being at home and supervising our children’s learning presents us with a unique opportunity to really understand what makes our children tick. What is it that she dislikes about her school work? The chances are it has to do with how competent she feels about it or how interested she is in the material. Sometimes those two can get confused as children often say “it’s boring” when they mean “it’s hard”.

Some children need to move around a lot, some benefit from having music on. All will find it easier if you can make it fun. Your daughter may need to revisit some basic skills but these can be learnt in non-academic ways: maths skills can be practiced while cooking, reading practice can be done with her choice of books.

She will certainly need encouragement. The more interested and enthusiastic you are about her work the more motivated she will be.

Use Chat Throughs when tackling a piece of work. Ask her detailed questions about the task so you can see how she plans to approach it. This will reveal any challenges. Descriptively praise her for taking part in this discussion. Then let her work for a few minutes on her own while you praise her efforts. Find five things to commend about her work (they may be really small) and then ask her to find one thing only to improve.

I’m worried about my 4-year-old’s lack of social interaction at the moment. I read somewhere that this was a crucial stage in their development of social skills. Is she going to be permanently affected by this isolation?

You are right that social interaction is one of the most important aspects of any child’s development so it is worrying that young children have really limited opportunities to engage with their peers right now. Use technology to connect with their friends where possible but recognise that they will need directing and won’t be able to focus for long. Do an activity where each child is engaged in the same task like using play-doh.

Do all you can to ensure they practice social skills:

  • Communication skills –including verbal and non-verbal communication. Build up receptive and expressive language by talking and playing with them. Have two-way conversations where you take an interest in what they have to say and encourage them to listen to you by talking about things that interest them. Give them lots of attention and descriptive praise when they use their words, particularly when they tell you what they think and how they feel and what they want or need.
  • Reading social cues. Use books, films and role play to build up understanding of what facial expressions, gestures and body language mean.
  • Collaboration with others –use play to help children learn to share belongings and ideas about how the game should progress. You might normally let your young child direct imaginative play but in the absence of their peers it might help for you to make some suggestions about the play and help your child to see that others are more likely to play if they have a turn too.
  • Conflict resolution and problem-solving –act out scenes with dolls and teddies to teach how to repair upsets and find solutions

My husband and I are both working and we need to keep the children occupied and doing school work too. How can we manage it all? My husband seems to think that childcare is my responsibility.

I think this is something that many couples are struggling with right now. It’s not surprising as this is a new situation for all of us. It will take much discussion and goodwill to sort it out. How you engage in that conversation will make all the difference to its success. It’s easy when we’re in each other’s company 24/7 for everything to be amplified. All the little quirks and annoyances now seem bigger. But if we approach our partners with irritation and resentment we will get nowhere.

So how do you get your other half to see your point of view? This is an issue during regular times as well. Building up a culture of appreciation between couples creates goodwill. We do this by noticing any little acts or words of kindness or taking an interest in us or expressions of affection from our other half.

So when your partner cleans the kitchen after dinner and loads the dishwasher and washes up the pots and pans, don’t let your only comment be “why can’t you ever remember to wipe down the benchtop?” It will also help to recognise their perspective – “I know you’re worried about holding on to your job in these precarious times and you’re not used to thinking about childcare.”

Then sit down and discuss how you’re going to make this situation work in your family without nagging or criticising. Say how you feel and state what you need. “I feel as if my work isn’t getting priority here and that’s making me feel undervalued. I would like to make a schedule that accommodates my work and childcare.”

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Which of the above situations resonate with you right now? Have you been talking to your children about Coronavirus and if so how? And how have you found their uptake of school work or the juggle of work life between you and your other half while the kids are at home? Do share your experiences below in a comment.

Picture credits: Background photo created by freepik – www.freepik.com, People photo created by freepik – www.freepik.com, House photo created by wavebreakmedia_micro – www.freepik.com

9 comments

  1. These are great tips for children. We forget how children can be affected even by having the television on in the background and hearing about the bad news every day. These tips can help parents to calm their children’s anxiety benefiting families.

  2. Wow beautiful post! We adults are getting restless about the whole situation, I wonder what the kids are going through. Parents have to be there for their kids in this struggling time and make sure they are okay 🙂

  3. These are all great tips for children of all ages. My daughter is home from her Freshman year at college studying from home and I feel horrible as she misses the routine and all that she had to do while at school and somehow at homier is not the same. We are going on long walks every other day and running too so we are making the most of it but cannot wait for normalcy and miss shopping!

  4. I’ve found it’s really important to talk to kids right now – my eldest is quite accepting but my 5yr old is very frustrated by the virus so making sure to find ways he understands we have to do what we are doing to keep us and everyone else safe

    Laura x

  5. This is an excellent topic and quite well written. Unfortunately there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. However it requires every one to towards the betterment of the family as a whole.

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