The Parent Practice – lockdown edition: Children having problems sleeping, lockdown guilt & family mealtime dramas

Well here we are in week 9 of lockdown, and by now you are either thriving or being pushed to the limit in parenting….or perhaps swinging wildly from one to the next depending on what day it is! With that said, we are back with another Coronavirus edition of The Parent Practice headed up founder Parent Practice founder Melissa Hood. If your kids’ are having problems sleeping in all this, or if you’ve been beating yourself up that your lockdown life is not Insta-perfect, or new-found family mealtimes have been driving you to the brink, then this is for you!

I’m finding it a nightmare getting the kids to bed in the current situation. Mine have gone from being exhausted and falling into bed at 7 to not being able to get off until 10. Help!

Whenever faced with less-than-ideal behaviour it’s always a good idea to think about what’s causing it. So why do kids find it hard to get to sleep? For some families lockdown means it is difficult to get as much exercise as they’re used to. It may look like children are pretty active but if you have a good look at their pre-lockdown life they may not be moving as much as when they are with their peers.

Of course, there are other reasons why children may be finding it hard to sleep. They may have worries on their mind or they may be getting more screentime than previously. If they are playing high action video games they may be getting a surge of adrenaline that doesn’t get an opportunity to dissipate.

While we may be allowing more screens than usual as a parent at the moment, where and when they are accessed still needs to be regulated. Experts agree that screens should be shut off at least an hour before bedtime and no screens in the bedroom –this should be a place associated with rest. Keep your bedtime routine consistent even if your life has a very different rhythm than previously.

If your child has things on their mind help them clear their mind by using a ‘worry box’. Don’t dismiss their worries but have a conversation, somewhere other than the bedroom, and let them air their concerns for a set amount of time, say ten minutes. Write what’s troubling them down on slips of paper without any evaluation and put these in the worry box. Review at the end of the week.

I’ve been feeling so guilty since lockdown. It’s impossible as a parent to keep to the schedules, get my kids to do their home learning, and do my own work. I’m losing it all the time. I look at Instagram and can’t believe that other people can remain calm!

You’re quite right not to believe it! Instagram accounts of lockdown life are cherry-picked versions of reality where the photos of the freshly made bread might show the empty wine bottle if the angle were wider!

Some people beat themselves up and others don’t when faced with similar circumstances. It’s not the circumstances themselves but the beliefs we have about them that cause the feelings we have. Guilt is a familiar feeling for many parents. How much guilt you feel is in direct proportion to your expectations of how you and your children should behave in response to this stressful situation. Where do your expectations come from? If your benchmark comes from Instagram re-calibrate to something more real.

You may have unconscious beliefs like ‘I should stay calm no matter what life throws at me…’ or ‘I should be able to juggle my own job and the job of teaching my children…’ These are demands of ourselves which cause us to think ‘or else….I am not good enough’ which cause feelings of guilt or shame or anxiety or anger or hurt.

We can’t change the circumstances as a parent but we can change the way we think about them. Our thoughts, beliefs and assumptions generate the feelings that cause us to be out of equilibrium and we can only really challenge them when we put them under the spotlight. Really tune in to what you believe about yourself, your life and how things ‘should’ be. Pay attention to that word ‘should’. You may be able to reframe that thought to something more realistic. What would be a good enough outcome from your day?

Apparently one of the good things about lockdown is the ability to have family meals together. Our mealtimes a nightmare. My 12 year old won’t put down her phone and my 4 year old won’t eat anything other than carbs. I end up moaning and nagging.

Family mealtimes do have the potential to be warm and nurturing environments where children feel a sense of belonging and conversation is encouraged with great long term behavioural and academic outcomes. But often they slip into something quite different.

To change the atmosphere as a parent, I recommend having a family meeting where you acknowledge that mealtimes have become strained but without blaming anyone. Let the children know that things are going to be different and signal those changes by changing the mealtime environment in symbolic ways like changing seating positions or table settings. Maybe put flowers and candles on the table. Get the kids involved.

To effect change you will need to alter two fundamental beliefs:

  • You can do more through influence than coercion
  • It is your responsibility to provide nourishing food; it is not your job to make your children eat it

Presumably you’d like your 12 year old to be present at the meal and engage with other family members. She’s more likely to do that if conversation is positive, engaging and inclusive. State what your expectations are about phones without criticism and model that behaviour yourself. When she puts her phone aside descriptively praise her. Conversation starters like Table Topics might be a good way to steer the conversation in a positive direction.

Nutritionists advocate that parents provide a healthy array of foods from which children can choose. Research shows that when they are not coerced, and when you take a long term view, children do in fact eat a balanced and adequate diet and do not overeat. This is different from most parents’ childhood experience of having to clear their plates.

Apparently Adele has lost a lot of weight to be healthier for her son. Good on her. However, I’m worried about the mixed messages that dieting would send my children.

It’s good to be aware of the way we’re behaving and talking about weight loss and fitness and health generally as a parent as our children will pick up on our actions so much more than whatever we may say. Modeling is at least 80% of parenting. One of the things that has emerged from the lockdown is a focus on exercise as a family that may not have been in place before. Maybe you’re all doing Joe Wicks or going for walks or bike rides together. That’s a great way to open up conversations about healthy lifestyles.

But conversations about and actions taken to effect weight loss need to be carefully constructed in order to avoid developing attitudes towards bodies that are in any way shaming. All forms of media relentlessly promote the idea of leanness for women and muscles for men often described as ‘healthy’. We know that the consequences of this kind of messaging are loss of body confidence for both boys and girls at increasingly younger ages.

We can counter this narrative by making sure that within the family we engage in no body-shaming talk whether about our own bodies or anyone else’s. You might never dream of describing your child as fat but comment on the stranger on the bus as a ‘bit lardy’ or even your own thighs as ‘too wobbly’. You might berate yourself for having eaten that ‘naughty cake’. Take all evaluative language out of talk about bodies and about food. Don’t comment on appearance but on functionality. “Wow your legs can run really fast.” Or “Your spine is super bendy”. Or “You’ve got great stamina.”

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Which of the above have you been grappling with as a parent during lockdown? Do leave a comment below and let us know.

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