Your parenting skills are being put to the test like never before right now, so we asked Dubai-based clinical psychologist Dr. Saliha Afridi at The Lighthouse Center for Wellbeing for some advice on how to be the best possible father during self-isolation.
Keep your kids stimulated, but not over-stimulated
This is a difficult period for a child because they are not aware of all that is happening, and they are not able to do the things they want to do or be with their friends. Many parents feel the need to entertain their child or distract the child from his/her sadness. While you should be spending time with your children, being attuned to them, communicating with them, and checking in them, do not feel the need to constantly entertain them. Do try to carve out some time where you write down a list of activities and what is needed for those activities. You can make a ‘Beating Boredom’ jar, and in it you can write down on little cards things they can do when they are bored — but allow them to add to the jar. This is a good time for them to take some ownership and responsibility about how to stay busy. Also, do not let them be on technology for too long because it will overstimulate them and you will have charged up children in your home! Instead, take it back to basics and buy coloring books, puzzles, board games, Legos, and paint and easels.
Adjust your expectations. You are teaching them but you are not a teacher. Do the best you can and prioritize your mental health and your relationships with your child over them getting the best marks in their test.
What to talk to your kids about
It is good to have an open communication channel with your child, but as long as it’s adjusted for their developmental age. Telling them the daily number of deaths is not something that is advisable for example. Instead tell them about Covid-19 and make sure to empower them with information about how they can stay safe by taking the precautionary measures as well as how to have a physically healthy body and strong immune system.
Routine is the antidote to anxiety and gives a sense of safety to children (and adults). Having a rhythm to the days about when to wake up, attend school, play, exercise, have dinner and bedtime will be important. Allow them to have some say about how they want to spend their week. Make a weekly schedule on Saturday and then have a morning huddle every day to make sure everyone stays on task.
Authority at home
Kids need a commander-in-chief in order to feel safe. They want to know that the adults in the house have a plan and they will keep them safe. So yes, it’s important to be friendly with your child, but you are not their friend in the sense that you have to establish rules and make sure everyone is following through them. Rules make children feel safe, so do not think of this time period as a long weekend or a holiday. Instead, take charge of the schedule and make sure everyone is following a daily routine, and taking heed of the rules and their own responsibilities.
Support your spouse
Whether you are both working parents or you are stay at home mom/dad, it will be important to have an open communication channel with your spouse about what is needed by both of you and for your family as a whole. It is important to ask her for what she needs but also ask for what you need but not in a way that is shaming or blaming but rather supportive and helpful. Do not wait for the fights to happen or for one to become resentful of the other, instead be preemptive about the discussions and ask each other what they need to feel supported. It’s important to also occasionally give each other space. While there is a lot of togetherness and connectedness during this time, it is important to also create some time where both of you can be alone and get some peace and quiet by yourself.
Many children will forget many things about this experience but they will not forget how they felt. While there are some who are choosing to look at this experience as “I am in lockdown and can’t go out” there are others who are saying “I am here with my family and children, safe, and I am going to make the most of it.” So finding new ways to have fun with each other, laugh with each other, watch funny movies, and play funny games will be very important and will make them more resilient in the long run.