Parenting in a pandemic

Updated March 29, 2020

Email

Spending time and doing fun activities indoors together as a family can  help everyone bond. — AFP/File
Spending time and doing fun activities indoors together as a family can help everyone bond. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: “Our kids are just as scared as we are right now. They not only hear everything that is going on around them but they feel our constant tension and anxiety,” said Anjum Ijaz, a vice principal at a private school.

The idea of being off from school for four weeks may sound good, with students imagining something akin to summer vacations coming early but the reality is that they are trapped at home unable to see their friends. They have never experienced anything like this before, Ms Ijaz said.

And on the other hand, parents now have to console, entertain and discipline children all day while trying to work from home in a locked down city.

Dawn spoke to local residents confined at home with their children, practicing self-quarantine during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“They love the idea of being at home with both the parents,” said Sundas Warsi, a mother of two. Ms Warsi has developed a calendar of activities for every day that includes gardening, painting and story writing. But she said the children miss school and want to know when the situation will improve. Wondering what will come next, she expects that the children may feel hostile in the coming days.

Dr Nashmia Mahmood is trying to maintain discipline among her three children by keeping to their regular routine of sleeping, reading and eating - “That’s when I lose my patience, mostly,” she added.

Though she is more stretched than usual, her daughters are excited and full of energy, helping her with household chores.

Kiran Qazi, a programme manager at a United Nations agency, said she found working from home with a housebound child very challenging.

Her three-year-old is happily screeching, oblivious to all except that his mother is home. Ms Qazi, in turn, runs around the house, laptop computer in hand and wearing headphones, multi-tasking and taking conference calls.

“Despite all the challenges, it is a great opportunity to spend time with my son,” she added.

“This is the time to focus on healthy eating practices. A balanced diet not only builds strong immunity but also helps combat all kinds of illness,” said Dr Nosheen Abbas, the head of the nutrition department at PAF Hospital.

Dr Abbas said it is important to allow some escape from the stressful new reality of the pandemic, and with parks closed, she has planned family exercise and workouts by watching Youtube.

Paediatrician Prof Dr Tabish Hazir noted that while children’s physical ability to fight the coronavirus is much more robust than adults’, some parents were becoming hysterical because they do not know what to expect. He said it was vital to restrict inauthentic sources of information about the virus.

“Children are smart and can pick up on parents’ anxieties,” clinical psychologist Zehra Kamal said.

“Talk to them age appropriately about what is happening, but stay calm.”

She advised limiting children’s exposure to news about Covid-19 as well as its discussion. Ms Kamal added that allowing children space to share their fears, worries and concerns can help parents address them accordingly. This may mean validating and normalising those fears, “and yet, not pretending that nothing is wrong.”

Ms Kamal said children become confused and upset when routines are disturbed. They often express these feelings through disruptive behaviour, which only makes things more difficult as a parent as the children may not be on their best behaviour.

In addition, children with prior physical and mental health issues would require extra care and attention. Spending time and doing fun activities indoors together as a family can help everyone bond.

Over the coming weeks, parents will see an increase in behaviour issues with their children, Anjum Ijaz predicted.

“Whether it’s anxiety or anger or protest that they cannot do things normally, it will happen,” she said, adding there may be more meltdowns and tantrums, and they may not follow the ideal schedule parents make. This is normal and expected under the circumstances.

“Don’t worry about them regressing in school. Every single kid is in this boat and they will all be fine,” Ms Ijaz said. She added that children right now needed to feel comforted, which might mean that parents will have to tear up their perfect schedules and love their children a little more.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2020