Being cooped up indoors for long periods of time isn’t fun for anyone – but for parents and children, it can be particularly challenging.
All over the world, kids are out of school and stuck at home. In some cases, they can’t even leave the house. In others, one or both parents are working from home – or at least trying to.
Key to maintaining a sense of normalcy for kids, says Maria Llara Llerena, is following the ‘three Rs’: “Routine, regulation and reassurance.”
“Parents need to have a routine for their children to regulate their emotions and to reassure them by making sure they know they are safe with them”, she told Euronews Now.
Making children feel safe
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has issued special guidelines for parenting during the pandemic.
Number one on the list is spending time alone with your child, which “makes children feel loved and secure and shows them they are important”.
It is important to walk the line between keeping their children informed about what is going on, and protecting them from undue worry and stress. Key, according to UNICEF, is using the right kind of language when discussing the pandemic and being sensitive to their level of anxiety.
So while it is important to explain the importance of – say – handwashing to kids, parents can also try to make it fun: For example by singing a song for the 20 seconds that is the advised length of time for washing hands.
The World Health Organization, meanwhile, cautions against spending too much time watching the news or reading about the pandemic, perhaps by ensuring that the family sits down and watches or listens to the news at specific times of day, every day.
Routine, Regulation, Re-assurance
This sense of routine should extend to other activities too. Experts recommend keeping a daily schedule for children – and adults – as having activities at set times provides a sense of security.
Maria Llara Llerena said that parents should be more understanding with their children than under normal circumstances, but they should maintain rules. Above all, be aware of how children feel.
“It’s important to know your child and know that children don’t all express themselves in the same way. It’s about paying attention to what you’re child is experiencing. If they are a little bit more clingy or irritable just keep in mind that that is the way they express their emotions,” she said.
Isolation and homeschooling
Many kids will seem happy not to have to go to school, but missing classes cuts them off from their friends, and they may worry about falling behind.
In a recent survey of over 2,000 children in the UK by the Children’s Commissioner’s Office, a majority of children said they were concerned about the pandemic.
With schools still closed in many countries, parents across Europe are having to help their children with lessons. Many are also working from home, and balancing their job and their children’s lessons can be difficult.
It is also worth remembering that adults may lose their patience more easily while in confinement.
“If you feel like raising your voice take a 10-second pause and breath,” the UN advice reads.
“Take a longer break, or when your children are asleep do something relaxing for yourself.”
What about teenagers?
The teenage years are a period of transition, during which family, school and community are all of critical importance to good mental well-being.
But Llerena says that under lockdown a key element of that – their peers – are not there for teenagers.
“Their identity is born through interactions with their peers and in isolation, they don’t have that,” she said.
She believes it has already led to changes in the way teens behave.
“There have been reports that teenagers are more irritable right now. Their whole support system is not available. Neither are the coping mechanisms they had before.”
For teenagers to stay connected, parents could encourage their kids to phone their friends or chat with them on social media.
But Llerena is also worried that this isolation will lead to long term effects.
“I think we talk a lot about children and adults but we’re forgetting this whole chunk of the population,” she said.
“Unfortunately if we don’t do anything about it, the lockdown is going to have devastating effects on their mental health.”