Parenting through Covid Restrictions

As the new year brings further Covid restrictions, the following 8 tips may help a little if you’re currently struggling:

1. Lower your Expectations of Yourself
Forget the new year resolutions, forget elaborate home schooling plans, craft projects, diet overhauls and new exercise plans. It’s OK to just survive right now. You don’t need to do more than that. If you’ve read any of my books you’ll know I love Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (I think it’s in at least 3 of my books).

This sets out what we need, as humans, to survive and thrive. With the most basic (but important) needs sitting at the base of the pyramid. If these most basic needs are not met, then it’s impossible to move on to the next stage. Right now we are ALL in survival mode. The current pandemic means we’re all sitting in the bottom two layers – those of meeting our basic physiological and survival needs. It means we’ve likely all taken a knock to our self esteem and we’re probably all struggling with our feelings, relationships with others and motivation and drive – and that’s OK! We’re doing exactly what we should be doing. You really don’t need to be super Insta mum. It’s OK that you’re not producing innovative messy play ideas everyday. It’s OK to lose your temper (just apologise to your child after!) and it’s OK to be thoroughly sick of the current situation.

2. Lower your Expectations of your Child
Adults are struggling right now – but so are children. Things have changed immensely for them and no two months are the same – parents are at home who are usually at work, some keyworkers are working more, others are trying to focus on home working *and* parenting at the same time. Old routines have gone out of the window. The world is a scary place to children right now (and that’s without them overhearing Coronavirus talk, from you or the TV). What happens when children are so unsettled? Their behaviour regresses. The most common regressions are those in sleep (expect more bedtime resistance and night waking, plus refusing to sleep independently), toileting (expect big regressions in potty training, more accidents and poo withholding – this is both a brilliant and terrible time to potty train!) and eating (expect more picky eating, obsessions of certain foods, refusal of meals and trickier table manners). Behaviour becomes unpredictable, with lots of big feelings and tantrums (and more violent behaviour – e.g kicking/hitting/throwing/biting). Some children will start to speak in a baby voice, others will become incredibly clingy and may favour one parent to the almost total exclusion of the other. This is all NORMAL given the current situation. It’s transient too…..what your children need right now is buckets of understanding and empathy, not strict discipline or sleep training. It’s really hard for us, but it’s so much harder for them!

3. Understand that Everyone is Struggling
I will admit I quite enjoyed the first lockdown. I’m an introvert, so happy to not be around others. It was lovely to have my teens all home (it’s rare we’re all in one place) and my husband off work. We pottered around the garden and fixed things in our home that had been on our ‘to do’ list for ages.  Slowly though my family started to really irritate me, I got cabin fever, the gloss wore off of the new normal. Now (like everybody else) I’m thoroughly sick of the whole situation. Of course, it’s not just me feeling like this – the rest of my family are too and that results in some major bickering. Even if it feels like you’re the only one struggling at the moment, I can guarantee you that you’re not. Everybody is in some way or another. We really need to talk about our feelings more, especially during a global pandemic!.

4. Keep a Routine
I refer you to point 2. Perhaps the most important thing you can do parenting wise, after empathising and easing up on yourself, is to keep to a routine, especially if your children are having to miss school or nursery. Covid has meant a huge relaxation in routines, particularly at bedtime. The more of a routine you can keep the better. Don’t let bedtime slide and don’t let the bedtime routine be replaced by screens – however shattered you feel (this time with your child at bedtime is so important), keep to a regular wake time. Get up and get everyone dressed. Have a routine for meals that you stick to. Consider creating a rough plan for the day – e.g: a walk before lunch, TV after lunch (before school work if your child is school age) and games after dinner. This predictability really helps children to feel more settled (and will ultimately help you to). These aren’t strict routines I’m talking about, no timetabling the day (unless that helps you), just rhythm and flow.

5. Find a Way to Offload Your Feelings
I’m not going to suggest self-care here (though it would be great wouldn’t it?), as I think it’s pretty unrealistic right now. Self-care to me right now just looks like being kind to myself. What you do really need though is a way to offload. When I run workshops I always talk about containment – the idea that as a parent you need to ‘hold’ your emotions and your child’s and you need enough empty space in your emotional container to be able to do this. If your container is full with stress, worry and big feelings then you simply won’t have space to contain your child’s emotions too and you (and they) will explode. You must make space, let those feelings out – have a good moan – to clear a gap. This could be a long phone call or video call (is anyone else THOROUGHLY sick of Zoom?) to a friend or family member who ‘gets it’, you could write your thoughts down in a journal, or you’re welcome to come and moan in my Facebook discussion groups (UK one HERE, Rest of World HERE – just say “Sarah sent me” as a reply to all questions).

6. Embrace Screen Time
Yes, seriously – don’t be afraid of it. Remember, we’re in the bottom 2 layers of Maslow’s pyramid at the moment, anything that helps you to survive is good in my book. Of course, it would be better if the screen time had some restrictions, but sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. If that’s a whole day of the TV on, so that you don’t end up screaming at your children, that’s OK! Read more of my thoughts on screen time HERE

7. Don’t Worry Too Much About Your Child’s Education
It’s OK if you take a break from the worksheets if your child is struggling. You don’t have to turn into a teacher overnight. Learning doesn’t just look like formal books and lessons. Learning happens when you go on your walk and find a snail and talk about the shape of its shell. Learning happens when you bake a brownie and your child helps to weight the ingredients. Learning happens when you watch trains, or planes, or elephants, or the Titanic programmes on TV. Learning happens with Lego and cardboard box dens. Learning happens in everyday conversations with you. Don’t underestimate your impact. Teachers will know how to help children when they go back to school and they will work hard to plug any gaps and online learning has hugely improved since the first lockdown. I personally would not be stressing about my child’s education right now. 

8. Try to Consume Important Nutrients
I’m not talking about trying to revolutionise your diet, or lose weight (ignore those new year diet adverts!) or anything else that really irritates me about the current crisis. I’m talking about basic nutrients that can really impact on how you feel. The biggies here (when it comes to mental health) are MagnesiumOmega 3 and the B vitamins. Look at your microbiome too, a good probiotic may be in order. Vitamin D is also really important, especially if you’re not getting much sun. Aiming to get all your nutrients from food is the best approach, but if not – then look for a good quality supplement (I personally use Solgar, Better You and BioKult – note: I have no relationship with any of these companies, they are genuinely what I use, I’m only mentioning brands here because I’ll have people contacting me asking what I use if I don’t!).


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Published by SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.

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