Parenting tips during a pandemic – from the new Prep psychologist

This term we welcome Laura Cook as the newly appointed Educational Psychologist at Bishops Prep.  Here are some tips that she provides to help parents with the emotional challenges that arise as a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Dear Parents

Starting the new term amid the constraints and uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic requires the school community to be dynamic in the way that children access the curriculum.  Children will pursue remote learning, requiring parents to straddle the line between being teacher and parent, whilst also meeting the demands of their own jobs remotely.  As the newly appointed educational psychologist at Bishops Prep, I feel it is important to assist parents with the emotional challenges that could be faced in this unique set up.  My areas of interest and experience are in learning as well as in parent-child relationships, areas intersecting significantly now.  Accordingly, I provide some guidelines that may be useful to the school community.

  1. Maintain a good relationship with your child. At the end of the day, the relationship between parents and their child is of utmost importance to the child’s well-being.  Accordingly, balance is needed between assisting children educationally and being the nurturing and fun parent.  It is easy to fall into a dynamic of nagging and power struggles, and time spent with children revolving exclusively around educational tasks.   Set aside quality time every day that involves fun, silliness and laughter.  This could be playing board games, sports activities in the back garden or rough and tumble.  Many parents have more flexibility in their days than usual to connect with their children.  I encourage you to embrace this. 
  2. Keep days structured. Structure will help children to know what to expect during the day and could prevent conflict when it comes to work times.  Keep to regular bedtimes and wake-ups.  Set specific times for schoolwork in the day.  Negotiate this, as it will make children take ownership so they will be more likely to comply.  Be flexible in the sense that sometimes changes may be needed to the schedule, depending on what is found to work.
  3. Encourage physical activity. Physical activity is important for mental health and learning.  Exercise assists with attention and alertness for learning and provides an outlet for pent-up energy.  Obviously, this will require some creativity.  If you have a garden, play sport.  Set up family tournaments and competitions.  Build obstacle courses, inside or outside.  There are many online resources for ideas. 
  4. Manage screen time. Devices are playing an essential role in our lives right now, to stay connected and to learn and work remotely.  Understandably many parents are loosening rules of screen time as they come to grips with managing childcare, maintaining the home and working remotely.  Make sure that screen time is not at the expense of play, outdoor activities, learning and sleep.
  5. Have grace. Go easy on yourself and your child and manage expectations.  We are all in unchartered territory.  There will likely be a lot of trial-and-error in navigating the remote learning.  Take a deep breath, laugh and alter your plans and expectations as necessary. 
  6. Contain emotions. Stress and anxiety are heightened in society presently.  Children will pick up and feed off this.  Changes in routines, isolation from special friends and family and limiting of movement will be very frustrating.  Expect children to be emotional, perhaps playing out behaviorally.  Children do not yet have the cognitive maturity to regulate emotions.  Children need parents to be understanding and comforting. 

During this strange and scary time there are also opportunities.  The unknown engenders creativity and dynamism, which can be seen in the school context.  Confinement provides the unique opportunity for extensive quality time with your children, which can strengthen family relationships.  Embrace the good.

If you require advice or counsel during this time on emotional or learning support matters, you are welcome to contact me lcook@bishops.org.za .