This week we welcome Natalie Neave, PR Director at Tin Man and mama to a 14-month old Hugo, to the Mama + Max journal. Having just returned to work from maternity leave, she now finds herself at home again for the foorseeable, like so many of us, as we all try and navigate our new lives during Coronavirus. Here she talks about how she's parenting during this global pandemic and hopefully you'll discover a few tips on how you could approach this situation with your little ones.
My son is 14 months old and just starting to talk. He’s just reached that heart-warming phase of repeating words; duck, stick, teddy, bubble. So, really, it’s no surprise that yesterday he repeated ‘Corona’.
Thankfully he’s too young to understand what’s going on but it did get me thinking about being a parent in this new world order and how we’re all going to have to adapt and adjust, using parenting skills that we’ve never had to pull out of the bag before.
How do we communicate to our little ones about why they can’t see grandma or go to the swings and slides? How can we explain why they’re not at school or nursery or going to play dates with their friends? How do we explain this ‘invisible war’ without causing real fear and anxiety in those little heads?
The fact of the matter is that most children will already sense something is different. Mummy and daddy are home full time. Routines have changed. School and nursery are off. Particularly school age kids. Parents need to be prepared for when their little ones start asking questions.
Working in PR, the best way I can think to approach this (using ‘comms’ terminology!) is positioning. It reminded me of the Syrian dad who taught his daughter to laugh - instead of cry - when bombs were exploding in their town.
Essentially kids want to know three simple things – am I safe? Are the people that I care about safe? How does this change things? Most kids can handle the basics so we just need to frame it in the right way.
We need to explain the seriousness of the situation and importance of hand washing and social distancing, whilst putting it into perspective and reassuring them that we have a plan in place and as long as we stick to it, we’ll have it under control.
I do believe that honesty is key. Children of a certain age will see through the thinly disguised ’we’ll all be fine, there’s nothing to worry about’. But, similarly, little children who have no sense of logic don’t need lots of complicated information. It’s a balance.
If you’re not sure how much your kids know, then ask an open-ended question and let your child’s curiosity guide the discussion. The National Association of School Psychologists and the National Association of School Nurses suggests parents first find out what the kids think they know. Then, correct their misgivings. Ask something like ‘you’ve probably noticed that things are a bit different. Is there anything you’d like to ask mummy or daddy about?’
For toddlers who don’t understand what’s happening, model positive attitudes to keep them calm – and, if they ask, give plenty of reassurances that you will keep them safe and help them get better if they do get sick.
Whilst I’m not a child psychologist, I am a mum and from speaking to lots of other parents I have put together this list of tips for explaining to your little ones what’s going on at the moment:
- Lose the news. Having the news on in the background during family time isn’t a great idea. Save it for after they’ve gone to bed if you must. Children are too young to understand the context of what they’re hearing: No, we’re not all going to die.
- Control your own anxiety and be careful about how you’re talking in front of kids. They’re little sponges and worry is contagious.
- Explain why hand washing is important regardless of the virus in simple terms. There is a fantastic video that McFly’s Tom Fletcher shared using pepper and soap in a bowl of water to demonstrate how germs spread and how washing our hands with soap can stop them spreading. I’ve also seen mums show their kids this using glitter. Explaining the ‘why’ instead of just what to do is really key to getting children to understand the importance of it.
- Validate your kids’ feelings, acknowledging that their concerns are valid but explaining how people are dealing with the situation in a calm and measured way. Something like “I can understand why you feel that way, but…”
- Make sure YOU are constantly washing your hands too, in their eyeshot, as kids model behaviour. Sing a fun song like baby shark when you are at the sink so they copy. Make hand washing fun by putting lots of bubbles in the sink and doing some splashing.
- Make sure kids are getting lots of fresh air (on the daily exercise or in the garden). And lots of nutritious food and sleep.
- Make the most of Facetime to stay connected to grandparents and friends via play dates to keep some semblance of normality.
- If your child (like mine) wriggles and resists hand washing, there are some fantastic natural anti-bacterial products available online (Neal’s Yard does a great one) which are a good alternative when water and soap isn’t available.
Stay at home
- Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home)
- If you go out, stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people at all times
- Wash your hands as soon as you get home
- Do not meet others, even friends or family. You can spread the virus even if you don’t have symptoms.
We hope you are all keeping safe and well and we want to thank you for your continued support and for shopping small during this time.
Sending lots of love, virtual hugs and positive energy