Parenting in a pandemic: tips for caregivers and parents
Anxious SOS parents from around the world have been seeking advice on how they can help children cope during the coronavirus pandemic. With many of the children they care for already vulnerable or traumatised, being trapped at home and unable to go to school can serve as triggers for anxiety or stress. Now more than ever, children need to feel safe.
“Emotions can be more contagious than the coronavirus,” SOS child psychologist, Teresa Ngigi reminds SOS parents. “Happy and centred parents make for happy children. Take care of yourself, look after your own well-being, and your children will be fine too.”
Here, Teresa shares her top tips for parents during COVID-19.
1. Pamper yourself
“As parents, we are often so focused on taking care of others that we forget ourselves, but the happier and less stressed you are, the happier your children will be. Just because you are stuck indoors, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself. Do something that makes you happy today.”
2. Try to keep calm
“Emotions have no boundaries. They can spread around the world like a virus. With social media your panic can infect somebody thousands of miles away in seconds – and it doesn’t help you, or your children, to get through this difficult time.
“Imagine yourself as the eye of a storm. The storm can spread out and touch everything around it, but the eye of the storm is always stable and never moving. Be the eye of the storm for your children, friends and neighbours and you can be their stable ground.”
3. Let your children make some of the decisions
“There is so much we can learn from our children. I learn something new from mine every day. When children feel involved in the decisions that affect them its easier for them to understand the changes in their life and they can accept them and cope with them much better. Sit with your children, explain what’s going on simply, and then ask them what they think needs to be done. What shall we do today? How we can we help other people? You’ll find they have the most wonderful ideas. Children can inspire us if we let them.”
4. Live in the present
“It is natural to be afraid right now, but remember, fear takes you out of the present and into the future. You start thinking of all the ‘what if’s?’ What if I get sick? What will happen to my children and my family? But if you invest all your energy thinking about the future, the present will pass you by completely.
“There is so much we can do right now. Think of all those things you’ve been putting off because there wasn’t enough time or energy to do them and get cracking! Always wanted to draw, or write, paint, or knit? Now’s the perfect time to get creative. And whenever you feel yourself starting to get worried again, pull back and remember you are here, in this moment, and focus on making that moment good.”
5. Stay informed, but not too much
“Staying informed can help you feel in control, but too much information can overload and panic you. Choose carefully what you want to watch, listen to, and read. It will shape your mood for the day.”
6. Keep to a daily routine
“Your kids need structure and routine. They need to feel that life is predictable. It makes them feel safe, and it will do the same for you. We have all been thrown out of our usual routines, but you can create new ones and stick to them. Get up at a regular time. Get dressed and ready for the day, even though you are staying indoors. Have an exercise routine. Eat at regular times. It will help, I promise.”
7. Stay connected
“Social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation. You don’t have to feel alone in this. Reach out. Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in ages. Group-chat with friends and family. I have seen this happening already, and it makes me so happy to see communities coming together and friends reconnecting. I’ve lost track of how many old friends have contacted me recently to see how I am doing, and it’s wonderful to hear from them. It reminds me I belong.”
8. Stop blaming
“This is not the time to blame. It doesn’t matter how this started or where – we are all in this together now. Let’s not think about the doom and gloom. Be grateful for the good things in your life, because it’s impossible to feel grateful and depressed at the same time. Invest your energy in positive things, our capacity to be creative, kind, generous and loving, and you will feel a thousand times better.”
9. Do something good
“People have inspired me so much over the past few weeks. They are volunteering, reaching out, and making a difference to the lives of others. The crisis is encouraging people to get the best out of themselves and do good.”
10. Remember, everything will be okay
“In Italy where I live, we have been under lockdown for weeks already and the children from SOS Children’s Villages have been making rainbow posters with the message #andratuttobene – everything will be okay. It’s such an important message for us all to remember. Life will get back to normal. We will get through this.”
Teresa Ngigi, an expert and author in the field of childhood trauma, supports the mental health of children and caregivers in SOS Children’s Villages’ programmes, particularly in countries with a history of civil war and conflict. A native of Kenya, Teresa lives in Italy with her husband and a teenage daughter and son.