As a working mum of two, I know how tough parenting can be. A global pandemic adds extra challenges and many parents are also trying to do their job from home. It can be a long, exhausting day with young children, especially without the support of family.
Here are some tips for maintaining good mental health while parenting during this crisis:
Take time to adjust
Everyone in the family will be experiencing different emotions and children can find it particularly hard to express verbally how they are feeling. They may show anxiety and unhappiness in ways that are challenging. You might experience more clingy behaviour, sleeplessness or aggression.
Take the time you all need to adapt to the changed circumstances. Parent Graham Kelly comments: ‘My wife works full time in hospital. I expected my 3-year-old to be understanding of my work needs. That didn’t work. I am now loving the extra time with him. We are holding conversations and his language is coming on no end!’
Resist pressure to recreate school
Trying to replicate the school day could cause unnecessary stress for everyone. These are not normal times and children will be sensitive to the general anxiety and will also be missing their friends. Having children of different ages at home makes teaching more complicated, and it is unlikely that you have access to the resources that teachers have in the classroom.
Headteacher, Joseph Piatczanyn comments: ‘It hasn’t got to be ‘home schooling’ to be beneficial. Count things, spot things, tell jokes, set the table, watch a film, read a book and ask questions about it, act out the stories, clean the house together, make a mud kitchen!’ Enjoy this opportunity to teach life skills and to learn together.
Develop a routine
If you are coping well with no routine at all, then do stick with that. However, some kind of structure suits most families and can help parents to feel more successful. Children will also find a routine reassuring. Have a set time for snacks and meal times, and schedule your daily walk or exercise for a certain time of day. If possible, consider doing some learning in the morning, with the afternoon for free choice.
Again, don’t pressure yourself by trying to do longer lessons as they would do at school. Short bursts of learning will work best at this time and using a timer can help to motivate children and reduce frustration. Take advantage of activities such as Joe Wick’s daily PE sessions on YouTube.
Physical activity is great for mental health and it can become an important part of your daily structure. Many parents are finding that a structure at weekends is important too. A study published in The Lancet found that people who have an active daytime routine sleep better and consequently have better mental health.
Routine has also been found to reduce oppositional behaviour in children. Ticking things off your daily list will be rewarding for you and your child but remember that it’s OK to change your routine or lose it altogether if you need to.
Recognise the positives
Parent Rachel Hamblin comments: ‘I’ve put too much pressure on myself to get this time “right” for my 3 year old and I’ve cried lots. But even on the worst days where it’s felt like everything has gone badly, I’ve been able to find one positive thing.’
It’s worth celebrating what you have achieved and also reflecting on the things you are grateful for. Professor of Psychology, Robert Emmons, has studied the effects of gratitude on well-being for more than a decade and he has found that the process of writing down things that we are grateful for each day can lead to increased optimism and happiness.
‘It doesn’t mean that life is perfect,’ comments Emmons, ‘but gratitude encourages us to identify some amount of goodness in our life.’ I was cynical about this, but I have found that forcing myself to do this each day has reduced my anxiety.
Continue to connect
At this time, we cannot be physically close to the people who make us happy, but it can ease feelings of isolation and loneliness if we can regularly speak to friends or family. Just be cautious with social media as comparisons can be damaging to mental health.
Spending plenty of time in the garden can reduce stress and anger and improve everyone’s mood. If you don’t have your own outside space, make the most of your daily exercise walks. Even experiencing the weather in an urban location can improve mental health.
In these difficult times, just recognise that your best is good enough. Don’t dwell on mistakes you feel you have made. Remember that you are doing a hard job in very challenging circumstances, with a limited support network. Take it one day at a time and try to enjoy your extra time together as a family.
Image credit: Freepik
Sarah Watkins is a Reception Teacher