Life & Style

Pandemic parenting with an only child

Vaishali S Sharma of The Champa Tree reading to her child

Vaishali S Sharma of The Champa Tree reading to her child   | Photo Credit: @thechampatree on Instagram

Walks on the terrace, movie nights and reading sessions. How couples are working out a new routine for their kids

It has been over three months since my 11-year-old son has seen another child. Like most children in the country, he has been confined to the house. Playdates, even now as lockdown eases, are out of the question.

As an only child, he is used to keeping himself occupied. Books, Lego, playing by himself, all served to fill the endless days. The “What should I do now?” litany soon began in earnest, though. He wasn’t missing school, but he did miss the physicality of meeting other children. To tackle this, we have been doing mock wrestling matches and fake-boxing.

Only-children across India are coping with solitary confinement in various ways. Gurgaon-based poet Sahana Ahmed’s nine-year-old daughter had her birthday two weeks into lockdown. “The first few days were spent explaining why we couldn’t invite her friends and she had a Zoom party with them on the big day,” says Ahmed.

Kolkata-based Vinita Garg says the lockdown has been liberating for her seven-year-old and “infuriating for me”. The writer admits she was initially glad at the dismantling of structure and routine. “We would walk together on the terrace, study, watch films. Just as the boredom started to set in, online school began, so that helped hugely.”

@momwearsprada on Instagram

@momwearsprada on Instagram  

Conversations around Covid

For Bengaluru-based book editor Ganesh Vancheeswaran, his nine-year-old was curious in the beginning to know what lockdown and Covid-19 were all about. “He was mildly anxious about not being able to go downstairs to play and not meeting his grandparents who live in Chennai. We had a number of conversations about why it was important to stay at home,” he says.

Psychologist Trishna Agarwala says talking to children at their level is helpful. “Give them information they can digest. It is important to empathise and validate their feelings. Let them know that it is normal to feel anxious.” Kids may also quietly worry about parents and grandparents falling sick at this time. “They might worry about what will happen to them if a parent is ill,” she cautions. “Talk to them about what will happen in such a situation. This will lower their anxiety. Let them know the adults have a plan in place.”

Teen speak

Children need other children to play with, to learn how to negotiate and compromise. “The lockdown period is taking away these vital opportunities. It might be especially hard on children who are shy and who might cling even tighter to their parents,” explains Agarwala.

Vinita Garg’s husband giving their son a haircut

Vinita Garg’s husband giving their son a haircut   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In the absence of siblings or friends, parents are called on to double up as playmates. The question is, are parents adequate substitutes? “Families with only children do have a slightly more difficult deal,” says Garg, adding, “You find ways around it, though. My son is productively engaged for a good part of the day. I study with him, my husband is teaching him chess and coding.” If you’re going online, Agarwala recommends trying something active like charades, pictionary or storytelling.

While younger children may welcome extra parental attention, teenagers are a different story. With school plus a hectic schedule as a state and national level footballer, Thaïs Mascarenhas, 15, is usually quite busy. “When news of the quarantine first came out, I was thrilled because at that time I had exams and I was praying they would cancel them, and they did!” she says. “I am enjoying myself at home, especially not having to wake up early for school. I keep in touch with friends on social media. The thing I miss terribly is football.”

Like my son, Mascarenhas hasn’t given school a second thought over the summer. “I didn’t really think about school until today, when my mother and I went to pick up my books and I met a few of my friends,” she says, adding that she has her dog for company, though. “Frankie is always there to put a smile on my face. Mama refers to him as my brother.”

Blogger Harpreet Suri with her son

Blogger Harpreet Suri with her son   | Photo Credit: @momwearsprada on Instagram

Talk it out

There are no studies to show how children fare when they’re away from other children for long periods of time. The single-child families we have spoken to sometimes struggle with demands for parental attention and the guilt can be crushing. “I realise my son needs a playmate and I try my best to engage with him in his world of make believe,” says Garg.

Agarwala advises that parents aim for quality over quantity. “If you are rushed for time, let your child know when you will be available to play with. When you are playing, avoid getting distracted.”

Journalling might help focus thoughts on to the page. When lockdown began, my son wrote every night with a vengeance. It alleviated his confusion about low food supplies and the uncertainty of what was going on. He still journals, but apparently his nightly notes are now all about Minecraft.

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Printable version | Jul 5, 2020 8:34:57 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/pandemic-parenting-with-an-only-child/article31831976.ece

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