Parenting in the shadow of the Coronavirus

The COVID-19 crisis has left us out of our depth in various spheres; add parenting to that. Stuck with their children 24/7, parents are discovering inadequacies in their home-brewed parenting styles.

“How do I keep them constructively engaged?”; “How do I connect with them?”; and then there is also the more specific question: “How can children get a handle on COVID-19 so that they accept and adapt to a changed routine, one that severely cramps their style?” — Saras Bhaskar, counselling psychologist and co-founder, Chennai Counselors’ Foundation (CCF), points out that such questions form the leitmotif of parents’ communications with her over emails and conference calls now.

So, for parents who may be desperately trying to wrap their heads around John Bowlby’s attachment theory and Diana Baumrind’s parenting style theory to get through this “unusual summer vacation”, four members of CCF — Anita Mohan, Mathangi Ramprasad, Nandini Raman and Saras Bhaskar — have authored a slim e-book, A Short Parenting Manual for COVID-19, available in English and Tamil versions for free access at CCF’s website,, and Facebook page.

It’s a bare-minimum resource marked by an extreme simplicity of approach, and is free of jargonese. Its value lies in the fact that it has the potential to get some parents to work their way towards finding answers to the afore-mentioned questions, and it doesn’t demand much time or concentration.

In the introductory section of the e-book, which from cover to cover numbers just 22 pages, the authors point out that John Bowlby’s attachment theory, Erik Erikson’s psychosocial development theory, and Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs form the foundational basis for the ideas presented in the book

“The structural framework for the book comes from Talking To Children about Illness, published by the Division of Clinical Psychology, an offshoot of the British Pyschological Society. But the content is entirely driven by parenting in the Indian context. For more people to use this resource, we also translated the book (A short Parenting Manual for COVID-19) into Tamil,” says Saras.

When parenting resources are readily available, how does this one stand differentiated?

“It is age-appropriate; there are different sections for parents of children in different development age groups: 0-3, 4-7, 7-13; and 13-and-above,” she explains, adding that what to expect from children during the COVID-19 crisis, and how to respond to them are spelt out in easy-to-follow points.

“It is illustrated with photos and sketches by parents and children; we have used these with their permission and credited them for it. The images present vignettes of life during the lockdown,” explains Saras.

Besides photos of how some children – the older ones – help out in the kitchen, or wield the squeegee mop, there are a few illustrations, by children and parents.

Thin in number, these illustrations are still significant. One, they provide a window to a child’s mind, how their curious brains process the lockdown. Two, they demonstrate parents’ involvement in their children’s world as it orbits around a rather peculiar situation.

But this is not a book of illustrations, and what makes it worth flipping through is how it tries to capture the behaviours and thoughts of children, and how parents/caregivers can shape both.

Set down in points, the sections, each dedicated to a particular development age, lists what these children would say and do. The why of it is presented in brief commentaries.

Then, it dwells on how parents/caregivers should respond to these.

Age 0-3

The authors point out that though this group can’t comprehend the distress experienced by the adults around them, at both the intellectual and emotional level, they still have those human antennas to pick up cues that would lead them to manifest certain changes. The authors say it is “being clingier, changes in toilet routine, eating and sleeping pattern”.

As their capacity for understanding the world is still hugely underdeveloped, these children’s parents should model the right behaviour, showing them clearly what needs to be done.

“Personal hygiene such as covering one’s mouth when sneezing and washing hands need to be modelled appropriately,” the authors write.

They explain how COVID-19 related safety can be made central to playtime.

“Let’s wash our hands now. Who is going to be first? Every time we sneeze, we use a hankie/ tissue (make a game of it at non usage times to ensure familiarity),” they write.

While delineating how pretend games can help reinforce desirable behaviours, the authors present a game where a doll’s hands are rinsed before every imaginary meal time.

Age 4-7

Children in this age group are wrapped in a bubble of curiosity, floating across skies with powder-puffs of questions.

The authors point out what parents of children this age, are only too familiar with – “a lot of questions” and questions that are repeated.

As the “grilling” now is bound to be around COVID-19 and lockdown, parents have to be more receptive than ever before, to their curious questions, never making them feel silly for having illogical notions about things, many of which may now pertain to the current crisis.

The authors say parents/caregivers can use story-telling to help them arrive at a right understanding of what COVID-19 means, and what is required of them to stay safe from it.

They are at an age when stories form the staple of their inner life, and they tend to use their imagination to fill gaps in information, the authors say, adding that these children will be staging stories, with their toys as dramatis personae.

So, parents will have to enter these stories, and weave the current events into their narrative.

As these children are given to imagining situations that may be “illogical”, the authors write, “Make sure that the child understands cause and effect (e.g. washing hands will help stop germs from spreading rather than will stop spreading germs). Answers to questions need to be simple.”

Age 7-13

The authors explain that children in the 7-13 age group would have developed a faint notion about the pain of being human, about loss and the impermanence of human existence. Their window to these realities is covered with haze, and parents should ensure the lack of sufficient visibility does not lead to a distorted view of certain aspects of life.

They can harbour a “fear of falling sick” and they may be “worried about their grandparents’ health and wellness”

The authors further write: “They are likely to experience physical symptoms of stress like headache and stomach ache.”

The authors alert the readers to the danger of exposing these children to unfiltered news.

Reports and images of COVID-19 related deaths on television, if imbibed without parental processing, can make them astir with anxiety, causing them to imagine similar scenarios at home.

The authors recommend a “Worry Box”, where fears are put down in writing and later unfurled for a discussion with parents. It goes with something called a “Gratitude Box”, where the children and other family members are encouraged to write a “thanksgiving” note for every good thing in their lives, and this would create a positive environment, and place the current crisis in perspective.

Age 13 and above

These are teenagers, and it is a group that is beginning to process the world the way adults do. In their mind though, they are already better at it than the adults. They have a more acute sense of “the future possibilities.” Due to this, there is bound to be a sharp edge to their imagination, “about things that have not happened or might happen”, the authors say, and add, “they understand the different causes and effects of the virus.”

Fortunately, teenagers also have a sense of what stress and worry can do to them.

The authors list some of what is well-known about this segment – peer influence; and a sense of how capable they are in being a part of the solution. During the lockdown, the fact that they can’t meet their peers face-to-face can weigh them down. This generation of teenagers are organically inclined to volunteering, and are therefore likely to be acutely aware of the “social and emotional aspects” of the COVID-19 crisis, and may want to reach out to the unfortunate, say the authors.

On how parents/ caregivers should respond to them, the authors says parents should have discussions with them.

“It is better to ask open-ended questions such as “What did you think of the news that . . . .?” the authors write.

The authors say in the current situation, parents should make sure their teenage children don’t imbibe misinformation about COVID-19, a very real possibility as these children are a social-media generation. If these children want to help those hard hit by the crisis, parents should clearly show them how they can help others without endangering their own personal safety. The authors further point out that this is a time when the family shares chores, and teenagers are old enough to take a share of the work, but they have to be allowed to decide which part that would be.

Saras says, “This ebook is not just for these times, but have a relevance beyond COVID-19. It has been prepared with this objective in mind. Though parents may be going through a difficult time, balancing remote-work and household chores, it is still an opportunity for them to connect with their children meaningfully. If they understand this and act on it, they will be building a lasting foundation for a great parent-child relationship.”

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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 1:43:50 PM |

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