Child experts all over the world warn that the period of quarantine can be marked by anxiety, frustration and emotional upheaval for young children. But parents’ resourcefulness plays a big part in making this a nurturing time.
Five-year-old Maya had a relatively calm and enjoyable start during the lockdown. But a few weeks in, she started repeatedly asking when school would start. She was looking forward to her yearly Montessori summer program.
“I don’t know,” answered her mom, Mia Santos, who, like parents everywhere, faced uncertainty over when the quarantine would be over. “I miss my teachers, I miss my classmates. I miss eating together, playing and working,” the preschooler said mournfully. This was a small hiccup in what was otherwise a well-adjusted experience. To manage her disappointment, Maya went around the house carrying her schoolbag.
But the lockdown period can also be a time of growth and empowerment for families.
Dr. Geraldine Anne Lobo, child and adolescent psychiatrist, says the lockdown has caused many parents and children to start relying on themselves more. “They are being more resourceful now.”
Because people are afraid of going outside, families are learning to cope on their own. Dr. Lobo, who is with The Medical City and Philippine Children’s Medical Center, observes that “people are starting to come up with their own solutions.”
There are a few things parents can do to make this a more nurturing and reassuring time for kids.
Clear and age-appropriate
Talk to your children about what is going on and what they are feeling. When a young child asks or shows anxiety, it is important to be clear, age-appropriate and factual when talking about the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19). In its website, the Australian Red Cross suggests some vital points to make: It is a germ that can’t be seen but can make people sick; people who have it may have a cough, a fever and difficulty breathing; and few young children get it, but if they do, most will have very mild symptoms.
Children also need to know that it spreads easily. People can get it when someone who has it coughs or talks near them, or touches something that they touch, and they then touch their mouth, eyes or nose. This information makes it easier to persuade children to handwash properly, for at least 20 seconds, because they have power to control the spread of the virus.
Children must also be reassured that doctors helping sick people get better, and that scientists are developing a vaccine to fight the virus. In general, the rule is to assure children that there is light at the end of the tunnel, instead of unnecessarily contributing to their anxiety with stories of sickness and death.
Allow the children to express their emotions and desires. When children talk about them, negative feelings more easily dissipate. Santos noticed that it was very soothing for Maya to think of the things she wanted to do when lockdown was over, such as buying donuts and visiting kids’ play zones.
Families with loving relatives, such as grandparents, aunts and uncles at home, can provide a loving community for young children during the lockdown. Sometimes, just having mommy and daddy at home, with brothers and sisters, already marks this as a special time. If relatives do not live with you, and your family is relatively isolated, let your child connect with them by phone or through the internet.
Still, many children will miss their friends. Maya’s dad texted her teachers at Montessori of Loyola to help arrange a Zoom call with her classmates. Maya also gave her teachers a virtual tour around her house in Quezon City. However, don’t expect preschool children to say much during those times. Young children are just happy to see their friends and a few minutes is enough before they bid them goodbye and go their merry way.
Put a little structure in their day. It is not wise to overly organize the child’s time, especially with the aim of achieving some academic gains. But it is also not beneficial to simply lack routine.
Limit gadget use
Santos spends about an hour or two in the morning letting Maya work with Sandpaper letters and language objects, as well as practicing her writing. In the afternoon, she does unstructured play with her toys and her baby brother, or reads books.
Parents are lucky to be able to focus on their child during the quarantine. But some may have work. Santos says when she has work to do, she informs Maya about it and sets up a sand timer to guide her child when it is already okay to get the parent’s attention.
Dr. Lobo says she had to cope with both full-time administrative work at home as well as household chores, as her family made the decision to let go of outside help during lockdown. Her 12-year-old daughter, Sophie, learned to do household chores, from chopping vegetables to washing dishes.
“The basic advice is the same. Give them structure, limit their gadget use, help them use their time productively,” says Dr. Lobo, who admits that limiting gadget use can be challenging, even in her own case. She plans to have one or two no-cell-phone days to have a break from YouTube videos for her daughter.
Parents also have been checking out online courses to keep their child busy. Montessori of Loyola, for example, offers online preschool enrichment programs in reading and math, as well as online story listening and comprehension courses and review classes for kindergarten children preparing for elementary school entrance tests. Others even teach singing or ballet online. These give parents a welcome break, while ensuring that their children’s focus on important learning activities is sustained.
Take advantage of time together to understand and nurture your child. Santos says the period allowed her to witness first-hand her child’s development and nurture it. Maya had already been reading in school before the quarantine period, but the lockdown allowed Santos to see her child’s language explosion. Maya was reading different books and showing an intense curiosity about words, something Santos was able to support during the lockdown.
Family dynamics can also change at this time, when there is no school and work. Maya, for example, became “super-clingy,” after seeing her mom with her 11-month-old brother most of the time. In normal times, mom went to work daily and carved out a separate time of the day for her.
Dr. Lobo says the quarantine is allowing families to figure out ways to solve problems. Parents can also help their kids find ways to cope and “support their ways of coping.”
While the quarantine has given us many challenges, it also provides parents the opportunity to nurture the empathetic nature of their children. Encourage them to send picture messages to people who are sick or to doctors, nurses and front-liners. Seeing their parents prepare food packages or make masks to help others can be a formative childhood experience. —CONTRIBUTED INQ
The author is a director of the Montessori of Loyola preschool. She studied Family Life and Child Development at University of the Philippines Diliman and trained in Montessori preschool education in Washington; email [email protected]