Build a better relationship with your kid while parenting in lockdown
Psychiatrist Dr Syeda Ruksheda is here to rescue tired, frustrated parents
Parenting in lockdown means we’ve gone from being hands-on for a few hours a day to being on high alert 24X7 — getting them to eat, playing teacher for school assignments, enforcing strict hand-washing hygiene and keeping them distracted long enough so you don’t have to hear those three dreaded words – “Mama, I’m bored.”
It can get exhausting, especially since the responsibility of keeping the house running still falls to moms.
When your whole family is confined to a small space, tensions and anxieties can easily flare up.
So how do you use this time to bond with your kids and build a better relationship, instead of getting bogged down with that ever-increasing list of chores?
Psychiatrist Dr Syeda Ruksheda shares the tools she imparts to her patients.
How do I use parenting in lockdown to strengthen our relationship?
– Look at your kids when you’re talking to them, not at your phone. Especially right now, because they’re constantly observing you, so you want to be on your best behaviour.
– In my sessions, people often ask, ‘I’m trying to teach them their schoolwork but they’re not listening. What do I do?’ I say, ‘You know what, don’t force it, take a break or if you can, pass on that responsibility to somebody else.’
Your child is going to be fine with lower grades this year. If you’re struggling or your child’s struggling, it’s not worth pushing.
– Talk to them and not at them. Whatever age group your child is in, if you talk to them the way you would any other human being using words that they understand, no matter what topic comes up, they will connect with you.
You need to be able to trust them and respect them. They have their own privacy, their own way in which they want to be spoken to, and spoken about.
– When you treat them with kindness and respect, all of the issues where they need approval, validation and support will come up very easily and naturally. That’s where you start to build a good relationship.
What are the bonding activities we can try?
The biggest challenge of parenting in lockdown is to create a new normal for your whole family.
– Create family rituals, play games together. Even if it’s just one meal in the day that you sit down and eat together, talk about what you all did through the day.
– Learn something new from your children. Maybe even make a video with them, it’s all about TikTok right now. Try learning something both of you don’t know. When you do it together, it’s a very good bonding experience that they’ll always share with you.
These activities have to be age-appropriate for the simple reason that what you might enjoy, your kid might not be interested in or capable of doing.
Representative photo: Mayank Mudnaney
For example, we play Pictionary in my house. So there’s a 17 year old and 4 year old. When the little one has to draw, we give him a simple word and we still try and guess it. And the older child will get a more difficult word to draw.
If you have kids of different ages, you can have the same activity but at different levels. This way everyone is involved and doing it together.
– One thing that I do with kids in the family is that our bedtime stories are all about our own childhood experiences. Even if it’s my nephew, I’ll say ‘you know, when your father was this age, he did this and that’. It’s a story rooted in reality with no mirch masala. It connects them to other members of the family. If I’m telling my nephew a story about his father, I’m also bonding with him in my own way.
You’re sharing parts of your life with them, humanising yourself and making yourself more familiar to them. They become more comfortable with you and that’s ultimately what you want so they talk to you with openness when they need to.
Parenting in lockdown is too tiring, what if I can’t keep up with my kids?
Your bonding activities don’t have to be taxing. We need smart parenting tactics, not just because this is the digital age but because we want to be involved but not exhausted. Many times, parents complain they don’t have the same energy level as their kid, they can’t keep up and keep them entertained all the time.
– I used to be sitting in one place with these 4-5 year olds and we’d play Simon Says. I was always Simon and I would say ‘Go to the next room, touch the blue pillow and come back’.
So, they are running around and they are out of my hair. At the same time, they think I’m completely involved in the game and have very good memories of playing with me.
– Eventually, children turn around and say “I’m bored, what do I do?” In our house, we will give one suggestion, occasionally. At other times, the children will be told that they need to figure out what they want to do.
Boredom is also important for children and their brain development. That’s when they learn problem-solving, creativity and a whole lot of other things.
We need to stop spoon-feeding them, like do this, do that, learn this and let them come up with solutions and games that you can then play with them.
– Of course, you’re going to want some space and they do too, especially if you’re living in small city apartments. Even if we’re privileged, we may not be privileged with space.
What I tell people, especially during the lockdown, is to create an alone space and have scheduled ‘alone time’. Talk to your kids and create such spaces.
‘Every day between 2 PM and 3 PM, Mama goes and sits in her alone space. That is her alone time and no matter what, you can’t disturb her. The same way, you get alone time in your space between 4 PM-5 PM and you can do whatever you want. You have to be there with your thoughts, books, whatever you want to do. That’s your alone time’.
The safe space can be the bed, a stool, even a chair. And it shouldn’t be an area that you use to ground them or use as a punishment area.
What conflict resolution techniques can I practice while parenting in lockdown?
For any kind of effective communication, you need eye contact. If you really want them to start paying attention to you – look your child in the eye, and bring yourself to their level. Keep a poker face, speak slower, softer and firmer. Then you ask them – what is it that you want?
– Always try and give them an option. Do you want to do this or that? I’m not going to open the cupboard and say, ‘Pick what shirt you want to wear’. I’ll ask, ‘Do you want to wear the white one or the blue one?’
When you’re giving options but also setting boundaries, they learn how to make decisions for themselves.
– One of the things I ask parents is how do you teach your child? I don’t use the word ‘punish’. Punishment is not because you are mad at them, but because you want your child to learn different behaviour.
How do you teach them not to touch a hot stove? When they’re putting their hand near the fire, are you rapping them on the wrists, screaming at them? Instead of thinking ‘How do I punish them?’, ask yourself, ‘How do I teach them not to do that again?’
Change the definition in your own head, and you will automatically develop better methods.
How can I ensure that they feel safe at home?
An important aspect of parenting in lockdown is widening the concept of ‘safe space’ to the physical, emotional, verbal, sexual and digital.
I’m not going to post a picture of my child and put it on Instagram even if my child is a 3 year old because I don’t have consent. I’m not going to say ‘beta, go kiss aunty or hug uncle’.
– We need to be very sure that we are not the ones making the space unsafe for our child. Are we doing the yelling, screaming, hitting and spanking? There needs to be that introspection. Are you or is anyone else in the house the problem?
– When we’re talking about sexual exploitation, it’s not just about somebody touching my child or sexually abusing them. It can come from an inappropriate joke, being shown pornographic images at a young age, or anything sexual without the child’s consent. And frankly, a child’s not capable of giving consent.
So are you seeing any such content that they have access to? Even accidentally, could something pop up on your laptop? Or is it the language that is being used by people at home?
I don’t want my child to think stalking is OK and gang rape is a joke to be made in chat rooms. At the same time, I don’t want my girls to grow up thinking it’s OK to trap a boy or say nasty things about others.
– Children, especially urban teenagers now, know that there is no difference between genders. If they get treated differently in their home because of their gender or how they identify, then they’re automatically judging you. If you’re treating them differently, in their head, they know this is not a safe space for them.
– Create more than just one refuge for your kids. If you’re not around or busy, or even if the parent passes away, they have somewhere else to go.
Should I be talking to them about the realities of COVID-19?
Parenting in lockdown is about making tough choices. This is not one of them. Of course, you have to tell them. They won’t be scared if you don’t make it scary.
Tell them there’s a virus because of which we have to be cautious about our hygiene. We might be OK, but we might pass it on to other people.
It’s just about teaching hygiene habits as you would otherwise too. When we go out, we don’t touch the railing, we don’t cough openly but into our elbows or use handkerchiefs.
You treat it matter-of-factly and practice it, then they’ll just think it’s normal for them. Parenting in lockdown means normalising this. For the next six-eight months, we have to continue being cautious, so get them into the habit now.
If they’re getting scared and worried, address it. Kids will have imaginary monsters under their bed. You can’t belittle them and dismiss their fears. You will check under the bed and assure them there’s nothing there.
So whether it’s an imaginary monster or the coronavirus, they know you’re there for them and you will deal with it together.
Knowledge is power – give knowledge to your children and they’ll be more powerful.
Dr Syeda Ruksheda, Consultant Psychiatrist, Trellis Family Centre, Mumbai.
Photo: Dreamcatchers Photography
Featured image credits
Styling: Divya Gursahani, HMU: Mausam Gandhi, Models: Siddharth and Kabir Banerjee