We asked parenting and child development expert Victoria from Emerging Parent to tell us what is really important for our kids under lockdown:
A few days ago, I agreed to do a Facebook live with a Mummy blogger to answer the questions that people had about parenting during lockdown. When she sent the questions over to me on the day, I scanned through them:
Mums worrying about their child’s development not progressing during lockdown (especially social development!)
Mums worrying that their children will struggle with childcare when they have to return.
Mums worrying about their kids being clingy or even more shy than ever when the lockdown is over.
Mums noticing all sorts of things that are worrying them during lockdown.
Mums noticing some positive things during lockdown like better sleep, but worrying that it will disappear once ‘normal life’ resumes.
Mums worrying about the lock down bringing on ‘big emotions’ that their little ones are just not ready for.
Worry, worry, worry…
Of course, I answered all the questions, one at a time… but I found myself saying the same thing over and over again – so I thought it would be helpful to share that here:
1. Look after yourself!
If you are a mum of a baby or toddler – seriously, the most important thing you can do right now is make sure that you are alright. Why? Well because actually that is what’s going to affect them the most. Your baby doesn’t really care that you’re in lockdown. And even toddlers, though they will be annoyed every day that they still can’t go to the park, and their energy levels will be spilling over from being stuck inside, on a social development level – you are their main social buddy right now. Also, both babies and toddlers are supersensitive to the feelings their main carer is experiencing. It makes sense – toddlers and babies are all about survival, so being attuned to your carer’s feelings allows you to know whether there is danger right now, or whether you can chill out a bit. So, if you are anxious all the time – your baby and toddler will know and will also be hypervigilant – but it will come out through more screaming, tantrums, difficult behaviours and problems sleeping. Which will make you more anxious and so the vicious cycle continues…
When toddlers do have ‘big feelings’ they look to you for co-regulation of emotions. In-fact, most children do to an extent, but certainly for babies and toddlers you are a primary source for regulating their feelings. But if your own worries are through the roof, regulating theirs will be pretty hard.
Plus, if you are worried all the time, it’s hard to be sensitive to what’s happening for them. What might happen instead is that you might get a bit hypervigilant – noticing things you wouldn’t usually notice, attributing things to the lockdown, that are actually just developmental changes…
Why am I saying all of this – because I want you to take your own mental wellbeing seriously. Do what it takes to be in the best place you can be – get sleep, get exercise, stay away from too much news, take photos, cook things you like… It’s not so much for you (though, you will, of course, benefit) as it is for your little one and their emotional wellbeing!
2. Don’t worry too much about how lock down is affecting your little ones.
Seriously, for little ones, so much of the possible negative effects are likely to come from your state of mind and the atmosphere in the house (such as tensions with anyone else living with you), not from the actual experience of the lockdown.
Much of the development that’s happening before the age of 3, doesn’t necessary require loads of interaction with the outside world and peers. Yes, it is good for them to have some experiences of the outside world, and, of course they have had that and they will be having that again, there’s just a bit of a gap in those experiences right now. But what’s even more important is what is happening between you and your baby or toddler. If they feel safe at home with you, if they experience you as a calm and containing adult who is dealing with the difficult situation and handling it without too much stress, then that will help them develop their sense of the world as a positive place where they are taken care of.
When it comes to social development – remember that every child will be experiencing the same gap in being with peers and other adults. And though this becomes increasingly important after the age of 3, even then children’s brains are pretty good at catching up once given a chance. And though, yes, initially when you return to what you used to do socially, there will be some adjustment time, and things will go a bit haywire – but that is to be expected, it doesn’t mean something horrible and irreversible has happened – it just means your child’s brain is changing gears.
Plus remember that children will be going through normal developmental stages as the lockdown progresses and you will see variations, just as you would see them if there wasn’t a lockdown. Except in lockdown, you might be homing in on smaller changes much more, because your focus isn’t as scattered, so you might subjectively feel like more things are changing.
3. Control what you can
There will be things you have very little control over – how long the lockdown lasts, illness that happens in your family, loss of income… And these you will have to deal with as they come…
But there are things that you do have control over – whether you still plan things to do and keep up with some kind of routine, whether you engage your child with activities that punctuate your day and help you keep some semblance of normality, whether you connect with friends and family who help you feel better, whether you take things a little slower when the lockdown ends and not rush to do all the things you are used to doing all at once.
So have a think now about what makes you feel better, what makes your life a little bit easier, a little bit happier, whether that’s planning different things you can do at home every day, or going with the flow of how your baby is and allowing yourself to simply be together. Whether that’s going out on the walk you can do every day, or staying home and calling your family. And once you know – do those things, do something you enjoy and look forward to every day. And if you are struggling – ask for the help that is available right now. Whether it’s from your partner, from an online community or some virtual support from your family.
You and your mental state are really important right now. Take yourself seriously and look after yourself!