Tips for Parents/Guardians

I’m not a parent/guardian nor am I even remotely close to becoming one. However, I am a daughter. I have firsthand seen the challenges and obstacles my parents have overcome and the daily struggles they face, especially with regards to parenting me and my brother. One thing I’ve learned from my parents: being a parent is tough. Which is why I truly want to help caregivers. Imran, Zeshan, and Pervaiz (2020)5 provided a collection of tips and considerations for parents to refer to in supporting their children’s mental health. I’ve listed them below.

Tips for promoting the mental health of a child in your care:

Younger children

  • If the child is demanding more attention at nap time and/or bedtime, try to spend more quality time with him/her/them during the day, by possibly taking 10-15 minutes’ breaks where parents focus entirely on the child. Enjoy blowing bubbles, listening to music or singing/dancing at home.

  • Setting up a routine for family.

  • Turn off the news channels when young children are around. They will hear things or see images or videos that are potentially scary.

  • Refrain from talking about the COVID related situation with other adults or older siblings around them.

  • Younger kids may need a bit more hugs and cuddles than older kids. If parents are concerned about transmitting illness, then sitting close, or perhaps sleeping in the same room might be worth trying.

  • Encourage younger children to adequately and frequently wash hands or wipe surfaces of any playful game.

  • Encourage video chat. Video chat helps young children—even babies—remember and build relationships with family members and other caregivers.

  • Try to talk about what is happening on the screen while watching programs or playing video games with your children. Although children may engage with screens more than usual during this pandemic, but make sure they have mix of activities across the day, including story/book time, free play, art activities, some active play like hide & seek, running around, jumping on a trampoline, copying/imitating baby facial or body gestures, building train tracks, or riding a tricycle.

Older Children:

  • Set times for a few regular activities each day such as home tutoring, telephone calls with a friend, or cooking together, family meals; do these activities at the same time each day.

  • Make sure they spend some time outdoors every day, or do some exercise daily. If one can’t go outside, try to spend at least two hours by a window, looking into the daylight, and focusing on being calm.

  • Social interactions are important, even during social distancing; videoconferencing, telephone, or real-time text-messaging may be worth considering, possibly at the same time each day.

  • Avoid frequent day time naps, especially later in the day; if they must nap, restrict the nap to 30 minutes—napping can make it hard to go to sleep at night.

  • Avoid bright (especially blue) light like computer screens, smartphones in the evening. Blue spectrum light suppresses the hormone that helps us sleep.

  • Advise adolescents to stick to a consistent sleep and wake time that fits their natural rhythms.

  • If a child is sad about not having a birthday party, or missing an important social event, validate his/her feeling of sadness and frustration, acknowledge their losses, listen empathically to their thoughts, feelings and emotions, and collaboratively explore some possible solutions. Arranging a surprise birthday party with family and friends on Zoom might not sound too crazy!

Children with Special Needs:

  • For children with special needs (ASD/ID), excessive disruptions in daily routines should be avoided by encouraging them to have a daily schedule of activities that can be carried out in their home environment. Communication should be maintained with their therapists and schools.

Children in quarantine:

  • Children in quarantine should be able to contact their parents frequently. They should be guided to maintain a daily routine and should have access to disease information. They should be able to contact mental health professionals if need arises.

Some other Important consideration for families:

  • Create some stable consistent routines that nurture the whole family. Mental Health Professionals often emphasize on how bedtime and mealtime routines help children feel safe, organized, and secure. But routines help parents and adults feel that way too!

  • Disease containment measures like social isolation have enabled families to spend more time together. Many Parents have reported an increased sense of closeness and intimacy with their children.

  • Make use of this quality time by reading a book or making drawings with them, engaging them in household chores like cleaning and cooking, and occupy them with indoor scavenger hunts, board and card games to reduce the stress and boredom due to home confinement.

  • During stressful times, children need a safe, reassuring, and secure relationship with their caregivers with whom they can express their feelings and questions.

  • Use simple, developmentally appropriate language (especially for young children) to explain rationale for social distancing, not being able to visit friend’s/ family members/grandparents, needing to wear facial masks etc. Some possible simple statements could be any of the following:

    • We cannot play with other kids lately so that we can stay healthy.

    • We wipe things down (including door knobs, toys, furniture etc...) to keep them clean

    • Sometimes people wear masks when they are not feeling well. When they start feeling well, they will stop wearing masks.

  • Society as a whole, needs to play an active role to ensure that vulnerable populations like children, adolescents and elderly are supported during this challenging time by responsible media coverage and following of social distancing guidelines by the government.

  • Lastly, the parents and caregivers should take care of themselves as well. If they are confident and free of stress, they may be able to guide, educate and protect their children more effectively and efficiently.