In his recent `Think Piece’ (2020) Barry Carpenter CBE, professor of Mental Health in Education at Oxford Brooks University reflects on the current crisis caused by the Coronavirus pandemic:
“It feels like a period of true social disorder”.
When crisis envelopes our world the most important thing that we can do after ensuring our children’s physical safety, is to be responsive to their social and emotional needs. Professor Carpenter suggests that schools can do this by delivering what he terms a `Recovery Curriculum’ to address the five losses of routine, structure, friendship, opportunity and freedom that may have triggered anxiety and / or trauma in any child.
To support the delivery of a Recovery Curriculum at home children benefit greatly from parents who can serve as a `nonanxious’ presence. According to Edward Friedman (2012) we live in a chronically anxious and reactive society in which there are too few people leading our families, schools, and organizations who can serve as a `nonanxious’ presence. Friedman believes that groups work best when leaders are true to themselves and are not unduly anxious or worried; this is as true for families as it is for religious organizations or large corporations. A recent study by Robert Epstein (2016) showed that other than showing your child love and affection, managing your stress is the best thing that you can do to be an effective parent. The study also showed that showing children love, affection, support and acceptance through physical affection, spending one-on-one time together and encouraging your child’s autonomy and independence are also crucial.
HOW TO BE A NONANXIOUS PARENT
- Make enjoying your children your top parenting priority
- Enjoying your children is one of the best things you can do for them and for yourself. You don’t have to spend every moment with them or convince your self that parenting isn’t hard when actually it is. Your child needs to know that you are genuinely happy to spend time with him/her. This feeling is incredibly powerful and important for your child’s self-esteem and sense of well-being.
- Spend individual time with your child, ideally without electronics. Take turns with each child if you have more than one so that the ratio is one-on-one.
- If your child is struggling, schedule a short time every day to worry about his / her problem. Write it into your planner to remind you that it is safe not to worry all day long.
- Remember who’s responsible for what. It can’t be your responsibility to see that everything goes well for your children at all times.
- Create a stress-reduction plan for yourself. Create time for more exercise? more sleep? Think about what calms you down and work out how you can do more of it.
- Model self-acceptance and tell your children
STRATEGIES FOR SUPPORTING THE RECOVERY CURRICULUM AND ENHANCING CHILDREN’S WELL-BEING.
These are some strategies that you can try to help support your child and young people at this uncertain time.
- Listen to your child
Active listening is crucial to communication. Children need to know that their parents are listening to them. With young children get down to their level and make eye contact with them. Conversations with your child can extend their thinking, vocabulary and their problemsolving skills. Actively listening to their words conveys mutual respect and encourages children to express their thoughts and feelings openly and honestly. We communicate with each other nonverbally as well as verbally. Our actions, facial expressions and tone of voice can let our children know that we are listening to them. A smile, a nod or a pat on the back can convey a lot.
Children depend on the regular reassurance of a warm, sympathetic face and notice smiles.
Let your child hear affirming words. Build your child’s confidence and self-esteem by giving them credit for what they do. We need to be careful however of what and how we praise. Schools can tend to focus on praising and rewarding achievements such as high marks in tests or passing exams. If we want to develop a growth mindset in our children, where they are willing to embrace challenge and learn to love learning, praising the effort they put in and their determination to persist with a challenge is the best way to achieve this (Dweck, C., 2007).
- It’s OK to say `No’
You can nurture in your child the ability to delay gratification, by the cautious use of the word `no’. Not a `No’ to get your child off your back but a thoughtful `No’. “No you can’t have that toy because you don’t need it and because we can’t afford it” is an appropriate way to help your child to learn to delay gratification.
- Encourage your child’s creativity
We know that children are born with curiosity, interest and creativity (Duffy, 2006). It is the role of parents and educators to nurture and encourage these strengths. Providing children with a wide variety of creative opportunities helps to make the connections in their brain stronger (Churchill-Dower, 2014). Give your child the freedom to create; keep on hand a supply of basic art supplies; pencils, crayons, paints, scissors, paper. Always place the focus on the creative process rather that the end result. Display their creations in a special area of your home at their eye level.
- Read to your child
Introduce your child to a wide selection of books by a variety of authors. When reading to young children be careful to select books that are enjoyable, predictable and meaningful to them. Encourage your child to `read the pictures’ by putting their own words to the story.
Stories can enrich children’s emotional vocabulary and enable them to learn from a character’s moral dilemmas. Stories can also nurture feelings of compassion and understanding between adults and children. Ask your child questions such as `How do you think that the character felt about what happened to him /her?’ or `What would you have done in this story?’ thus promoting children’s feelings of empathy.
- Use Music
Most children love to sing and be sung to. Share songs with your child and encourage their natural musical aptitude. Look for songs that make use of repeated words, musical phrases or rhythmic patterns. Children usually enjoy music and can often learn songs easily. As they grasp the vocabulary and melody of a song children are gaining important learning skills.
Provide opportunities for your child to listen to classical music. Children’s tastes can be influenced by the music that we play for them. In order for children to appreciate the quality, they need to hear it played repeatedly. Try playing classical music at nap and bedtimes to help create a restful atmosphere.
- Encourage children to give their best efforts and discourage them from quitting
Failure is not necessarily bad, especially if effort is given and the appropriate feedback and reinforcement are provided. Failure can open the door to character and commitment. Quitting or giving less than the best effort possible should not be acceptable. In sports and games it is important to teach your child that the inability to finish first does not mean that he or she is a failure. Help your child to have a healthy perspective as far as winning, losing and participating are concerned.
- Support your child’s school
Get involved in your child’s school. Stay informed about what is happening in the classroom by offering to help the teacher. If you have information that will help the teacher plan the best curriculum for your child, share it. Schools generally do not receive enough feedback from parents.
- Create a loving home environment
Show your child every day that they are loved. Ask for their help, their opinion and express appreciation for their efforts. Share responsibilities with them and catch them cooperating. Model the qualities that you want your children to possess; kindness, truthfulness, honesty and caring.
When children are learning and cooperating they develop the resilience that leads to greater happiness, and the strength that will enable them to bounce back from challenges and adversity. As parents we have a vital role to play working with schools to ensure that our children and young people build the resilience that is needed to get through this pandemic.
Dr Ruth MacConville
Carpenter, B., 2020, Think Piece, A Recovery Curriculum: Loss and Life for our children and young people post pandemic, www.evidenceforlearning.net
Churchill-Dower, R. Teddy Talk: Bonkers about Brains: Creativity and Brain Development in Children. Available at www.youtube.com/watch?/v=ssvWfelKxEI, accessed on 29.09.2016
Duffy, B., 2006, Supporting Creativity and Imagination in the Early years. Milton Keynes, Open University Press.
Dweck, C., 2007, `The perils and promises of praise’, Educational Leadership, 65, (2), P. 34 – 39
Epstein, R.,2016, What makes a Good Parent? Scientific American Mind, Special Collectors Edition, Vol. 25, No.2
Friedman, E., 2007, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. New York, Seabury Books, 2007