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Living in Lockdown 5: Parents under Pressure

Many people are entering week eight of “home-schooling”. This term implies an element of choice but in reality, it is something that has been forced upon parents; many of whom are already contending with a number of other responsibilities.

Parents’ circumstances will differ in terms of resources, skills and time; some households will have both parents available, but others may be single parents and some might also be working from home. Some parents will have children with additional needs; some parents will be working in harmony; others will be experiencing conflict in parenting styles and consequently teaching approaches.

Of course, there will be those who are comfortable with the home school schedule and find that their children are compliant and over all their experience of home schooling is a positive one.

However, there may be some parents who are struggling with the pressure to be productive. There can easily be a feeling of overwhelm with the amount of work expected to be covered by schools, together with all the educational opportunities on offer, especially online: BBC bitesize, the Royal Institute of Science live experiments, PE with Joe Wickes, virtual museum tours, theatre productions, you can even learn to play the piano with Mylene Klass!

On the one hand, these can be seen as great opportunities to vary the home school curriculum but, on the other hand, it can, understandably, feel like overload and simply add to the pressure that parents already put on themselves to do the best for their children.

You may be feeling that you should be doing all these things and that, if you don’t, you are somehow depriving your children, or you are not a good enough parent. There may also be the assumption that everyone is doing it all and more. It might be worth remembering that our assumptions about what others are achieving are often dramatically overestimated.

As with social media, where we only see the perfect snapshot of someone’s life, we don’t figure in the tantrum that took place beforehand, or the effort it took to drag someone out of bed, the screaming, shouting or tears - this applies to parents as well as children!

So, if you are finding it all a bit too much, might I suggest, in the immortal words of Elsa that you: Let it go!

Let go of this worry about being a perfect parent and instead move from feeling less than perfect to feeling ok; give yourself permission to not be a perfect parent.

Remember no one has parented in a global pandemic before. The usual triggers for stress and anxiety will be amplified in our current situation and the reality is that when we are stressed or anxious it is impossible to function effectively.

Reconnect with yourself, so you can make better decisions once again.

Put your own oxygen mask on first - this isn’t self-indulgence, it is a necessity so you perform better as a parent, you will feel stronger and more resilient as a result.

You may be used to having a commute or break at work where you can recharge and gather your thoughts, so now try to incorporate some time for yourself during the day to alleviate the intensity of family interaction.

This is a healthy practice for the whole family, make it explicit, call it whatever feels right - self-care time/time out/quiet time etc. and all members of the family could set aside this time for themselves to do what they love doing and what comforts them.

Even if you live in a one bedroomed flat, lock yourself in the bathroom if you must, sit down and take a break because, whether we like it or not, you are the model for your children and exhibiting self-compassion will have a powerfully positive impact on them.

Right now, one of the most valuable skills children can learn is emotional literacy. This, in part, can be taught by modelling appropriate self-care and by reassuring children that feeling anxious or stressed happens to us all sometimes and is nothing to be ashamed of.

Telling your child, that you are having a bit of a tough day, (or whatever the message needs to be that is age appropriate), and so you're going to sit in the garden with a cup of tea/book/cat on your lap, is helpful for both of you.

Rather than trying to distract your child from their uncomfortable emotions in order to make things better, it is much more powerful and useful to help them, whatever their age, to recognise emotions and to comprehend what that is telling them and what would best soothe them, rather than pretending it hasn’t happened.

By helping the child to understand how to cope with challenging emotions themselves, you are providing a blueprint for their future behaviour.

So, if home schooling is proving too fraught for all concerned and your child doesn’t want to do the work set, then perhaps just stop and do something else. It’s ok if all the work doesn’t get done - they will catch up, and learning takes place in many ways through: baking, gardening, reading, playing games, art, music, drama etc.

It might be worth reminding yourself that we are all struggling together and experiencing a myriad of emotions is a normal response during this extraordinary period. It is far more valuable that your children feel calm, safe and grounded. There is nothing to be achieved by forcing or battling with them. By allowing you all some space you are teaching them healthy habits and a valuable lesson.

Looking back, how would you like your family to remember this time? Would you like them to remember that they managed to complete all their SAT practice papers or would you like them to remember the special time you spent reconnecting as a family?

Perhaps becoming fluent in emotional literacy is more valuable than phonics literacy in these challenging times.

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