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The Pandemic Mental Health Toolkit #3: Parenting Young Kids

Young children that should have been spending significant time outdoors, physically attend pre-school and forging their first friendships have unfortunately not been able to, due to the pandemic. They are indirectly ‘listening-in’ to the news of deaths due to the pandemic. Some parents are concerned about the lack of time or quality of time spent with their young ones.

Our mental health expert, DR. ANSHU KULKARNI presents some tips on how parents can ensure the mental wellbeing of their young ones (under six years) through the pandemic. Dr. Kulkarni is a Consultant Psychiatrist practicing in Mumbai since last 20 years. She has expertise in dealing with behavioral problems in children and adults. She is passionate about using Cognitive Behavioral Theory in her therapy practice.

1.CREATE a SUPPORTIVE ATMOSPHERE at home that encourages children to ask questions as & when they are curious to know about the pandemic. Abundant age- appropriate resources including AV films are available on websites such as CDC or WHO on the pandemic for parents to use.

 2.If there has been a DEATH of a loved one that they are aware of / curious about; be cognizant that kids under 6 years have yet not formed abstract reasoning skills. Be HONEST & communicate in an age-appropriate manner. For example, they could be told that the loved one was seriously & has gone to heaven. If they are aware of such a loss, chances are they may ask about it repetitively. REPETITIVE QUESTIONS from young children is their way of seeking constant REASSURANCE from the parent. Be patient and supportive with them through this process.

3.If there is UNAVOIDABLE CONFLICT BETWEEN PARENTS in the presence of the child, introduce the concept of PARENTAL ‘TIME OUT’ to them. Explain to them that just as children have ‘time out’ when they repeatedly do something the parents have forbidden them to do, one parent is taking ‘time out’ due to ‘not nice’ behavior. Communicate that this is temporary but the love within the family is unchanged and abundant. 

4. For WORKING PARENTS that feel guilty about spending LESS TIME with their child – allot small tasks & challenges to the children such as watering plants, helping lay dinner tables, solving a puzzle. Celebrate their accomplishments of completing the tasks when you take your work breaks. These are small but important interventions that will imbibe a feeling of ‘TOGETHERNESS’ for the child.

5.Use as many instances as possible during the day & at bedtime to EXPRESS your LOVE for the child VERBALLY as well as PHYSICALLY. It is fine to communicate that you may be tired or distressed on a particular day to them – but reiterate that the love for them is in abundance and that this discomforting moment will pass for you. Expressing your love for them helps them feel more secure and loved.

6. The HOME is the most important place for young children to develop long term behaviors as well as the concepts of boundaries, consequences & rewards. Long term GOOD HABITS can only be developed through ROUTINES. Ensure that no matter what, the young child has a robust routine to adhere to as its strongly correlated to their development. There has to be a pandemic specific routine that incorporates a lot of physical activities, minimal screen time and adequate sleep.

7. Do NOT HESITATE to take ‘ME TIME’ away from parenting duties when you feel too stressed or distressed. ‘Me Time’ will allow you to recuperate in isolation from your child. Remember, children mimic parents on stress coping strategies.

8. FOSTER GRATITUDE. Chat with your kids on who delivers them vegetables & groceries. Introduce the work that frontline healthcare workers & the police or civic bodies are undertaking in a manner that they can relate to. Good manners & Gratitude are corelated.

9. ENGAGE the services of a trained mental healthcare PROFESSIONAL if your child demonstrates the following repetitive BEHAVIOURS: (a) Persistent intrusive thoughts & worries (b) Persistent Clinginess (c) Disturbed sleep pattern (d) Incessant Crying.

A parent is a trapeze artist –
you try to balance every responsibility & relationship with parenting.
Try to be a great parent to your child,
without losing yourself in your parenting journey.’

Dr Kulkarni is available for consultation at her Mumbai office or for tele-consultations through SMS/Whatsapp on 9987042534.

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