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Opinion: Five steps to stress-free parenting during the pandemic

Simple gestures go a long way in assuring a child of your love and affection, even as you keep busy with countless chores through the day

The basic functioning of a family depends upon communication. Talking establishes strong bonds between parents and children. (A scene from 'Little Women', 1994)
The basic functioning of a family depends upon communication. Talking establishes strong bonds between parents and children. (A scene from 'Little Women', 1994)

Being busy has become a glorified necessity to prove one’s self-worth. We want to cram our lives with as many commitments as possible just so that we can get that fleeting gratification of being busy. At times, this serves as the perfect salve for a guilt-ridden heart about neglect of our little ones. A person who has time tends to evoke cynicism and is discredited.

Do you ever sit back and think about what this is doing to our communication with our kids? Well, I do. Ever since the pandemic, many of my parent-child counseling sessions have been about managing time. Hundreds of precautions and worries about keeping the infection at bay have made us feverishly busy—thinking, analysing and fretting. “I have so much to do and in the middle of all this, the children are acting up… . Life has gotten so complicated," a lady remarked during therapy earlier this week. I could not disagree with her.

Shwetambara Sabharwal
Shwetambara Sabharwal

As the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies rush to the finish line with a covid-19 vaccine, no one is thinking about the toll that the pandemic has taken on parenting or relationships, which have suffered equally due to stress and exhaustion. Sadly (or thankfully), there is no pill for better parenting. Both the cause and comfort for distress lies with us.

The need to manage so much along with persistent thoughts have taken the wind out of our sails. I often wonder if we can come up with easy solutions at home, which didn’t require so much energy, resources and time. Is there something we can do from the comfort of our couch, which we sink into, exhausted from chores and work, or just while lying in bed, which can reaffirm our love for our family and make them feel secure? I think I may have something for you:

Listening: This is a topic very close to my heart and profession! Therein lies relief for several emotional issues—both interpersonal and intrapersonal. Even while sitting at the dinner table, feeling spent, we can tune in, engage and listen. It might not seem easy to do this at the end of a long day, but I promise you it is the most effective form of expressing love and affection.

With our minds constantly clogged with noise, people find it very difficult to listen. From a couple, who feels disconnected even after years of being together, to close friends fighting over the same issue over and over again, or parents and kids unable to talk to each other—not listening seems to be the genesis of stress, conflict, anguish, poor self worth and some rather unfortunate decisions.

Touch: Expressing love and involvement through a hug or a gentle touch is not just rewarding for our children but for us as well. Cuddles are known to release serotonin and dopamine. They easily and quickly communicate safety, love, trust and bonding, thus reducing stress and anxiety. Hugs and cuddles also improve our immune system and instil a feeling of attachment—things, which usually require multiple long lectures and years to communicate. That’s the power of a quick hug!

Russian-American writer and psychologist, Maria Konnikova, explains it beautifully in The Power of Touch: “The more we learn about touch, the more we realise just how central it is in all aspects of our lives—cognitive, emotional, developmental, behavioural—from womb into old age. It's no surprise that a single touch can affect us in multiple, powerful ways." Touch can also get children to manage their emotions, time and tasks better. In a study by Cullen and Barlow, 2002, in Journal of Child Health Care, parents of children with special needs, reported that routine tasks (e.g. dressing) were accomplished more easily when children were hugged more and thus were more relaxed. Now that’s a seller!

Talk: The basic functioning of a family depends upon communication. Talking establishes and maintains relationships between parents and children. The feedback achieved through conversation, interactions become more powerful and effective. Parents are able to identify and meet the needs of children better.

Having the space to talk (while very hard on our ears at times) provides children the much needed sense of individuation, self-worth, and the confidence to express and socialise. Talking may need more effort than the other options, but at a time like this, if you get an opportunity to gently and consistently remind your children of your presence and love for them, it will go a long way.

See: Watching our kids is so therapeutic. We feel so much joy looking at what we have created—their mannerisms, sweet gestures, the texture of their hair, the sun on their faces, the big eyes they blink at us when we talk. A loving gaze can communicate a lot!

Observing and stating what you see is such a powerful tool for behaviour management as well. Instead of yelling and punishing, state your observation of the action that has disappointed you. A meaningful glance can communicate interest and concern. A brief analysis can prevent a lot from going wrong. You will be surprised with what you find out if you just look! Stay curious and watch them grow.

Smile: It doesn’t just help the kids. Rather, it generates positive emotions and hormones within you as well. That’s why we often feel happier around children —they smile more. A lesson to learn, perhaps. On an average, they do so 400 times a day. Whilst happy people still smile 40-50 times a day, most of us only do so 20 times.

The gesture of a smile within the first developmental years has a significant role in the development of a child’s ability to empathise and self-regulate his or her own emotions.

A smile can mean so many things. I can tell my kids of my love, approval, acknowledgement, comfort, reassurance and gratitude sans words. So, even if you have been too preoccupied to talk or cuddle, making time and energy for a simple, genuine smile can fix it.

While I am distracted often these days with life and worldly happenings, my job and home chores, I mostly find myself communicating and connecting with the children with or without long conversations or interventions. I just honestly observe more, listen and smile more, while conserving energy for the long busy day ahead.

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