I want to talk a bit about my small people today. Tiny is now four and Small is seven and they are surprising me every day with their ability to cope with being in lockdown. One of the gifts of this pandemic is the chance I have to understand them on a whole new level as we spend pretty much all our time together. I thought I knew them well before, but this situation is giving me the opportunity to see further into their young worlds than ever before.
Maybe you’re finding the same with your children? I’ve become aware that there is so much more to discover about each of them. As parents, we tend to summarise our children into certain characteristics – in my eyes Tiny is vocal, shy and very loving while Small is thoughtful, studious and creative. But I’m discovering new depths to each of them – humour, stubbornness and sensitivity that I didn’t know existed.
There have been many moments this week when my heart has broken for these two. How do I help them understand what’s going on? How do I explain why they can’t see their friends? Or go to the park? When do I break it to them that they might be stuck at home for months? But my hope is that this time can benefit them both somehow.
Here are some thoughts on how we parents can use this situation to our advantage:
- Enjoy new opportunities for closeness. As we get to know each other more deeply, it feels easier and more natural to do things together. We’ve been having more bedtime stories, more time doing puzzles together and my husband has spent hours with the children on the trampoline.
- Be consistent. At the start of all this, I was a little slack on discipline. But I’m realising that letting bad behaviour go isn’t doing either of them any favours. I need to be as ‘normal’ as I can be – if a behaviour was unacceptable before, it’s still unacceptable under lockdown. Being consistent might be more difficult at the moment, but it is more important than it ever has been. But that’s not to say we don’t also need more patience and understanding! Much to our relief, Tiny has been screaming less and less as we have practised both of these things – more consistent discipline alongside taking more time to listen to her frustrations and worries.
- Reframe the value of ‘treats’. Another temptation is to let Tiny and Small have whatever they want at the moment to ‘make up for’ the situation. The reality is that many of the things they love have been taken from them – swimming lessons, ice creams from the van, freedom to take a trip to the park. Instead of showering them with new things (although we have done a bit of that!), we are trying to take the opportunity to help them value things they take for granted.
A small example: the kids have been desperate to play with air-drying clay all week but we decided to save it for a specific time. This built their excitement and appreciation of the activity and they spent much longer playing with it than they normally would. I actually got quite excited about the ‘big event’ and sat and got covered in clay with them.
This situation is helping all of us appreciate the small things (who knew an Asda delivery could bring such delight?!) and our children are no different in this!
- Allow them to be sad and angry. My instinct is certainly to try and move Tiny and Small on from these extreme emotions as quickly as possible. But if I brush over them, they will just resurface at other times. I need to help them process the difficult realities they face and come to peace and resolve for themselves. That’s what will build their resilience and help them make choices about how to respond in future. I’m learning from my husband in this – he is great at slowly talking them through their thoughts and reactions. It’s humbling, but I’m excited at the prospect of learning how to better help them. Which leads me to…
- Model honesty and humility. I feel like I’m making parenting mistakes almost hourly at the moment – whether its overreacting to silliness or being distracted by social media. It feels more important than ever to ask for forgiveness from Tiny and Small when I get it wrong. Sometimes it can be tempting to justify my responses – I can tell myself, “they’ve been winding me up all day,” or “I’ve got so much on my plate, I can’t be patient right now!” But ultimately, if I have wronged them, I need to make it right. I’m hoping the kids will learn how to deal with their mistakes and misdemeanours in the right way as we try and model it to them.
The next few weeks are going to be tough, but I want these challenges we face together to be opportunities for Tiny and Small to grow. My hope is that a generation of children will come out of this uncertain time more resilient, selfless and caring.