Every child is unique. And so is their reaction to any crisis.
We all slept in one world and woke up in an entirely new one. And as adults while we grappled with a world crippled by the Covid19 pandemic, our children faced an equally unparalleled scenario.
All of us, including our children, have known the usual and normal way of childhood. Wake up early morning, toss and turn in bed and make puppy faces at parents to get a few extra minutes in bed, get ready in a rush (well because the puppy face worked and now they are late for school), gobble up breakfast, and rush to school; wait for the school bus while chatting with friends at the bus stop; having a fun laugh for no reason in the bus; hi-fives with your friends in school; sharing lunch with close friends; exchanging books and notebooks to refer to queries and questions; sit huddled together in class and assembly and the lunch hall, enjoy the camaraderie that comes with it; play various games and run around carelessly without worrying about the heat or the sweat; spend evenings with friends playing, cycling, or just walking, only to repeat it all the next day!
Photo Credit: House of Photography
And the flip from a normal (almost boring, repeatable routine) to the new normal was almost in a flash. It wasn’t little changes built over time. There was no time to get used to the new normal. We really did sleep in one world and wake up in another.
As parents, our lives changed enormously and so did the roles we play. The division between being a leader at work for your teams, being the parent for your kids, being the partner to your spouse and being the son/daughter to your parents or in-laws all melted and fused together. We were playing all our roles all the time, simultaneously. Our offices moved into our homes. Our living rooms were converted into remote offices and remote schools for the kids. And the irony of it all was the word ‘distancing’. We distanced ourselves from the world outside, resulting in no distance or sense of space within our families.
In order to understand the scenario from the children’s perspective, we spoke to a number of kids in the age group of 10 to 16 years. The insights were interesting and worrying.
No Space: Kids felt smothered in this new way of life, being stuck indoors 24*7, with no physical contact with the outside world. As parents we all worry about what this slowdown will do to our kids. What’s the impact of loss of education for all these months, will the kids be able to learn enough to sit for exams, how will this year pan out in the larger perspective of life? And while all these are valid questions, kids felt their parents were stressing over the entire situation and hence adding more pressure to do more, study more, take more initiative and almost keep a log of achievements during the lockdown.
High levels of Stress: Kids felt the parents were constantly worried and stressed out about the pandemic situation (and for a valid reason at that)! But that has led to a constant level of stress at home and in their everyday environments.
More face time but lesser listening time: We all went through soft skills sessions on active listening when we were starting off in the corporate world. Well, now our kids see us at home all the time. But as parents are we listening to what they have say? Are we tuned into their fears, apprehensions, loneliness, or their mindset in general?
It’s a tall order for parents, I’ll give you that! The pandemic has brought with it an economic recession like never before, and the new normal is scary with everyone questioning their own mortality.
But as Rabindranath Tagore said: “Every child comes with a message that God is not yet discouraged of man.”
And as we find our coping mechanism in these testing times, it’s only right to help our children cope with the challenges that face them. There is no one way to cope, but here are a few simple ones that work:
Back-off: Two words no parent wants to hear when it comes to their kids. But really.. back-off! I recently heard this snippet of advice from someone who I would otherwise never go to for a wise word. We all have these people in our lives, right? The know-it-all colleague who always has to have the last word, or the classmate from school who forever rides the high horse, or the mother-in-law who always has a comment to make that’s almost never positive, or the ex of a spouse who… well, feel free to complete that sentence for yourself! But the advice was sound. Our kids are going through a way of life that’s not only different but stifling to the very essence of childhood. There are no playgrounds anymore, no huddles, no sharing of lunch, no birthday parties, no handshakes or hi-fives, no classrooms or punishments outside the classroom. It’s everything that makes childhood so precious and it’s everything that has been taken away. Give them their space. It’s fine not adhere to the normal rules now. The normal has changed.
Actively Listen: Hearing your child while you fiddle with your phone or write that mail on your laptop doesn’t count. If you listen hard enough, you will hear the verbal and non-verbal cues. Something every kid needs now more than ever. Our kids probably confided in their best friend at school or maybe had a cousin they reach out to for advice. Those channels of communication have come to a screeching halt for our children. More than ever, we need to provide that listening ear.
Create rituals: Most global organisations have a few rituals that help drive the culture of the organisation. These could range from team lunches on a weekday, golf mornings on a weekend, a few drinks on a Friday evening, or an evening with spouses. Typically these rituals raise employee engagement and sense of belonging, while keeping their morale high. Given that we could all use a morale boost, setting some rituals at home could have some merit. We have a simple one. Friday is movie night. We have roles and responsibilities distributed (who makes popcorn, who fetches the drinks, who beats the coffee, etc etc). It’s a simple one but we noticed that kids start talking about it from Wednesday. It’s something they look forward to. The general rule is to keep it simple and look for an activity that keeps everyone engaged. Could be a board game, gardening, baking together, creating some arts and crafts.
Make them self-reliant: Yes our kids are missing school and a huge chunk of their normal education. But this has also given us an opportunity to make them self reliant. Let them make their own beds, dust their rooms, take care of the pet, water the plants, maybe even learn a simple recipe or two. A little self-reliance goes a long way. I’ve had many parents ask me and my kids ‘what is our Covid story?’. Which basically translates to what new skill did you pick during lockdown, how many kgs did you loose, how many books did you read, etc etc. Which really goes back to point number one; as parents let’s just back-off. Let’s not get competitive and create a rat race where none exists.
Stay Calm: Robert Fulghum said: “Dont worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.” This quote is probably more apt now than ever before. The world is uncertain and so is our future. But our future is watching us in the way of our children. So stay calm and keep swimming!
Tomorrow is another day!
About the Author: Aroti Akash Tugnait is a Leadership Development Practitioner and a Digital Marketeer with over 2 decades of experience with Harvard Business Publishing, Accenture Consulting, and GE. Find her LinkedIn profile as listed: