By Dr Jacqueline Harding
Practical tips for parents with children 3 and under:
Take time together: The first three years are vital for playful and safe relationships; they build a protective factor for life even in the midst of a pandemic. The brain loves playful novelty; it causes dynamic neural activity by positively sculpting the brain.
- Getting practical:Try rotating toys every two days and watch your child’s delight as they rediscover old toys. Set time aside each day to enjoy a toy with your child—just short bursts of concentrated activity (around ten minutes). Be as imaginative as possible. Cast away your inhibitions and use different voices and adopt a playful (even silly) attitude to increase the fun with the toy. It sends out the message “we are really interested in this together”.
- What’s in it for parents?
Try to notice how it makes you feel too. Gradually, you will sense that your anxiety at a world turning upside down diminishes as you get down to joint playing While it might not happen every time, the best playtimes are when you both enter a state of flow. This is when you lose track of time and your imaginations fly away together.
Routine reaps rewards: In times of chaos (such as a pandemic), humans thrive on having some sort of stability. Adults need this as much as children. Design a daily routine that gives a rhythm to the day. It will help propel you both through the day.
- Getting practical: Even in a small flat, parts of it can be dedicated to certain activities for particular short periods each day. For example, place an old sheet over two chairs and create a den; a plastic sheet on the floor can offer a place for tearing and pasting; washing up time at the kitchen sink offers therapeutic water play. Exercise time can take place in the hallway with an obstacle course created out of cushions. Children’s TV time can be shared (research shows that co-viewing has great benefits). Meal times can enlist the expert help of your young child too (however limited that might be). Just staying involved will keep them interested and out of mischief. Later in the day, Skype time with friends and family followed by extended bath time and a bedtime story gives the day a good “shape”.
- What’s in it for parents?
Routine will calm your body too: your heart rate goes down and your breathing relaxes.
- Closeness counts: We may be in an enforced time of isolation (shielding vulnerable people), but with extremely close contact there are “proximity” benefits associated with relationships. Be a safe haven for your child, as this offers a great bonding set-up for life. A “safe haven” means that you can feel like a lighthouse to a child who, although they might not understand whatis happening, will sense the anxiety of the world around them.
Getting practical: Choose toys that bring you close together. Remember that simply playing is the perfect way a child learns. Education at this age is playing (and thereby feeding the developing brain). Don’t try to teach; just make sure you sit close to your child and face him or her. Smile and laugh together as much as possible. This creates a happy and healthy bond between you. Limit their exposure to the news; although they won’t understand the words, they pick up the deep feelings of anxiety transmitted.
What’s in it for parents?
It’s a win-win for boosting that feel good factor and is just what the immune system needs.