HUNCHED over a PC, kids’ worksheets all over the place, the Hoover propped up against the wall – this is the lockdown reality for many parents.
Dividing work, chores and parenting is a military operation, with three in four mums finding it challenging according to a survey by campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed.
Parenting expert Anita Cleare, author of The Work/Parent Switch, says the quality of time spent with children is what’s important, and making the most of the time you have with them.
Anita tells Rebecca Pascoe how to be the best parent you can be in the time you have with your little ones – whether it’s six hours or just one.
GIVE 100 PER CENT FOR 15 MINUTES
IT is not possible to give your children your undivided attention all the time. Try to find small but frequent amounts of time – even just 15 minutes – when you give them 100 per cent of your attention.
Be affectionate, giving them a hug, a kiss, a ruffle of their hair or a rub on their back. It makes youngsters feel loved, secure and accepted, building trust.
Start family traditions. These bond families and build connections, while the repetition helps children feel secure. It could be a particular way you say goodnight, say, making pancakes on a Saturday morning or going for a walk each weekend.
And really do talk to your children. Be a role model for them by telling them little things about your day. It is not so much what you chat about that matters, more that you are talking to each other in the first place.
SWITCH OFF FROM STRESS
It is important to find something you actually enjoy playing with children – football, colouring in, dressing up or whatever it might be.
If you are not enjoying the play, your child will know. But if you are, this signals to children you are enjoying your time with them. And playing is good for you too. If you take the play out of parenting, all you are left with is drudgery.
Adults don’t always prioritise play but it is a really mindful activity and a great way to switch off from the stresses of everyday life. We often take control to show children how to do something. But kids like it when they can laugh at you not being able to do things.
So try doing something new together, such as cooking a new recipe or learning a skill. You can bond over the new experience together and, while you are at it, make memories.
LAVISH THEM WITH PRAISE
If you are working from home, every moment they are behaving well you will try to get work done. Only when they start misbehaving will you come back with attention.
But that pattern accidentally rewards misbehaviour. Children love our attention so they will do what they can to get it. Instead, give them attention when they are doing something right.
Look out for the good behaviour and reward this with lots of praise and attention. Be specific and descriptive about what they have done right.
They will get a buzz from the attention and are more likely to continue with the good behaviour. For working parents, time is a precious resource. If we can encourage children to do the right thing a little more often, there is less time available for them to be doing the wrong thing.
CHANGE YOUR COSTUME
If you are going out to work, switch off by listening to an audio book or reading on your way home. Look at a picture of your children or a drawing they have done and pause to think about them. Change your clothes when you get in.
If you are working from home right now, it can be difficult to switch off. Try to imagine an invisible curtain around your work space. When you move from there, pause and think something happy about your children.
Imagine yourself changing clothes, almost as though you are wearing a different costume. This will be hard if you are jumping between parenting and work numerous times during the day.
But it is important. Otherwise, you will carry those stresses from one environment to the other.
REWARD THEM WITH PLAY TIME
Mornings can be complicated. You might have one child back at school, another one to homeschool and your own work to start.
Encourage your children to do as much for themselves as possible – getting dressed, sorting their breakfast and brushing their teeth.
If your child wants to play, try to get the necessary things done first. Play is a great motivator for children, so use this to your advantage.
Let them know they can play for longer if they get the necessary things done quicker.
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WORK IN THE PARK
Lots of parents are responsible for homeschooling at the moment, which makes parenting a lot more complicated.
The key to success here is structure. Make sure children start and finish at a regular time, with regular breaks. Help them understand this structure doesn’t change. So if they don’t do their work during these times, they won’t be watching TV or using any devices.
Try to make their learning varied, novel and fun. Work in the park or use water for science class. But don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be perfect. Don’t think you have to be the teacher as well as everything else. We can’t force them to learn but we can provide the right conditions.
- The Work/Parent Switch – How To Parent Smarter Not Harder by Anita Cleare (Vermilion, £14.99).
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