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The survival guide to lockdown parenting

School's out for summer... and the bloody rest. Parenting has never been harder so we've taken expert advice. You need to read this.

Nobody said it’d be easy being a parent but these last few months have been brutal, haven’t they? No school, cancelled exams, no routine, no fun, minimal contact with the outside world and a giant dollop of anxiety and uncertainty all round – no wonder most family homes are like an emotional tinderbox at the moment.

But help is at hand in the form of Dr Dominique Thompson, student campus GP for almost two decades (she has literally heard it all) and co-author of How To Grown A Grown Up. We had a chat last week – I hope you find her advice as useful and reassuring as I did.

Teenager

Many of us have children who won’t be back in school until September now. What can we do to keep them occupied? I’m running out of steam with home-schooling.

Lots of parents are struggling now so you are not alone. I’m a big fan of the concept of deep learning – the learning that goes on around topics, the more in-depth research. Try to think about things more laterally – teachers are brilliant at this but us parents are having to muddle through at home.

So if younger children are learning about animals, get them watching David Attenborough documentaries. Many teens are up in arms about Black Lives Matters right now – get them to read around the topic, go deeper than just watching the news. They’ll be expected to do this at university so it’s a good skill to acquire.

Should we get involved if we think they’re not doing enough school work?

Nobody should be getting too stressed about work. Teachers are fully aware this is not business as usual. If they’re just bored and demotivated, fair enough – that’s understandable. If they’re sleeping OK-ish, eating OK, exercising and interested in their normal things I really wouldn’t worry. But check there’s no underlying problem there, such as anxiety or depression.

Bored girl teenager looking out window while working

What about during the summer holidays – do we demarcate those weeks as time off like we normally would?

They’ll definitely need a proper holiday even if they’ve not been in school. Get your children doing projects in place of school work – something that gives them a purpose for that day. You could create some kind of challenge – get them to set up a YouTube channel and film themselves doing an activity, keepy-uppies or cooking, say. Get them to create playlists for specific moments in their life (for example, their birthday party) or to design a website or blog. Or how about creating a Pinterest board for their future room – when they move out of home, what will their room look like?

What should we do with a grumpy teenager? Ignore or engage?

It’s worth going back to basics and remembering that teenage life is about breaking away from your family and finding your new tribe, testing your social skills and developing your own identity. But of course they are very limited in how much they can do this at the moment. Every evolutionary bone in their body is driving them to be out bonding with their peers – rather than going for daily walks with mum and dad. So remember things are very hard for them right now. They’re extremely uncomfortable with lockdown forcing them back into the family nest and they can’t always articulate why this is.

If you can get them to agree to come for a walk with you, it doesn’t matter if they’re several paces behind with their hood up and their earphones in. That is normal, that’s what they should be doing.

What if they want to stay in bed all day?

I would let them sleep in a bit. Teenagers are programmed to sleep from about 1am for nine hours so the lockdown is actually allowing them to do what they’re biologically supposed to. So that’s one silver lining for them. They should be up by about 10 or 10.30am though, assuming they feel asleep around 1 or 2am – and it’s important they have a project they’re engaged in as that gives them a reason to get up.

 What about our own emotions, as parents – do we let on that we’re worried about the future or should we be stoic?

Don’t pretend everything is fine – we’re living through the weirdest time we’ll ever know. I would be honest and transparent about emotions – say we’ll all have good days and bad days, and that we’ll help each other through. But I would be careful about burdening them about desperate financial situations, unless it is immediately going to directly impact them. And it’s really important to emphasize to children that this situation will come to an end because uncertainty is very worrying.

Teenagers

What will the long-term impact of this be on our children?

I wouldn’t be too worried about younger ones – we have no evidence that children from normal, loving families will be negatively impacted in the long-term. They may be a bit bored from not seeing their friends for a few months but they’ll be OK. For older teenagers, the biggest threat isn’t from the situation now, it’s from the recession that will follow. Entering the workplace during a downturn can be a threat to mental health. However there’s lots you can do to build resilience in your teens – encourage them to become good at building connections and support networks from friends, family, neighbours and acquaintances. Teach them that life is sometimes unpredictable and we have to go with the flow. Reassure them that it’s OK for things to go wrong and often we learn the most from those situations.

Dr Dominique has just launched a new Facebook community offering free advice and support  for parents/ carers of teens and tweens – click here to join

How To Grow A Grown Up by Dr Dominique Thompson & Fabienne Vailes is available now

Words: Kerry Potter

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