Parenting, with its endless tasks and responsibilities, has become even more difficult due to COVID-19.
With circuit breaker measures in place, parents are at home 24/7 with their children, with no respite. The home may be messier, with more chores to be done. There might also be more conflicts to manage.
Life at Home: A Battle of Wills
As COVID-19 drags on, parents may find that they are more likely to snap when they are overwhelmed, and they may be unable to attend to their children’s mental health needs. Young children may not have the vocabulary to express themselves, and they may manifest their feelings through behaviours such as throwing tantrums or fighting with their siblings. Older children and teenagers may become more restless and irritable as they feel stuck at home and miss socialising with their friends.
In response, parents may seek to maintain control—disguised as discipline—and resort to yelling, scolding, spanking or other forms of punishment such as withdrawing privileges. Such reactive parent-child interactions create more tension and make one feel even less in control. In these situations, the real damage may be to the mental health of children.
Is this Happening in Your Home?
Below are some parenting styles that could have a negative impact on children’s mental health:
- Punitive parenting: Frequent and prolonged use of harsh comments and criticisms lead to low self-esteem in children. Physical punishment may lead children to model physical aggression as a coping response, resulting in antisocial behaviours and future behavioural issues. Parents may also unintentionally cross the line, resulting in real physical harm to their children.
- Neglectful parenting: Parents may be overwhelmed and may emotionally withdraw from their children during this period, when children are also experiencing greater anxiety and need greater emotional and psychological support. Emotional withdrawal may affect the attachment between parents and children, and impact their ability to form meaningful relationships with others.
- Helicopter parenting: Some parents may feel the need to oversee every aspect of their children’s lives. Over-involvement and interference may hinder their children’s development of autonomy and sense of self-competency, leading such children to be more prone to anxiety disorders.
Reactive parent-child interactions create more tension and make one feel even less in control. In these situations, the real damage may be to the mental health of children.
What Can Parents Do
If you are a parent, here’s how you can balance self-care and caregiving, while attending to your children’s mental health needs:
- Take care of yourself first. Children are sensitive to — and easily affected by — their parents’ emotional states. By keeping yourself mentally well, you are already supporting your children’s mental health. If you feel that you cannot cope, seek help and support from a family member or friend.
- Connect with your children through open and supportive communication. Acknowledge everyone’s struggles and emotions, including yours. By validating one another’s struggles, family members feel understood and are better able to manage differences and reduce conflicts.
- Develop an action plan for the family to manage personal and household tasks. By allowing everyone to play a role, parents teach their children important values such as responsibility and functional life skills. Children can provide valuable support to parents, such as helping with household chores.
- Use emotion-focused language. Talk about how your family’s relationship and situation can change for the better. Discuss what your family can do together to achieve common goals and aspirations. This creates a sense of unity, control and hope for the family.
- Have realistic expectations. The home need not be impeccable, and no one needs to be perfect. Everyone is adapting to the “new normal” and we are all trying. Treat yourself and your family members with compassion.
The contributor is Programme Head of Viriya Community Services.