Eight Priorities: Practical Encouragement and Support for Parents with Young Children
One: Eat Together
Research has validated what many good parents know intuitively: Nothing is more valuable to a child’s physical, emotional, intellectual and social health than a daily family meal. Sit at a table, use napkins and utensils, turn the television and cell phones off. Eating together is a simple act with profound implications. The advantages for the life of a child far exceed the parent’s investment of time and energy.
Two: Limit Screen Time
There are countless free online resources for children, some of which are designed to challenge and stimulate young minds. In the coming months, schools may shift to e-learning or utilize online resources for the health and safety of kids, teachers and staff.
For children younger than six, none of these resources compare to time spent walking, talking, playing or reading. There is no substitute for green fields, conversation, bicycles, scooters, crayons, colored pencils, gardens, and fresh air.
To thrive, young children need to touch, move, feel and talk. A child’s fine and gross motor skills develop through the use of her hands, her mind and her body. Her vocabulary expands through the interactive, alternating use of her voice, her mind, her eyes and her ears. Children can be successful and happy, even when socially distancing, as long as they have opportunities to move and converse with real people who listen, ask questions, make eye contact, and respond.
Three: Stay in Touch
Many grandparents remember times of crisis. Sometimes, they can reflect on their experiences with wisdom and compassion. Experienced, dedicated teachers may be frustrated or overwhelmed, but we can nonetheless offer advice that is age-appropriate, reflecting years of learning with young people. Neighbors and friends with older children can anticipate phases and speak with the advantages of hindsight.
Parenting decisions are rarely quick or easy. Age and person-appropriate expectations are seldom obvious. A brief, thoughtful conversation can be mind-altering, especially in times of social isolation and stress. A good conversation with a friend can shift a parent’s heart from despair, confusion or anxiety to optimism and hope.
Those fortunate adults who parent in partnership should hold on tight. Children learn how to work and love in times of stress through observation and imitation. Parenting without the daily, in-person support of a community is exhausting. Find time and energy to fall in love again.
Four: Read and Listen
Start reading aloud when children are young, and stick with it as long as possible. Literacy is an essential foundation to success in school. Parents who read to their children give them the best possible preparation for school, a firm foundation for learning, a ticket to travel around the world without leaving home.
When words fail, music will often sooth. Children who are anxious, over-stimulated, too tired to fall asleep, or depleted by too much screen time will often relax with music or singing. Talent is no longer necessary. Good music for children is abundant, online, and often free.
Five: Expect Change
Schools and families have had to change and adapt to slow the spread of disease in communities with young children. Describing and rehearsing new routines is important. Acknowledging discomfort and disappointment will also be important. Establishing a friendly attitude toward mistakes and accidents will help young children respond with resilience.
A child’s confidence grows through independent experiences of failure, perseverance and success, her understanding that her parents believe she can handle the difficult situation she is facing. Oddly enough, the most meaningful expressions of love for a child sometimes require parents to be silent and still, watchful, optimistic, steadfast and smiling.
Six: Take Care
Children younger than six have a limited ability to understand the spread of disease. While their desire to help is earnest and sincere, they are easily confused and overwhelmed by abstract, lengthy explanations. Nonetheless, opportunities to help that are small, repetitive, and essential do help very young children acquire an ethic of compassion. The youngest children do want to feel like they are helping, making a meaningful contribution in a time of great need.
Children can be relied upon to contribute to the feeding and watering of indoor and outdoor plants, gardens and animals. A child first acquires confidence and a sense of competence by contributing to the daily life of his family. Children who first experience care-taking in their home understand that work and love flow simultaneously in families and communities, and that all living things deserve to be nurtured and cared for.
Seven: Stay Healthy
Good parents, teachers and care providers know that young children are at their best when they have a routine that is consistent and predictable. Wearing masks, social distancing, and regular hand-washing are already becoming ordinary for kids. When families, schools, and communities experience stress or change, children struggle. A routine that includes healthy habits will help provide a sense of security and comfort, and build young children’s feeling of competence and confidence.
Eight: Pace Yourself
Parenting is a long haul without a clear destination, more like an unpredictable journey than a glorious race to the finish line. There may soon be days of isolation that feel eternal, but high school graduation will come, and it will feel too soon.