The rewards of building a healthy family and legacy are better than just about anything else this life can offer. But it would be a rare mum or dad indeed who, over the past 18 months, hasn’t found their parenting capacity severely compromised! Heightened emotions and stress, home schooling, working from home, and managing online habits can all take their toll.
Here are some helpful tips to help you deal with three of the most common issues reported by parents under pressure: sibling rivalry, food habits, and how to safely manage technology use.
There they are again, fighting and screaming over that same stuffed animal or that last slice of pizza. How many times have you had to play referee between those two? It’s exhausting. You’re frustrated, overwhelmed and probably tired of your kids’ constant squabbles.
Sibling conflicts can be more intense and frequent in the face of these unusual times. With lockdowns and limited or no access to their school social network, it’s important to have structure with daily routines, but with enough variability to not be boring.
- Create opportunities for cooperation and compromise when conflict happens
- Celebrate each of your kids’ individuality (children are less likely to fight if they feel you appreciate each of them as individuals. Dad especially play a major role here)
- Plan fun times as a family (it is not all school and work)
- When you need to intervene during conflict, remember that in a fight most kids are frustrated and emotional. Actively listen to each of them, respect and name their feelings.
- Use conflict as an opportunity to provide kids with tools for solving future problems. Share how they might compromise or approach a similar situation in a more positive way
- Avoid shame-based parenting (especially if you or your spouse are feeling stressed)
- Be kind on yourself and on your kids: these times are definitely not typical, so practice and model patience and forgiveness with each other.
Studies show that the experience of stress and negative emotions affect the eating behaviors of both children and parents, and thus our motivation when buying food.
I can relate – my wife and I have each put on about 6 kgs in the last year! The stress and negative emotions associated with the pandemic can lead us to overeat and reach for the so-called comfort foods. For kids stuck at home, increased levels of boredom don’t help either.
- Avoid buying energy-dense or nutrient-poor foods. We play a game with our kids when we go grocery shopping: fill the trolley with at least 70% fresh fruit and veggies. Treats are allowed, but they are not the norm
- Prepare lunches and snacks as you would during school. This avoids constant trips to the fridge during the day
- Schedule meal times and try as much as possible to eat together as a family
- Involve kids in meal preparation and model healthy cooking and eating practices.
There are good, bad and ugly sides to technology use for kids (and for adults). Children are growing up in a world that is saturated by digital media, with most kids now high consumers of digital content as well as active producers of content themselves (videos and live streams). Studies show that kids’ recreational screen time has almost doubled during the pandemic.
- The good: online platforms provide a means of necessary contact with friends and family ( social connection is important developmentally for children). And technology allows home schooling to happen. Recreational use of technology and devices can be good for children, to an extent, during this difficult pandemic.
- The bad: cancel culture, unkind Tiktok challenges and negative social media messaging including bullying spread quickly among children. Adolescents are more sensitive to online peer rejection and acceptance than other age groups.
- The ugly: High use of social media is associated with increased anxiety, depression, sleep and anxiety problems, and potential addiction to online gambling. Inappropriate and/or dangerous adult content (the dark web) is an ever-present danger and requires safety monitoring.
Screen time is here to stay. Consider the following tips to help you manage it well:
- It can be easy to opt for the screen device option for younger kids if you are busy or stressed. Resist the temptation and opt for an alternative (board games, outdoor play)
- Involve your child or teen in creating family agreement about healthy device use
- Create technology and device-free spaces and times in your home
- Spend time with your kids online (explore websites, social media, games and applications together)
- Talk about safety online together
- Model appropriate use of and time spent on devices
- Kids need real-life interplay with adults and peers if they are to develop self-control, emotional and behavioural regulation and social skills: ensure as much as or more time is spent outdoors or in physical activity than on devices.