Should your kids have a routine? How important is schoolwork? And what will help the whole family stay sane during the corona lockdown? Three local experts to answer the parenting questions most on your mind
MUM Eleni Antoniou
Cyprus’ best-known Mum blogger and podcaster, Eleni Antoniou (a.k.a. ‘Georgie’s Mummy’ and ‘Mamma Mu’), has seen requests for help from parents pouring in over the last month, and is feeling the effects of the coronavirus lockdown first-hand.
“The emotional changes have been huge for the whole family,” she notes. “Trying to explain the situation to a four-year-old or a nine-year-old is hard: they experience all the emotions that we do, only they have no clue how to deal with them. I think what our kids need right now is to be shown how to be courageous.”
With three young children (aged two, four and nine) at home, Eleni usually likes to maintain some form of routine. “That has more or less gone out the window now!” she laughs. “Yes, your kids need stability, that’s crucial right now. But what they DON’T need is a complete change, in which the home environment suddenly becomes a completely school-orientated environment of stress and anxiety and have-to’s.”
As a parent, Eleni advocates a flexible routine, a schedule that allows for “storytime and activities, for life skills. Homeschooling is hard,” she continues. “Most of us are not teachers, but we can do whatever possible to help our kids exercise their brain as much as their body. I would say definitely keep to some form of a routine. We have stuck to our evening schedule of early bedtimes and downtime and I think that helps balance things out a little.”
At the same time, self-care is for parents is not only crucial, but also a boon to the whole family, Eleni acknowledges. “You have to take care of yourself, of your own body and your mind. Do whatever it takes to rest, recharge, allow yourself alone time to breathe, to read, to create, to stretch. Encourage your family to do the same.”
TEACHER Anne-Marie Theodorou-Perrier
Anne-Marie Theodorou-Perrier has taught History for 19 years, 12 of which have been at The Senior School in Nicosia, where students and teachers are engaged in online lessons.
The majority of schools, both private and public, have switched to similar methods of teaching. “But, at the end of the day, there are many different ways to learn and perhaps we need to re-frame how we see schoolwork,” Anne-Marie notes. “We can move away from more traditional ways of learning and focus on what we have around us (for example if we are lucky enough to have a garden) or can simply take a different emphasis for now.”
Like Eleni, Anne-Marie advocates moderation and communication. “I think most children need a daily routine
and find comfort in it – although,” she smiles, “they may not admit this! However, I don’t think it needs to be too rigid. It’s hard to adapt to having most of your freedoms taken from you – even if it’s for the greater good. So having a routine that’s too rigid will just add further stress. This can be very overwhelming for anyone, especially for teenagers who are on their own personal rollercoaster.”
Anne-Marie suggests “being present with your family as much as you can. Put away the screens (although they are okay; it’s inevitable there will be more screen time than before!) and play. Have fun, talk and be creative together. Get some fresh air and exercise every day – even if it’s sitting in your garden or on your veranda.”
A parent herself, Anne-Marie understands first-hand the challenge of balancing work and the demands of helping one’s own children. “We can all only do our best and shouldn’t compare ourselves to what other families are doing.”
Over the past few weeks, Anne-Marie has seen her pupils rising to the challenge of uncertainty – “how long will this last? when will I see my school friends? what will happen to my exams? Is my education suffering?” – and coping with a school routine that requires far more self-sufficiency, self-discipline and maturity. “But on a positive note,” she adds, “I’ve noticed a stronger sense of community, both within the class and across the school. The students are pulling together and displaying more empathy and compassion.
“Let’s try and find the positives: opportunities to be more creative, to be more mindful, to be more present, to bake, to garden, to read a book, to dance in the middle of the day, to finally organise that cupboard. And to enjoy life!”
PSYCHOLOGIST Margarita Orphanides
A registered Psychologist and Child and Adolescent Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist, Margarita Orphanides has been working with children, adolescents and parents in clinical, psychiatric and educational settings within the public and private sectors for 20 years. The director of the G.O Psychological & Psychoanalytic Centre in Nicosia, her clinical interests lie in the area of child/adolescent development and emotional difficulties and psychoanalytic psychotherapy.
“When we first heard about the coronavirus in China – about the city wide lockdowns, social distancing, and deaths – we were lulled into a feeling of complacency. When the threat is so far away you think ‘Surely that will never happen to us!’ But when it’s knocking on your door, you suddenly find yourself feeling helpless and confused. The ability to contain the experience in the face of such trauma has been lost.”
This will, of course, affect both parent and child, says Margarita. “In psychology, we define a traumatic experience as an event or circumstance that disrupts one’s inner experience. Children can sense if their parent or caregiver is sad, happy, scared etc, and it will inevitably have an impact on them. So for parents to best care for their children’s wellbeing, they must first tend to their own.”
Meanwhile, if you find your kids are acting out, do try to think about what this may mean rather than resorting to anger or punishment says Margarita. “Disruptive behaviours are often related to anxiety about catastrophic separation or loss. They are also expressions of a child’s need to evacuate unmanageable emotional experiences. Such intense feelings can easily be triggered by what is going on presently in the world.” Instead, Margarita advocates communication and involvement. “Talk to children about what is going on and help them process their feelings. Ask them how they feel, what they think. Help them understand why these restrictions have been implemented.”
At a time when boundaries will obviously be more lax – screen time will rocket, for instance – Margarita recommends a simple routine. “In such unpredictable circumstances children need to adhere to a routine to make a part of their lives predictable and safe. This will also help establish a sense of normalcy. Schoolwork, or practising the violin, or doing taekwondo exercises give children a sense of stability.”