How has the pandemic affected parenting?

There is no guide to parenting in a pandemic. After more than six months of parental challenges we explore the concerns, how parents are changing their behaviour as a result and how you can support your child.

The pandemic has changed life as we know it; it has affected our relationships with strangers, colleagues, friends, family, and of course, our children. Much has been made of the economic and social repercussions of COVID-19, but the emotional, cultural and psychological ones could be even greater.

The unprecedented unpredictability of the last six months has made it impossible for parents to plan ahead; many have been forced to anxiously await the next government announcement and respond accordingly.

Parents have been forced to react to school closures, the challenges of home-schooling, the long summer holiday, and now the tentative return to school. According to UNESCO, the education of nearly 1.6 billion pupils have been disrupted by COVID-19 (that’s 90% of the world’s school-age children); it is unsurprising therefore that for many, curriculum catch up is the priority.

 

Given the inconsistencies in the quality of remote teaching provision, many parents have turned to private tuition to try to stop their children’s progress from stalling. In March, the number of daily users of the online classroom platform BitPaper rose from 5,000 to 32,000 in just two weeks. Even now schools are back, the situation is precarious; hundreds of schools have had to implement a COVID closure in the UK already and thousands of school children are self-isolating.

Whilst the consensus seems to be that academics are of the utmost importance, the picture around co-curricular activities seems to be much more polarising.

Some parents, desperate to keep their children busy after months of isolation, are registering their children for as many clubs as possible, eager to make the most of every opportunity in case of a local lockdown. So-called ‘tiger parents’ continue to go above and beyond, creating detailed daily schedules for their children, which in a world of social distancing may be more inventive but no less intense.

Other parents are much more tentative, and know that activities that once seemed so benign, like swimming lessons or orchestra rehearsals, may now sadly be fraught with danger. This is particularly difficult for families with vulnerable members who might be shielding, or for families in cities, who may want to avoid using public transport where possible. Now that the government’s new rule of six has been implemented, it is even harder to arrange activities outside of school, and children’s worlds have shrunk once more.

Lifology, a start-up that gives career guidance to teenagers, recently conducted a study with over 80,000 parents in 12 countries, and the results suggest that parents also have a new priority: managing screen time. 48% of parents said that they worried their children were spending too much time online; 71% of parents thought their children needed a digital detox; whilst 45% were concerned that their children were not getting enough physical activity. There is no doubt that the pandemic has increased everybody’s time in the online world. The internet has played a vital role in keeping us all connected and entertained. However, it is important to ensure that  screen time is productive. There is a big difference between your child aimlessly scrolling the latest app and them taking part in an online fitness class, having a one to one lesson with a tutor, or watching a TED talk.

New Public Health England survey data also found that when asked about their main worries around COVID-19, over half of parents said the mental wellbeing of their children topped the list of their biggest priorities. Many schools have reduced capacity for sport, cancelling matches and limiting teams to year group bubbles, and many students are exercising less than they used to; this is just one of many factors that seems to be linked to an increase in mental health problems.

Many parents will therefore want to lighten the burden their children face; helicopter parenting might now seem more harmful than helpful. One mother said that the on-going GCSE appeals process is causing her son undue anxiety, and so she does not want to pressurise him to continue with too many extra-curricula activities; instead he has found spending time with friends and family much more rewarding and helpful.

Dr Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director and Director of Health Protection at Public Health England has recently promoted the Better Heath – Every Mind Matters campaign, which aims to offer expert tips and advice for promoting mental wellbeing. She said that “parents’ relationships with their children are special,” and the most important thing a parent can do is “be there to listen, encourage them to explain how they feel” and “help them to develop effective skills to cope with their emotions.”

Indeed, one of the few up-sides to come out of the pandemic is increased opportunity for communication. With more people working from home, parents have an even greater insight into their children’s education, wellbeing and interests – the time they spend with their children has increased in both quality and quantity, and many relationships have strengthened as a result.

Psychology professor Irwin Sandler says that in times of difficult transition, “the quality of parenting is what differentiates those [children] who do well versus those who don’t do well. In a sense, that’s a very optimistic message, because it indicates the power of parenting.” Parents should see potential in this rather than pressure and take comfort in the fact they know their child best; the pandemic has shown that our priorities are pliant but also deeply personal.

Addressing your children’s fears, maintaining healthy routines, utilising and monitoring technology use, staying positive and having open conversations are all ways in which parents can support their children in these turbulent times.

At Simply Learning Tuition, every tutor that we introduce is a natural mentor to every child that they teach. We know that good tutoring is much more than just the academics and we work with tutors who consider the whole child. This approach is extremely effective in unlocking academic potential. The tutors that we represent listen to their pupil’s concerns about their education and the future. Please do get in touch to discuss how a private tutor can help support your child.

If you have any comments or questions about this Advice Page, we would be delighted to answer them.

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