The Covid-19 pandemic has no doubt brought about unprecedented challenges all over the world. It is not only a health crisis but also an economic crisis and a crisis for children’s education.
From school closures to transition into home-based learning among other adjustments, it has caused some disruptions in the learning process of children, youth and their families.
While children in Singapore are gradually easing back into schools and activities, the pandemic has shown that their well-being and success depend on more than just what happens in school.
We glean expert insights from Mrs Ang-Oh Chui Hwa, ECDA (Early Childhood Development Agency) Fellow and Principal of Far Eastern Kindergarten on how parents’ role in raising their children well in a pandemic-hit world has become more important than ever, as well as ways parents can nurture their children to become resilient individuals.
How has the role of parents become even more important in engaging their child during these times?
“It is important to understand the values that the school holds. If your home shares the same values as the school, it will be easier for your child to learn,” explains Mrs Ang-Oh Chui Hwa, ECDA (Early Childhood Development Agency) Fellow and Principal of Far Eastern Kindergarten as she highlights the importance of children being supported by their main caregivers.
“Young children are generally very adaptable because they are open to being flexible without any previous set mindsets,” says Mrs Ang.
For instance, the children in her school are open to the changes in schedules and the differences in the way they do things. “They are used to wearing a mask properly as well as sanitising their hands,” she adds.
Similarly, there are some things parents can do to support their child’s transition into their home environment as well.
With the disruption to school and restraining Covid-19 measures, Mrs Ang states that a child may experience changes that he/she may not be used to—and that calls for emotional support from his/her parents.
“Positive emotional response from parents in terms of adjusting home routines is necessary as that affects a child’s behavioural differences,” explains Mrs Ang. In other words, how parents respond to their children in such a situation can influence how they ease into the new normal.
“If parents are more patient and tolerant of [the] increase in noise or movements then the child will easily settle back to his usual behaviour,” says Mrs Ang.
On the flip side, parents’ emotional response can also hurt a child’s resilience and increase their resistance to change.
“All children love attention but they prefer positive attention”
The pandemic sees work being shifted to the home front and the lines between work and family blur. With parents busy working, Mrs Ang says children may not be receiving enough attention.
This may result in children using his/her reactions as a strategy to gain their parents’ attention, explains Mrs Ang.
“If a parent becomes impatient or frustrated, the child is likely to find it harder to transit,” she adds. “All children love attention but they prefer positive attention.”
Mrs Ang highlights three things that children need most from their parents especially during this trying time: attention, physical affection (e.g. hugs) and conversations.
With parents spending more time with their children at home due to the pandemic, Mrs Ang adds that it is important that they be “good role models”.
According to her, when parents have increased contact with their children, it means having a greater influence on them as well.
“It is important that parents display the character traits that they would like their children to display because children are concrete learners. They do well with positive modelling,” emphasises Mrs Ang.
While Mrs Ang acknowledges that it is really tough for parents to be on “performance mode” all the time and could “manifest their stressors” towards their children in light of work and family stress, she shares that children are sensitive to their parents’ temperament.
She cautions against main caregivers’ negative temperament and reduced interactions with their children as they could impede their learning.
“When parents are stressed out, they are also more likely to be unrealistic in their expectations or they become too indulgent. Both extremes are not good for a child’s development,” says Mrs Ang.
“It is then practical to show our children what being gracious means. Should you lose your temper or utter a wrong/inappropriate word, or even do the wrong thing, apologise about it.
“This is the best way to bring up a gracious child – when we are honest and exhibit forgiveness and compassion,” she adds.
Pandemic presents an opportunity for children to develop important soft skills
As primary caregivers to their children, parents harness the ability to engage and nurture their children into resilient individuals — and there’s no better time to do so as the pandemic continues to unfold.
“When the whole world comes to a literal stop [due to the pandemic], the message of being self-sufficient and being more independent becomes loud and clear,” says Mrs Ang.
With everyone being at home longer, one’s personal space is likely to be affected — likewise for children who are forced to share their space with other children and adults, according to Mrs Ang.
ALSO READ: How to support your child during Covid-19 - when it feels like their world is ending
“Ironically, emotional intelligence and adversity quotient are all borne out of adversities,” she adds, citing that the sharing of resources is the “best form of enforced collaboration”.
Says Mrs Ang: “When resources are scarce, there is a need for strong social and emotional learning to make sense of the world.
“Young children are a lot more resilient than we think as long as we patiently teach them in an appropriate manner and give them time by explaining the rationale and supporting them according to their level of development.”
How parents can gain confidence/mastery in nurturing their child
According to Mrs Ang, parents will gain confidence in nurturing their child when they feel like they are “competent and making correct connections”.
Here are some questions that parents must ask themselves when nurturing a child:
- What does my child like?
- What does my child dislike?
- What are my values?
- Have I lived out these values for my child?
- Do I articulate these values to my child?
- Do I have knowledge of a child’s development (ages 0-6)? (Note: You do not need to know in detail but enough so as to utilise an appropriate approach. This can be easily done with a simple online search)
Here are some proven strategies:
- Knowledge: You are what you read
- Application: Show your child that you love him/her and spend time with him/her by doing things or activities that he/she likes. If possible, do a project that your child can help you with.
- You can even work on making a product that the whole family can use or that your child can use or play with. (E.g. making a vertical garden or a playhouse constructed from environmental materials) Having a meal together and being present with him/her works as well
- Positive speech: Model positive speech if you want to nurture your child well
Ultimately, Mrs Ang says parenting is a process. “Mastery and confidence only come when parents understand that parenting cannot be substituted and short-changed.”
Tips for parents to better manage their child’s emotions and build their confidence
According to Mrs Ang, the below activities can increase self-esteem and confidence in children but only if it is done right and pleasantly.
“Failures are part of the road to success, it is more important to have fun and to be open to doing it again and improving things.
This way, the child gains confidence, learns to strive to be better and understands that failures are not setbacks,” she adds.
Here is a list of activities that may help increase a child’s self-esteem:
- Shared projects such as making toys or playhouses out of environmental materials
You can begin with simple things so that you have already set the stage for success. A simple example of using environment materials can be using egg cartons to make tic tac toe or congkak — a popular game of logic played throughout Asia, Africa and the Americas, otherwise known as the mancala.
- Cook or bake together. Better still, invite someone over or gift the handmade goods
- Pack the cupboard and organise clothes together
There are so many concepts in teaching a child how to fold his clothes such as matching, symmetry, sorting and distributing them in the right places.
- Do household chores together
- Make a card together for someone who the child cares or needs
- Grow something together and harvest it so that they can make something tasty for themselves or their loved ones
- Make messy art together and make the end product as aesthetic as possible to gift to someone. Be sure to clean up together and reinforce the right behaviour
- Mend something together
- Shop together, even if it is just running errands
- Create a video of your outing together
- Carry out a surprise together
- Do something out of ordinary like having lunch under the table and pretend you are in a rabbit hole
Doing something that is different from the usual routine—and when done properly with a pleasant overall experience — children can gain confidence in stepping out of their comfort zone.
- Select a day in a week where your child decides what he wants to eat. This will encourage him/her to make decisions
Resources available for parents to better engage their child beyond classrooms
Here are some useful resources to engage children beyond their classrooms.
Parents can also get useful tips and strategies from the various resources offered by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA). A line-up of virtual Expert Series workshops await — with the second episode that recently went on air (Sept 24).
They are accessible to parents online anytime, anywhere. Episode two of the series will focus on confidence-building and nurturing social skills, making it very timely given the current circumstances. Parents can access the expert series on ECDA Singapore’s YouTube Channel.
Mrs Ang-Oh Chui Hwa is the Principal of Far Eastern Kindergarten, and has been in the Early Childhood sector for over 25 years. Appointed an ECDA Fellow in April 2015, she believes that character, compassion and communication are important cornerstones of children’s development.
This article was first published in theAsianparent.