The pandemic guide to parenting a preteen | #parenting | #parenting | #parenting | #kids

When S Prashanti shifted base from Hyderabad to Visakhapatnam following a career move last month, the main challenge she faced were the insecurities of her two daughters, 12 and 14 years old. They missed their friends and the familiar setup of their home, became increasingly withdrawn and would often be too overwhelmed with emotions.

“My 12-year-old was more affected. The pandemic had made her more emotionally dependent on me since she couldn’t meet her friends. She has been confused and prefers to be silent,” says Prashanti, an HR professional. The situation was further complicated as the kids had to live with their grandparents. “The generation gap is obvious and there is an increased friction between my daughters and their grandparents. The girls often break down when I return after my day’s work,” she says.

While teens battle their own set of problems, children in the pre-teens are experiencing more extreme and varied struggles than they did before the pandemic. “It’s typically between the ages of nine and 12 that children become more withdrawn, trying to find their own voice even as they deal with physical, cognitive, and emotional changes,” says Anita Rao, a psychologist in Visakhapatnam. “The prolonged isolation from peers, extended family and school has changed the chemistry between many parents and their pre-teens. Unlike teenagers who are more plugged into friends via devices, pre-teens are still dependent on their parents and usually have more controlled use of gadgets.”

“Outdoor activity and social interaction are critical for their psychosocial well-being. But parents often find it tough to help them understand why the world around them has changed,” says Deepa Mohan, Head of Department of Psychology at GITAM University in Visakhapatnam. Added to that is the realisation that they or their loved ones can get sick. While this is the first sign of them breaking out of childhood, with an awareness of the world, it can also be the cause of worry. Here’s what you can do to help, especially if you see signs of distress.

Calm is contagious

“Listen, comfort and reassure. It is important to dispel anxieties by being honest and open about the situation. Parents must provide reassurance to children as many of them may feel anxious about seeing their parents or grandparents hospitalised,” she says.

Children thrive on routine

Without schools and schedules they are experiencing a complex mix of emotions they struggle to describe. “The prolonged situation has led to late sleeping hours with binge watching and late night snacking. Rapid weight gain is another issue many parents are talking about due to lack of outdoor games classes,” says nutritionist and dietician Anjali, founder of Starlite Nutrition and Wellness Centre.

Praise and flexibility work

“Set limits that are possible. For instance, if your child demands an extra half an hour of watching TV, allow that. Ensure that any changes are discussed, negotiated and fine-tuned to your loved one’s needs. But make sure to engage them in other different activities throughout the day,” suggests Deepa. Instead of constant correction, notice and praise the desirable behaviour that your child is exhibiting. Frequent criticism can affect a child’s developing self-esteem.

Togetherness helps

This is an ideal time to involve preteens in a fund raising activity for a local NGO, to give them a sense of purpose. Cook together and chat while you prep. The lack of direct eye contact may help.

Art calms

“Online classes put a lot of pressure on pre-adolescent children. The academic pressures are high, and the mind is not evolved enough to process the information overload,” says Anita, who is also an artist. She says engaging them through art like Mandala can help improve their concentration as well as keep them creatively engaged. “Mandala helps children to express themselves non-verbally,” she adds.

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