Engaging children during Covid
Look around you and you will see there are lots of things that you can do with your child which will not only keep them engaged, but also work to improve their skills and abilities
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us are maintaining “social distancing”. This has resulted in a severely restricted life for all of us, particularly our children. Going out for a movie or a meal, taking walks, playing in the park - they are not safe options in these times. While these are the obvious “negatives”, we need to also focus on the positives in this period - for one, it gives us more time to interact with our children and spend quality time with them. This is especially true for children with special needs.
Children are feeling isolated as they are denied the opportunity to spend time with friends or other people who they interacted with on a regular basis before we all went into “lockdown”. This may actually be leading to rusting of social skills and weakening of emotional bonding. While a lot of them are perhaps using digital media to stay connected with the world outside, that does not and cannot in any way replicate or replace the need for in-person, face to face interactions.
As parents, we need to recognise this, and compensate for it. In fact, I would say we, as parents, must mandatorily ensure that we invest a lot more time engaging with our children in various ways.
The other aspect of these times that we need to be mindful of is the excessive exposure to, and contact with, digital media. It is of course inevitable that a lot of “real-life activities” have moved to the digital world. Our children are attending school and various other activities through online channels. Kids with special needs are getting their therapies (OT, Speech etc.) online. Many of them are also using devices for playing games, surfing the net etc. Many times, I have observed that mobile phones and tabs are used as new-age pacifiers - parents hand them to children simply as a way of keeping them engaged or entertained (in reality, it keeps them distracted and diverted).
Hence, taking a break from the high levels of digital interaction is of paramount importance.
This brings me to the question which most parents ask, “What can I do with my child? I have run out of ideas”. Before answering this question, I would advise you to first take a step back and, “start with a schedule”. Build a daily schedule - for yourself as well as your child. It goes a long way in helping stay organised and it brings a sense of rhythm to our lives. A schedule also helps our children understand what to expect and eliminates surprises and shocks that can lead to tantrums, meltdowns and resistance.
Now coming to what you can do. What you choose to do would depend largely on the child’s current skill set, areas of interest and any specific area where you think she could expand her skills and abilities. While it is a very good idea to play games and puzzles etc., you can also productively engage with your child through everyday activities such as hanging out clothes to dry, making tea, setting the dinner table etc. Such activities in fact go a long way in keeping the child connected with her environment and making her feel a part of the household.
Remember not to give them things to do that are too easy. Choose activities in which the child can contribute productively. It is important that the child feels that she is making a meaningful contribution and not doing things mechanically, just for the sake of doing them.
Another important point to keep in mind is - don’t just focus on the end product or goal of the activity. A lot of learning (in fact most of it) happens along the way too. Here are some things that are learnt along the way of most activities that you can do at home with your child: Planning, Anticipation, Memory, Alertness, Collaboration, Coordination, Co-regulation.
Let me explain that with an example. Let’s say you choose to fill bottles of water from the water filter to put away in the fridge, or a shelf etc.
First, you and your child would gather the empty bottles from all the rooms, the fridge etc. The next part is actually a set of sequential steps to be executed. Open bottle cap, open tap, wait for the water to fill, be alert so that the water does not overflow and spill, shut tap, close bottle. Repeat steps. Then you and your child would have to remember to put the bottles back in the intended location.
Remember - don’t just focus on the “how” of the activity, but also on the “why”. Why are we filling water? Because everybody wants to have cold water available when they feel thirsty. It makes things convenient for them. Hence, it makes people happy. They will appreciate you, and you will feel good about doing something useful.
And what would be the child’s learning from this activity? Planning, anticipation, memory, and also learning the concept of doing things for others.
Look around you and you will see there are lots of things that you can do with your child which will not only keep them engaged, but also work to improve their skills and abilities. They will also get a sense of contributing to the running of the household. Here is a list I made which you could start with - making tea (or coffee, lemonade, milkshake) or any small snack, watering plants, washing and/or drying and/or stacking utensils, hanging out washed clothes, washing and chopping vegetables and many more.
So go ahead, make a plan, build a schedule, and have fun while your kid learns!
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