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The coronavirus pandemic has confined most of the families around the world in their houses. This increases stress for both parents and children. The lack of social interaction and outdoor play impacts young children, especially toddlers, who are developing their motor skills. Toddlers are too young to understand the impact this pandemic has on the social, financial, physical, mental and emotional lives of people. Toddlers can throw tantrums, demand to be taken outside and exhibit sudden destructive or negative behaviours. Parents first need to practice the art of relaxation. It is hard to be relaxed during this period. But unless parents engage in self-help techniques like exercises, yoga, meditation etc, it is hard to remain calm. Parents primarily need to set aside alone time for themselves (while the other parent watches the children) in order to unwind and relax. This helps in mind being rejuvenated and relaxed. The World Health Organization has proposed six tips to interact constructively with children during this time of confinement. Let us see how we can adapt those tips in order to keep our toddlers engaged, while keeping our nerves calm.

One-on-one time:

It is important that each member of the family spends a one-on-one time with the child, in addition to family group play. The one-on-one time should be a minimum of 20 minutes, or longer. It is important that this is at the same time each day, so a routine is set and the child looks forward to it.

  • Copy a toddler’s sounds and facial expressions. Let the toddler do the same with you.
  • Sing songs, make music with pots and spoons.
  • Stack cups of blocks.
  • Read a book, show pictures.
  • Draw and colour on a big chart. Colour along with your child.
  • Dance to a favourite song.
  • Teach the child some cleaning, arranging, stacking etc, so he/she also helps around the house.
  • Teach alphabets, numbers, words, poems and songs.
  • Arrange a puppet show with their favourite stuffed toys

Keeping it positive:

It is really hard to stay positive when our lives have changed and there is so much work to do at home, and the kids are driving you crazy. Shouting “No” and “Stop doing that” are less likely to work when children are frustrated. Children, especially toddlers react better to positive instructions and praise.

  • Say the behavior you want to see, rather than saying what you don’t want to see (“Please put your toys away” rather than “Stop making this mess”)
  • Get your child’s attention by calmly, yet clear and loud, calling his/her name before talking to the child. Many parents resolve to shouting even before they can get the attention of the child.
  • Praise your child when they are behaving well.
  • Be realistic. Toddlers cannot keep quiet for a whole day, so give them a 15 minute quiet time every day, so they start practicing.
  • Stay connected with others in the family. Have video conferences with grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and friends, so your toddler can interact with them.

Structure a routine:

Toddlers adapt well to routines. Routines bring structure to their daily activities. Routines keep toddlers calm and help them sleep and eat better.

  • Do things at a scheduled time every day
  • Make sure your routine includes hand washing. Have a handwashing 20 second song.
  • Let your child model on your behavior.

Catch bad behavior early:

Toddlers tend to throw tantrums when they are stuck indoors, especially if they are used to running around lots.

  • Catch the bad behavior early and redirect your kid’s attention to good behavior. You can distract them at the start of a bad behavior by calling them to play a game.
  • Use consequences. Even very young children need to understand limits and consequences. However, it is important to follow through with the consequence. A common (and basic) toddler-discipline technique you may want to try first is to take away a privilege that’s related to your toddler’s offence. You can tell your toddler that you will take away her favourite toy for the rest of the day if they don’t behave. If your toddler doesn’t behave, it is important that you follow through by taking away the toy, so your toddler understands consequence. Once the consequence is over, give your child a chance to do something good, and praise them for it.
  • If you feel like screaming, give yourself a 10-second pause. Breathe in and breathe out. Then try to respond in a calmer way.

Keep calm and manage stress:

This is a stressful time. It is important for parents to take care of themselves, so they can support their children.

  • Take a break. Do some activity just for yourself. Some stress relieving activities are sweat-out exercises, yoga, meditation, painting, reading a book, taking a relaxing bath etc. Parents should never ignore time for themselves. A 30-minute “me-time” can help you relax the whole day.
  • Listen to your kids. Toddlers are little people. They have every emotion that an adult will have. It is just that many toddlers are unable to express their emotions. Sitting down and letting the child talk will help them communicate better. Tell them you understand and support. Repeat their conversations, so that they are assured that you understand them. This helps lot of toddlers calm down.

Talking about COVID-19:

If your child is communicating well, and is able to have a conversation with you, it is important that you explain the reason why you can’t go out and why their usual routine has been disturbed. Most toddlers can understand words like sick, hurt, boo-boo, pain etc. Explain to them the reason that they stay at home is because they are safe and happy inside the house for a few days. Be honest about not knowing when it this will get over, but provide the assurance that everything will be better once this is over. Show them the bright side of this situation by explaining that it helps you all be together at home. If the child is too young to understand, you need not explain about the virus, but you can definitely share the bright side of being together and doing fun activities together.

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