I know that for many parents out there, being stuck at home with your toddler or preschooler during the coronavirus pandemic can be challenging. Finding that next activity for them to be engaged in, worrying about whether you’ve given them too much screen time, or managing your guilt of whether you spent enough quality time with them each day are challenges parents are facing every day. Not to mention those parents also trying to work from home, meet deadlines, attend telephone and video conferences, and still keep their job or business going in these uncertain economic times. But did you know that allowing your child freedom to be bored, take risks, and find their own rhythm during isolation could actually help prepare them for school?
A study out of New York University (Blair & Raver, 2014) found that self-regulation was a foundational requirement for a child to enhance their other school readiness skills such as an understanding of literacy and numeracy. The study also asked kindergarten teachers what they thought school readiness was, and the majority of teachers found that it was embedded in emotional regulation, decision making, empathy and the ability to pay attention, followed thereafter by literacy, numeracy and appropriate physical development. So why am I talking about this? Because being at home in a repetitive pattern of isolation, with little new material and information to engage with, encourages children to manage their own emotions, their own boredom, and make decisions for themselves.
Take for example a child who has been in a daycare or preschool setting for at least 18 months before the pandemic hit. They have spent a significant period of their life having meals prepared for them, being presented with activities at regular intervals during the day, and being thrust into social interaction even on days when they may not have wanted it. Contrast that with now being stuck at home with their immediate family members, the occasional guided learning activity and no forced social interaction. That new space in their day now gives them the freedom to make decisions for themselves, identify what activities they want to engage in, and navigate boredom whilst making choices to address that boredom or to just sit with their own thoughts.
Some practices that parents or carers can adopt to encourage and support emotional regulation are outlined below, and of course may be subject to your own risk tolerances and environment, but are worth thinking about and adapting to your own space.
Freedom of choice Does your child know how to turn the TV on? Much like the famous marshmallow test, allow your child the freedom to have the TV remote near them but let them know that if they go until afternoon tea or another point in the day without turning the TV on they can then have a marshmallow or other treat.
Risk taking How safe is your outdoor space? If you have a safe outdoor space where you have visibility of your child, allow them to play freely watching from afar and without interruption of their activity. You will see imaginative play, emotional regulation and risk taking occur, and as long as you are only a stone’s throw away to manage any risk, then this is a great opportunity for you child to feel free and experience cause and effect.
Puzzles How often does your child do a puzzle and you just want to jump in and help them find the right place for that piece? Well stop it. Let them take as little or as long as they want to complete things like puzzles, blocks, colouring in or games. There is immense value in adults engaging in those activities with children, but during isolation, as a parent, this is a good way of allowing your child to use their executive functioning skills whilst also giving them, and you, some alone time.
Access to food Do you always prepare your child’s food? Leave food in an accessible location to encourage your child to regulate their own eating habits and be in touch with hunger and how it impacts their emotions. We all know when our children are hangry, but this is a good time to allow them to know what it is and how to address it.
Boredom Your child is inevitably going to get bored at home with no new toys or activities. But, as I’ve said above, this is a good thing. Allowing your child to figure their own way out of boredom and find new uses for existing resources is a great learning experience and demonstration of emotional regulation. Removing and rotating your child’s toys will spark new interest in, and new uses for, old toys.
The coronavirus pandemic is a great time for your child to explore their own emotions, experience boredom, and practice decision making skills. Use the time as an opportunity for your child to learn emotional regulation and prepare them for school.
Andrea Christie-David is the Managing Director of Leor In Home Early Learning, a mother to three children, and on the Management Committee of her daughter’s preschool.