Important Life Skills That The Pandemic Is Teaching Our Children
Even during a school break, children can learn a few essential life skills. Being responsible, valuing money and bonding with friends are a few important life skills you can teach your child.
By Aruna Raghuram • 17 min read
Nobody was prepared for something so life-changing. The Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdown has affected us and our children in ways we never imagined before. Wearing masks, physical distancing from people, work from home and no school have become the new normal. Giving a lot of importance to practising hygiene and staying home as much as possible is the new mantra.
However, keeping children occupied when they are stuck at home without formal schooling and unable to play with friends is a huge task. But, a silver lining is that the pandemic is creating opportunities for our children to learn some very important life skills, which we can hone.
Important life skills that the pandemic can teach our children
Formal education helps children acquire knowledge but may or may not equip them with essential life skills.
However, situations like the Covid-19 pandemic provides children with an opportunity to learn about life. Here are five important life skills that your child can learn during this lockdown with your help.
1. Dealing with uncertainty
In life, there are several factors beyond our control which bring us face to face with a great deal of uncertainty — as the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdown. We have no idea how long it will take for a sure-fire medical breakthrough to emerge in the form of a vaccine or successful treatment plan. Meanwhile, there is the fear of falling sick.
Here are three ways you can help your child deal with uncertainty:
- Set a routine: With the lockdown in place, there is no morning rush to go to school or spend the evening playing with friends. In fact, children’s daily routine has changed. So, bringing some structure into their lives is important. Establish a routine which includes some study time and recreation, apart from exercise, healthy meals and a fixed bedtime. If storytelling or reading to your preschooler is a bedtime ritual, ensure you maintain this practice. The certainty which a routine brings can help children cope with the overall uncertainty of the present time, and make them feel safer and less anxious.
- Focus on what can be controlled: Explain to your children that there are certain things they can control. For instance, they can protect themselves from contracting the disease by practising hygiene. They could do this by washing their hands with soap and water, or using a hand sanitiser frequently. Staying indoors and maintaining physical distance from friends is another way they can protect themselves.
- Practise mindfulness: Dr Jerry Bubrick, clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, suggests that parents should regularly practice mindfulness with their children. Mindfulness is all about focussing our thoughts on the present moment. Exercises which you can teach your children to promote mindfulness include being conscious of their breath; eating mindfully, that is paying attention to the smell, appearance and taste of the food; and colouring or listening to music with complete awareness and concentration.
2. Building resilience
Children, both young and old, can be affected by stress and anxiety brought on by the present situation. While older children may feel stressed listening to the news about the pandemic or talking to their friends, younger children may pick up anxiety cues from their parents. One of the important life skills children need to tide over adverse situations is resilience.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA): “Building resilience – the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress – can help our children manage stress and feelings of anxiety and uncertainty.”
Here are three ways you can help your child build resilience:
- Books and play: Introduce your child to books and stories that deal with the concept of illness, death and grief in a sensitive and age-appropriate manner. For instance, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White relates the story of a friendship between a pig and a spider. The Invisible String by Patrice Karst reassures children who are afraid of losing a loved one that there is an invisible string that connects us to those we love even when we are not near them.
- Sense of security: During stressful times, it is vital that parents connect more with their children to make them feel loved and safe. Young children may express anxiety through pretend play and art. If you find your child showing signs of anxiety, connect with her by offering hugs and snuggles. Give her some special time during which you tune out all distractions.
- Positive outlook: Remind your child of the obstacles that he has overcome in the past. And, the strength this has given him to handle future challenges. Also, help your child cultivate an optimistic outlook about the future, even in grim circumstances. Teach him to believe that ‘this too shall pass’. While it is important to give your child positive information about the pandemic, avoid empty reassurances. Get him to count his blessings. If you feel that belief in a higher power gives support during times of adversity, you could teach your child to pray.
3. Being responsible
A vital life skill your child needs to be independent is a sense of responsibility. So, stop doing things for your child when she becomes capable of doing it herself. For instance, resist the urge to put the buttons on your preschooler’s sweater just because she takes time to complete the task. Allow your older child to cook a simple dish even though she may make a mess in the kitchen. Of course, make sure she is involved in clearing up as well. To ensure that your child feels accountable for her actions, tell her that there will be consequences if she shuns responsibility. Keeping her promises and fulfilling the duties assigned to her is an important part of being responsible.
Suggests Dr Laura Markham, parenting expert and author of Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids, in an exclusive conversation with ParentCircle: “All children want to see themselves as response-able – powerful and able to respond to what needs to be done. They need this for their self-esteem, and for their lives to have meaning.”
Here are three things you could do to make your child more responsible:
- Giving chores to do: You can teach your child to be responsible around the house by giving him age-appropriate chores. For instance, a preschooler could be asked to set the table, water the plants, fold clothes and help put away the groceries. Primary schoolchildren could help with cooking, doing the dishes and helping with the laundry.
- Aiding self-reliance: You may be busier around the house in the absence of domestic help. So, seek help from your child. Some of the tasks you can ask your preschooler to do on her own include brushing her teeth, putting away her toys and tidying up her room. If your child is studying in a primary school, you could ask her to try and make a snack for herself and develop the habit of independent study.
- Developing social responsibility: You can inculcate in your child a sense of appreciation for community members who are working to help others stay safe and healthy. These include doctors and nurses, policemen and security personnel, and people manning shops or delivering items to homes. Encourage your child to say a prayer for these helpers or make cards to post on social media.
In addition, you can help your child develop empathy and compassion by telling him about those less fortunate who are struggling to cope with the pandemic. These include the homeless, the migrant workers trying to get to their native place, and the street vendors who have lost their livelihood.
4. Bonding with friends
While children are now spending more time with their parents, they are missing out on playing and interacting with their friends. In times of social distancing, maintaining and managing friendships becomes a challenge. And, this is a cause for concern for parents of shy children. Parents feel worried that staying away from peers can affect their children’s socialisation skills and make them withdrawn.
According to Dr Nithya Poornima, “Exposure to social situations is key to a child’s social development, particularly for children who may have some vulnerabilities in terms of being shy or being hesitant for social interaction.”
Here are three solutions:
- Using technology: You can help your child interact with her friends thorough phone calls and video calls. While excessive recourse to social media has its negative aspects, in the current situation, relaxing the rules a little would help keep friendships going and make your child feel connected to her peers.
- Closely supervised play dates: Parents have different views about how much time they want their children to spend interacting with other children. If you are okay with it, you could organise play date where your child’s friends and their parents come for a walk in the park, ensuring proper physical distancing is maintained.
- Becoming their friend: Be available more than ever to talk and play with your child to help her deal with loneliness. In the current situation, when there are restrictions on peer play, you can step in and try to fill the vacuum. You can ‘pretend play’ with your child or make a video about your family. The idea is to help your child use her imagination, discharge her energy and keep herself in good shape, physically and emotionally.
5. Valuing money
During the Great Depression, children learnt to become careful about spending. The Covid-19 pandemic may do the same. Some children may see their parents facing uncertainty about their job and feel financially insecure. Since you don’t want your child to link financial uncertainty to fear, reassure him, but give a realistic picture. Here are three simple financial lessons you could teach your child at this time:
- Distinguishing between needs and wants: Children can be taught this difference from an early age. Ask your child to make a list of her needs and wants (or give her a ‘needs versus wants’ colouring sheet). While you buy her what she needs you can ask her to review her wants after a week. By then, she may not want a particular toy or dress. This way, she could learn about spending judiciously.
- Understanding the value of saving: Involve your child in making decisions such as cooking at home instead of ordering food. You could also buy him a piggy bank and tell him stories such as Bunny Money or Bernstein Bears’ Trouble with Money. This will teach him the importance of saving.
- Living within your means: Your child should know that she should be careful about spending money, especially during uncertain times, as it may needed in the future. To teach her how to spend and save, you could involve her in preparing a weekly budget and playing board games like Monopoly.
Aarthi Prabhakaran, a Chennai-based mother of a 12 and 8-year-old, and a consultant enabling content strategies for start-ups, decided to teach her children three life skills during the pandemic-induced lockdown.
She says, "We helped our children pick up three life skills during the pandemic and lockdown.
Sharing domestic chores: I insisted that the entire family get involved more actively in cleaning the home, and doing the laundry and the dishes.
Sustainable and minimalist living: Lockdown gave us the time to review our buying and consumption patterns. Our purchases have been minimal, only essentials. Restaurant orders were almost negligible. The kids learnt to reuse (worn-out clothes as cleaning towels) and recycle (segregate plastics). We also experimented more with our home garden to source our own food.
Online etiquette: Since many schools have now started with online classes for all ages, we had to gear up to learn and teach our children the basics of online etiquette. Learning to navigate applications like Microsoft Team, Google Meet, and Zoom; understanding the nuances of using headsets/speakers, how to mute/unmute appropriately, and join with or without video were among the new lessons learnt."
Archana Mohan, mother of a 9- and 4-year-old, and co-founder of children’s content company, Bookosmia in Bengaluru, shares her experience of teaching her children to find joy in doing 'nothing'.
She says, "As parents, we are constantly reminded to keep our kids ‘meaningfully engaged’ during the summer vacation. So, from February, I had my children’s vacation all planned out. There was to be a cricket camp, a book club, art and swimming classes. With no classes to attend and nowhere to go, my children learnt that it is okay to do ‘nothing’.
Mornings meant gardening and fighting over who’s hand-painted T-shirt was better. My children were suddenly hooked to Masterchef and wanted to take part in cooking. Sometimes, the dishes were done by tiny hands. What fun it was to feel the soapy bubbles and running water! Watching birds fly by, doing a goofy dance with cousins on video call — all these moments of doing ‘nothing’ brought the joy of ‘something’. The joy of a repository of precious memories that no fancy skill-building class can ever hope to match."
For now, your little ones are stuck at home with neither school nor access to friends. Instead of agonising over how to keep them occupied, take the opportunity to inculcate important life skills.
In a nutshell
- The pandemic is providing valuable opportunities to children for learning life skills, which parents can help hone
- Parents can inculcate resilience and a sense of responsibility in their children by giving them chores to do around the house
- Parents can help children deal with uncertainty by setting a routine and practising mindfulness with them
What you could do right away
- You may be busy juggling domestic chores with work from home. Still, set aside some time every day to become your child’s playmate
- Stop tidying up after your child. Involve your children in cleaning up by playing games or making up fun challenges (“I bet you can’t put all the blocks in the basket faster than me!”)
- Get your child transparent containers in which he can keep his allowance for spending, saving or giving to someone who needs it more
About the author:
Written by Aruna Raghuram on 14 June 2020.
Aruna Raghuram is a journalist and has worked with various newspapers, writing and editing, for two decades. She has also worked for six years with a consumer rights NGO. At the time of writing this article, she was a freelancer with ParentCircle.
About the expert:
Reviewed by Meghna Singhal, PhD, on 16 June 2020.
Dr. Singhal is a clinical psychologist and currently heads the Content Solutions Zone at ParentCircle. She has a doctorate degree from NIMHANS (Bangalore) and holds a post-doctorate in parenting from the University of Queensland (Australia).
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