Published: July 2, 2021

Life Course Centre Chief Investigator and Director of UQ’s Parenting and Family Support Centre Professor Matthew Sanders features in this ABC News article providing tips for parents to guide children through Australia’s COVID-19 lockdowns during school holidays.

Psychologist advises focusing on what’s within your control

Since the early days of the pandemic, University of Queensland Professor of Clinical Psychology and Parenting and Family Support Centre director Matt Sanders has been developing resources to help families cope with the change. Professor Sanders said there are simple, but important steps parents can take to help guide young people through situations like lockdowns. Things like keeping to a routine, listening carefully to your kids and even having a spontaneous family dance can all help. He said amid the chaos, understanding that the larger events associated with the pandemic were largely out of individuals’ control was key. “It brings back home the fundamental importance of controlling the things you can control,” he said. “That is to exercise a greater level of control over your day-to-day, moment-to-moment environment, which includes your relationship with your kids, with your partners, with the people you’re working with.” Professor Sander said embracing personal agency and ability to make a difference for the family unit was important. “Let others worry about the big picture affecting the universe,” he said. “You can think globally but act locally, in a very concrete way.”

Take cues from your children

He said it was important for parents to listen carefully to their children. “When they are asking a question, they’re interested in learning,” he said. “The big mistake in responding to kids’ questions is feeling as though you have to tell them everything when sometimes it’s a good idea to clarify what’s behind the question, by asking ‘I’m curious about why you ask that’ or ‘What is it that you know about this?'”.

“Let the children educate you, as the parent, about what they do know and what the missing bit is.”

He said it was crucial kids know that parents are “interested and accessible” when they want to talk to you about something that is worrying them or that they’re uncertain about. Although the outbreaks of COVID across the country may be causing parents a lot of stress, it was important to shield children from that to some extent. “If you are freaking out and you’re panicking, what children observe is a worried, anxious, fretful parent all the time,” he said. “Then children have got the signals that there’s something they need to be concerned about.” Planning out a daily routine was important, and there were endless activities that could keep people occupied. Professor Sanders suggested parents make a list of activities and put it on the fridge so kids can learn to occupy themselves independently. Cooking, exercising, dressing up, learning a musical instrument or researching family history and cultural traditions could all be very engaging. Having a sing-a-long or dance could also work wonders to counter the strangeness of lockdown. “It’s a great form of emotional expression,” he said. “Family singing, dancing, just having an active movement associated with music is really good for people’s mental health.”

Young people probably more resilient than you realise

Professor Sanders said the experience of the pandemic could be compared with events such as famines, world wars, tsunamis and natural disasters. “It’s certainly the case that some kids can be traumatised by these experiences, but they’re still only in the minority,” he said. It was important to remind young people that stressful events such as lockdowns were “temporary and transitional” and would eventually be followed by stability. “That doesn’t mean that there aren’t families who have been through a very, very difficult time. But on the other hand, it’s been a unique opportunity for people to demonstrate to themselves their capacity for coping with challenging and difficult times.”

Read the full ABC News article here.