Shada Lambert is an international career nanny, parent coach and potty training and sleep specialist. Her childcare experience ranges from working with children of all age groups up to teenagers, but she has a keen interest in the early years sector. Previously a freelance Dance and Drama teacher, she has now completed a Master’s degree in Childhood Studies and Early Years.
Starting as a babysitter in her teens, she trained as Dance and Drama student at her Dance school, where she eventually became a teacher herself. Through word of mouth recommendations of her passion and enthusiasm for looking after children, she naturally transitioned into the nanny world.
In this article, Shada shares some of her top tips – from providing emotional support, to home-schooling and play, as well as sleep – that she has learned throughout her training and personal experience working with children during lockdown.
How to talk with children about COVID-19
It has been very confusing and sudden for the 4-year old boy I look after to comprehend what is going on. But his parents and I have tried to explain to him, in the best way we know how, that there are loads of germs around, so all the shops and schools must be closed for now. His two-year old brother does not quite understand now.
My main concern is for the children that already were struggling with mental health issues prior to COVID-19. How are they coping? According to a Children’s society report (2020), children with existing mental health issues may find this COVID-19 pandemic challenging, which could result in increased levels of worry, anxiety, and low moods.
I have seen the effects on my nanny children, who have both become increasingly anxious about me or their parents leaving the house. As well as this, the 4-year-old boy asks a lot of questions about why he cannot go to school and why he cannot see his friends. He says, “Is it because of the germs?”, so he is semi-aware of what is going on, but probably does not fully understand.
The advice I would give to parents is to be open and honest when communicating with your children about what is going on.
- Talk to them. It’s important to ask open ended questions about how they feel or what they are worried about. Questions such as, ‘Do you have any questions about the coronavirus?’ or, ‘How are you feeling today?’ are is a good way to gauge how much your child knows and understands about the pandemic.
- Follow your child’s lead. Some children don’t want to discuss what’s going on and may not ask questions, but it always good to let them know you are available to talk if they have anything worrying them.
- Offer comfort and emotional support. Give children the space to discuss their fears, worries or anything that is stressing them by answering any questions they have. This helps to build resilience and help them to regulate their feelings and emotions.
- Keep them stimulated with their favourite activities or introduce new games or activities every week to keep them excited and engaged.
- Help your children to feel in control through encouraging independence- Washing their hands, getting enough sleep, personal hygiene. Explain the importance of hand washing and self-care.
As a nanny, home-schooling is a normal part of our day as we teach children activities that are related to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and their child development. However, during COVID-19, the children are not in school or nursery, so the workload has increased.
In my nanny home, the boys have 10 to 25 minutes of learning in the morning after a physical activity and outdoor walk. We then split the home-schooling schedule into 10 minutes learning slots throughout the rest of the day.
We set up a learning corner in the boys’ room, so they know when it is time to learn, they sit at their desk. In the morning, we do worksheets, counting, colour recognition, and handwriting practice. In the afternoon, we do flashcard and phonics learning, and later in the afternoon and early evening we do reading practice whilst I read a book to both.
My home-schooling advice for parents would be:
- Create a consistent learning schedule. Children thrive off routine and feel more secure if they know what is about to come.
- Spread the learning throughout the day and not in one long sitting!
- Organise the learning slots as it would be in school – e.g. morning session is maths, afternoon session is English etc.
Play Activities for Parents and Carers
To help my nanny children overcome any anxious thoughts or worries, we have also focused a lot on play, and I advise that parents do this too. Different types of play to keep them stimulated every day. In our day-to-day activities, we do a lot of open-ended play, imaginative play, water play, creative play and child-led play.
Here are four of my favourite play activities you can try:
- Emotional bingo to help children recognise their emotions and feelings
- Play therapy – a quiet activity such as Lego or building blocks where you can talk to your child about how they are feeling whilst they are engaged in an activity that they enjoy
- Science Play – Do mini experiments like soapy water with socks and blow bubbles, water colour paint-mixing colours to make colours, soap, water, and black pepper to teach them about germs and importance of washing their hands.
- Feelings Doll sticks – This helps children recognise or identify how they are feeling. You can do a range of emotions happy, joy, sad, frustrated, calm, tired etc.
How to help Children Sleep
Lockdown is affecting children’s sleep patterns because they are locked in the house for long periods of time and only limited to one outdoor activity. Children are used to routine and being outdoors, so now they have these stay at home restrictions, they are becoming more restless and tired quicker out of boredom. I have found that my nanny children are a lot grouchier in the morning and throughout the day or waking up more in the night-time.
Here are some tips parents could try if their children are struggling with sleep:
- Make sure their child has a consistent bedtime routine. Have bedtime at the same time every night. Also, that they have the three B’s: Bath, Book, and Bedtime.
- Make sure the children are self-soothing at nap and bedtimes and not relying on their parents to put them to sleep. Give them a comfort muslin or cuddly toy, dummy or patting, rocking, cuddling them to sleep.
- Reassure them you are nearby but they still need to learn to self-regulate and fall asleep on their own.
- Put them in their cot or bed awake and allow them to fall asleep by themselves.
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