We are living through unprecedented challenges, faced with profound uncertainties about the public health, the economy, the safety of our workplaces, the risks of gathering with friends and family, and even about the rhythm of the school year. Parents always have sought guidance from their pediatric providers when they are uncertain about their children’s health, behavior, and development. We want to share some guidance with you about several of the most common questions we have been hearing in the past few months, in the hope that it may prove useful in your conversations with patients and families.
What happens when we are so busy at home that our 2-year-old is ignored for much of the day?
If they are fortunate enough to be able to work from home, but have lost their child care, many parents are suddenly facing the sustained challenge of parenting while working. Even older children will have a tough time remembering that home is now a workplace, and they can’t interrupt their parents during a Zoom meeting. But older children will understand. Younger children (preschoolers) simply will not be able to understand that their parents are in sight but not fully available to them. They are exquisitely sensitive to their parents’ attention. If they are consistently ignored, behavioral problems can emerge. If both parents are at home, they should try to arrange a schedule taking turns so that one of them could turn their full attention to their kids if need be. If a working parent can be out of sight (i.e., in another room), it makes the situation easier for everyone.
If there is only one parent at home, that mom or dad should consider arranging a babysitter or sharing child care with a friend, with some reasonable safety provisions in place. The small risk of exposure to the virus is balanced by the risk of sustained invalidation in a developing child. Help parents set reasonable expectations for how productive they can be at home. If possible, they can manage their employer’s expectations, so that they do not find themselves in the impossible bind of choosing between a crying child and a crucial deadline. If they can work near the child (and be prepared for interruptions) when reading emails or writing, that may be enough availability for the child. And parents should not be discouraged when they have to repeatedly remind their children that they adore them, but also have to work while they are at home right now. Using age-appropriate screen time as a babysitter for a few hours each day is a perfectly acceptable part of a plan. Simply planning regular breaks when their children can have their attention will make the day easier for everyone at home.