Parents in S'pore too busy to bond with kids because of Covid-19: Survey

Parents should "avoid a catastrophic mindset" as their children will pick up on their stress. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Seventy per cent of parents with children aged five to eight say they are too busy during the pandemic to enjoy quality time with the kids, a new study reveals.

Less than half, or 48 per cent, experience positive emotions when their kid wants attention, while a quarter of respondents are annoyed or stressed by it. One in four parents also feels tired or worries about work in the middle of fun activities with their little ones.

While the survey by charity Focus on the Family polled only 175 parents online from Sept 7 to 20, it seems to mirror the general mood of weariness as Singapore battles the Delta variant of Covid-19. It also comes in the lead-up to Children's Day on Friday.

A larger study of 1,000 people commissioned by The Straits Times found that 76 per cent feel sad or depressed. Run by market research firm Milieu Insight, this survey had polled a representative sample of the population aged 16 and older between Sept 20 and 22.

While the latest stabilisation phase restrictions are challenging, parents should "avoid a catastrophic mindset" as their children will pick up on their stress, says Ms Susan Koh, a family life specialist from Focus on the Family.

Accepting that Covid-19 is a part of life and will bring uncertainties is important, she adds. Parents should be flexible and adjust their expectations. "Work to keep the family atmosphere a positive one so that everyone will enjoy the extended time together at home," she says.

Having well-oiled routines in place for semi-lockdown periods helps too.

Ms Veenaa Subramaniam, 39, a community partnership manager, remembers feeling guilty for lashing out at her two children last year as she struggled to work from home and entertain them. Even when she was with them, her mind was on work.

It took six months to find a system that worked, together with her husband Balakrishnan Seshan, 45, a business development leader.

One of the most important tools was "mastery of schedules", she says. This includes drawing up a timetable of activities with her daughters so they are invested in it, but with flexible modifications.

For instance, five-year-old Kirthi has stopped childcare for the time being as the family is following the Government's recommendations to keep pre-schoolers home. If Ms Veenaa has an important presentation, she makes sure that her kids are engaged in an activity they are passionate about, such as painting or making jewellery from clay, during that time.

She also motivates them by issuing fun "challenges" to her girls to give their all in the activities and rewards them with their favourite things, such as fruit jelly. Ms Veenaa's in-laws, who live with her, oversee the kids during playtime.

"The happiest kids are those who learn how to make themselves happy," she says. "We're giving them the tools and we are designing the system where they can make themselves happy."

Ms Veenaa Subramaniam with her husband Mr Balakrishnan Seshan, and their daughters Kirthi (in red) and Sujitha. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

The couple also follow a "divide and conquer" strategy throughout the day. While Ms Veenaa prepares breakfast and lunch early in the morning, her husband helps Sujitha, seven, with home-based learning tasks that do not require her to be in front of the screen - all this before their work day starts at 8.30am. The family has no helper.

At lunch time, Mr Seshan stops work to spend an hour with the girls. When he returns to his desk, his wife takes over to bond with them, also for about an hour. Both try to stop work at 6pm for dinner and family time before resuming their work after the girls are tucked in, at about 8.30pm.

"Children need their parents' time. Once the love and affection is given to them, they are willing to detach. The problem is when their love tank is not filled by the parents, thus the tantrums," Ms Veenaa says.

She has found that intentionally scheduling time for work and family activities has also helped. "I'm fully present during the time I'm working, and during the times that I am on my break, I am fully present (with the kids)," she says.

The strategies have made life smoother, she adds, "but the struggle is real. There's a lot more effort that goes into planning for the next day than usual".

How to spend quality time with your child

Ms Susan Koh, a family life specialist from Focus on the Family Singapore, offers these tips to harried parents.

Find pockets of time

Do not feel guilty for not spending more time with the kids. If you are working from home, set fixed times for "recess" or a tea break. During these breaks, play a quick card game, read a book or dance together.

Routines matter

Children thrive on the structure of routine; it makes them feel safe. Meals and conversations before bedtime are also a good way to check on each other emotionally and mentally.

Foster connections

Instead of gathering over screens, create a list of conversation starters to use during meals or at bedtime. These could include questions such as "If you were the president, a new rule you would make is…" or "If your parents could not say no to you, you would ask them for…". The key is to keep it casual and fun.

Nurture a sense of wonder

Kids need time outdoors to release their pent-up energy - safely, of course. Use this time to look up at the sky or just blow bubbles along the common corridor. Discover new things about your surroundings and each other in these simple pleasures.

Take care of yourself first

When your own tank is running low, it is hard to fill the needs of your child. So, carve out time for activities that relax and recharge you, even if it is for 15 minutes a day. Making time for yourself shows your children the importance of self-care.

- Download Focus on the Family's resource, The Wonder Guide, for more tips on quality time. Go to this website.

For more stories on how to help your child succeed in school and life, go to the Smart Parenting microsite at str.sg/smartparenting

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