While she understands that staying home is essential in battling Covid-19, Debra Abraham is sad that her 22-month-old son Hunter Malachi has spent half his life confined to their home.
“Hunter is an active toddler who has spent almost a year in and out of the movement control order.
“Extroverted by nature, he misses the company of his friends and people in general.
“My heart breaks every day, seeing the world he has to grow up in. He will turn two in March. The last time he had a real sense of freedom was at his first birthday, days before the MCO, ” says Debra, 37.
The current MCO will continue until Feb 4. While the pandemic has been challenging for most, families with young children and toddlers have the added task of helping their young ones understand the changes to their routine.
For Debra, aside from having to think of creative ways to entertain her boy – Hunter gets restless cooped up indoors, having to repeatedly explain to her son why he can’t play outside their home or why his friends are staying indoors has been a tough.
“Unlike adults, young children are not be able to put into words their emotions.
“They require extra attention and we need to offer him as much support in case he feels anxious, ” says Debra, who owns a music school in Kuala Lumpur.
Debra and her husband, trainer Kevin Raj Pillai, 37, coordinate their work-from-home schedules to ensure that either one of them can be with Hunter at any given time.
“It is still physically and mentally exhausting as we also need to ensure meals are prepped and house chores are done while fulfilling all our work obligations.
“Most days, we hardly have time to unwind as the hours just fly by while we multitask throughout the day, ” says Debra, who occupies Hunter’s time with reading, sticker activity books, and painting.
Kids will be kids
Debra isn’t the only parent who’s struggling. Last August, a group of Malaysian parents created a Facebook group, “Anak Sepahkan Apa Hari Ini” (What Did You Kid Mess Up Today?) for parents to share photos of the mess their children make at home during MCO.
Among the entries was an image of a child sleeping on “snow”, after having ripped out the cotton from a pillow, and another of a child who had chewed on his slippers out of sheer boredom.
Help University licensed counselor and lecturer Bawany Chinapan says the pandemic hasn’t been easy for children, especially. It is “normal”, she says, for children to throw tantrums and have mood swings in times of crisis such as the pandemic when their routines have been disturbed.
“Children cannot see things from someone else’s point of view. It is crucial to understand the developmental stages of a young child and cater to their needs to minimise their tantrum. A child aged between two and seven years old are going through a ‘pre-operational stage’: They are unable to process information the way adults do.
“So parents need to respond based on their children’s developmental stage. Above all, it is important for parents to remain calm, ” Bawany explains.
She also said that it was not unusual for children to feel frustrated if their parents do not give in to their demands. Parents need to understand these frustrations and iron out the issues, whatever they may be.
Play, she emphasised, is important in a child’s healthy development.
“As they play, they are continually gaining valuable experiences in receiving, sorting and making sense of the constant stream of stimulus received. Add sensory play with young children. Children’s sensory organs are more developed than their thinking. Sensory play allows them to sense the world through their five senses – smell, touch, visual, sound and taste, ” she says.
As the MCO is an unprecedented disruption, Bawany encourages parents to create a routine to give children a sense of normalcy.
But, after close to a year of the pandemic, it is also crucial that parents look after their own well-being, both physically and mentally.
“Parents must be flexible during this difficult time but bear in mind that it is equally crucial for parents to manage their own self care. Remember that children are sensitive and they absorb what is felt in the environment.”
A new routine
Mother-of-one Iza Ibrahim, 43, has created a routine for her daughter Kaira Anne Isitor, five, to give her some sense of normalcy.
“Each day, Kaira attends zoom lessons but she also has time for fun and games. I play masak-masak and dress-up with her, ” said Iza, a marketing manager at an automotive company in Petaling Jaya.
But like other kids, Kaira gets bored at home too. Dad Kevin Isitor woke up with make up on his face, as a result! At other times, the young girl directs her attention to her pet cats and rabbits.
Iza also gets her daughter to help with simple tasks in the kitchen like wiping the plates, rinsing vegetables or cracking eggs.
“It is important to encourage Kaira to help around the house. She needs to understand that everyone in the family has to help each other at home. It teaches her about responsibility and helps to build her self-confidence.”
It can be challenging for Iza to juggle between work and family commitments. The pandemic has caused some disruptions in Iza’s life but she takes it in her stride.
“I concentrate on work when Kaira has online lessons. We take a break during lunch time. In the afternoons, I have a short nap while Kaira gets to watch some TV and play with her father.
“At night, when Kaira is asleep, I work till past midnight. It’s about learning to manage and cope with the current changes due to the pandemic.”