Hello Raghu, you are the first dad to be featured on the blog & I am so happy to have you share your experiences with us. Tell us a bit about your family.
We’re a relatively small household with just three of us currently residing in Bangalore. My parents are based in Dubai and my brother in London. We’re a bit nomadic in some sense having lived in multiple places across different geographies; though Bangalore is home for us all. Luckily my daughter has had a stable residence over the last two and half years which has definitely helped in providing a certain comfort and sense of belonging to her.
As we are speaking during the pandemic, can you share how your life as a father was before the pandemic & how it has changed now?
I was an Investment Banker till recently when I decided to take a break. Given the professional demand, my time with my daughter was limited to a few hours in the morning and Sundays when work-life permits. My wife had committed her entire time to our daughter, which allowed me to fulfil my professional obligations without having to worry about my daughter’s development; granted that my peace of mind stemmed from the fact that my wife is a trained Montessori guide. Under these time limitations, we had a decently established routine wherein, the mornings were quality hours where we got to learn, explore, play and of course include some routine hygiene and food related activities. When she started attending a Montessori school, the routine was more streamlined. Weekends were for us to spend quality time and build our own relationship which initially revolved around activities such as building stuff (lego, dominos etc), books, sitting on the swing, going for drives, visiting the mall, restaurants etc.
Our routine prior to the lockdown revolved around her school timings. Our approach has been to try and increase her exposure to the world around us, be it from visiting different parks, attending plays/musicals (targeted to her age group), maintaining a healthy social life by interacting with friends and family and getting to explore other parts of the world.
However, ever since the lockdown, her world has changed and enclosed by the four walls of the house and only us for her to socialize with. It is extremely tough to ask a child, who has gotten used to spending time exploring the world around, to suddenly limit herself to the house. We have tried providing as many opportunities for her to expand her learning by offering activities around development across various facets. Children are very resilient and far more adaptable than adults; they build themselves a new normal within no time. She does miss going to school, the park, meeting people etc. but she understands, in her own way, that life is different now. Establishing a routine is quite difficult when we really aren’t time bound. We’re taking each day as it comes while trying to make sure her developmental needs are not sidelined.
Do you feel you have more quality time with Urvi? How do you both spend your time together?
Given that I am on a break from work, I definitely have a lot more quality time with her which is more paced and not rushed due to any time constraints. My daughter has clearly developed her own sense of what activities she likes to do with each of us separately. With me, it revolves around building stuff, be it lego, blocks (plain ones, bristle based etc.), playdough and even some DIY activities (building a bird feeder or some shelves). She also likes to pretend-play with me (with her kitchen set, dolls or doctor kit). We also spend quality time everyday on the swing. When it comes to books, cooking and dancing, she is equally engaged by my wife and I. The entire creative department from art, needle work, rangoli and nature play is my wife’s domain.
Many parents are juggling a lot of responsibilities and find that screen time is giving them some respite. Do you offer Urvi screen time? What are your thoughts?
Prior to the lockdown, screen time was solely limited to video calls with her grandparents and aunts/uncles. We have been a screen-free household until recently. However, as she is also growing up and observing us use our phones/tablets/laptops, she has become more curious about them. We now limit screen time to educational contents, around her interests, which mainly revolves around seeing rangoli designs and animal related content. Our approach has been to use the screen as an educational medium and restricting viewing time to 20-30 mins a day. She does also chat with our parents and occasionally wants to see her baby pictures/videos. We do not use the screen during meal times as we try and encourage her to be aware of her meal activity. She of course likes to play while eating and also likes to eat outdoors. I know it’s difficult for working parents to be able to spend that much time around meals, however, I believe that content curation is very important at this impressionable age. Parents should analyse and decide if the content they are planning to introduce to their child is appropriate for the child’s age and the impacts of exposing them to mature content earlier than necessary. Overall screen viewing time can impact the child’s development both mentally and physiologically.
What are some things you feel Urvi is missing out on because of the pandemic? Does she ask you about these things? How do you navigate such situations?
I think she misses her school routine and visiting the park the most. She definitely asks about both of these regularly. From our perspective, restricting social interaction, now that she can communicate well, is one of the areas which she will miss out on. The new normal might change the current generation’s concept of social interaction and it is concerning that they will not experience it the way we did. We have to cope with life as it is, until there is a viable vaccine, and trying to maintain relationships digitally, to the best of our abilities, will be our focus. It’s so important for young children to be able to play together, physically, and we hope that we can offer it in a restricted and safe manner soon.
Do you think it’s important to talk to young children under 6 years about the pandemic?
Yes, but it is important that the messaging is inline with what they can understand. Rather than talking about it in a global perspective, it’s important to try and relate it to their life and their world. For Urvi, we kept it as simple as we could, by talking about a sickness and the need to maintain a certain level of hygiene and distancing. She has taken to it rather well and knows why we cannot go out now and not interact with people. She also knows why people cannot visit her and why airports are closed. I do not think children should be exposed to the pandemic via the media nor in terms of fatalities. Parents should limit their knowledge to safety and in enforcing social distancing. Kids are far more mature than we give them credit.
With so much uncertainty around, how do you take care of your mental & physical health and how do you model this to Urvi?
This is definitely challenging today. From a mental perspective, it’s important that we maintain a healthy, peaceful and happy atmosphere for Urvi. She is already bearing the burden of not being able to live her life as before, and the least we can do is to not disturb her equilibrium by violence (physical or verbal). There are going to be days that will be challenging as parents where limits could be pushed. We should try and limit their exposure to our outbursts or frustrations as much as possible. On the physical side, it is important to maintain one’s health, especially during a pandemic. Involving the children in physical household chores is a great way for them to contribute to the family and also keeps them occupied while spending time with the adult. It also helps develop movement coordination and fine motor skills. Yoga is another great way for children to improve their flexibility. There are a number of yoga poses which are suitable to children and can be introduced once they have developed the ability to balance well. Personally, I can do more to model the need for better physical health by working out and involving her in the routine.
Lastly, do you have one piece of advice to share as a dad to other parents during this crisis?
In these troubled times, as a dad, maintaining your composure and being patient is very important. It’s also important that we should not be too hard on ourselves as our mental wellbeing will ensure that we provide the best environment for our child.