Parenting from a distance

How can parents continue to positively motivate their little ones and contribute to their development even while away from home?

By Indra Prasad Gupta, Education Officer, UNICEF Nepal
Indra Prasad Gupta
Photo courtesy: Indra Prasad Gupta
27 April 2020

Good health, nutrition, early childhood learning opportunities, positive motivation, security and protection – these are all key to the overall development of children. And it is up to us, the parents to make sure our children are not deprived of the support and care they need to make necessary progress in the physical, mental, social, language and emotional spheres.

But what about when, owing to some reason or another, either or both parents are away from the child? How can they continue to provide positive motivation and contribute to their children’s development?

 

"How can parents – including in the context of the coronavirus pandemic that has forced many families to stay apart – play their part in taking care of children from a distance?"

 

I speak, of course, from experience: I presently live away from my family for work. My sons – four and six – stay with their mother. But even if I’m not with them physically, there are different habits and ways that I’ve developed to try and be the best father possible. This article, then, is based on my first-hand experience of parenting from distance. When we are away from our families and our little ones, it is normal to worry about their well-being, wondering what they do all day, whether they are learning essential skills. But there are ways to stay in touch, especially in this day and age: you can always pick up the phone, or use apps like Viber.

 

"Reaching out to children in this way will not only allow you to catch up with them, but also enhance their language skills."

 

Indra Prasad Gupta's children
Photo courtesy: Indra Prasad Gupta

And these conversations can extend to story and poetry sessions, where you and your child can read together, and ask and answer questions, all of which will build their imaginative and argumentative capacities.

I myself talk to my sons at least three times a day wherever possible via the Internet, if not on the phone. The first of these calls takes place early morning, just before they head out to school. This is a special time of the day. I keep the conversation positive just to give them that little spark of motivation to stay productive during the day.

The second call is usually when they return home from school. My questions during these calls generally encompass these three questions:

 

1. What new thing did you do today?

2. What did you learn today?

3. Who and how did you help today?

 

These questions, I’ve found, trigger my sons to reflect more deeply on their activities, as well as internalize the importance of helping others. During these calls, they are very eager to share their experiences and views about what they saw and did at school, or on their way back home, and how they helped their friends and how their friends helped them.

The third and longest of our conversations are reserved for bedtime. We play a fun little question-and-answer game. My sons ask me any five questions they have in mind, and I answer them as best as I can. There have, of course, been times when I haven’t been able to answer them, and so, I simply explain to them that I will answer them later. I then proceed to research and find the answers, which I present to them the following day. What this exercise has done is encouraged my sons to develop new ways of thinking, to ask questions, as well as understand that not everyone knows everything, and that all of us – including adults – should be willing to learn.

It’s also during these nightly calls that I try to read aloud for them either a story, a poem, a song or a short biography of someone inspirational. I make sure to invest some time searching for appropriate material to read to them. And on the occasions that I do go home, I make sure to take along some books that I will later read out. These efforts have helped foster in them a love of books and stories, as well as encouraging them to be curious and creative.

UNICEF

These days, given the far-reaching impacts of the ongoing coronavirus crisis and the lockdown, it was inevitable that this topic would feature in our discussions. We talk regularly about precautionary measures: how many times we’ve washed hands, what we did with that handkerchief that we sneezed into, why we need to stay away from other people as far as possible. But remember, these don’t have to be gloomy conversations; you can still keep things fun while giving them the right information.

These are some of the ways in which my family has been navigating our particular circumstances. And I think we’ve done well. My sons are good boys, healthy and active, interested in all kinds of different activities.They are confident in expressing themselves and bursting with curiosity and creativity. They are fearless, helpful and communicative with people around them. They are always willing to lend a hand to their friends and at home. As their father, this gives me immense pride.

My concluding advice to other parents like me who find themselves away from their little ones, especially during the COVID-19 crisis, is to stay committed to maintaining that connection.

 

"Use everything you have at your disposal to stay in touch, have open conversations with them, listen to them, answer their questions, build trust and support. Don’t let the distance dissuade you from being a part of your child’s life and development – find a way to make it work."