Parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t easy. For many, it’s become a nightmare, juggling remote work, 24/7 childcare, and homeschooling. Parents must also answer hard questions, calm fears, and keep kids positive with little guidance or clear information. How we parent now may determine the course of an entire generation. That’s why a few parenting tips are a necessity—even for the most attentive mother and father.
Unfortunately, financial worries and isolation are getting in the way of effective parenting. According to a March 2020 study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, parents were running out of patience. They reported more frequent yelling and disciplining of their kids than prior to the pandemic. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Shawna Lee, the study’s lead author stated:
“We can expect these rates to increase over time as economic conditions worsen and parents’ stress levels increase.”
So, to help all the frazzled parents out there, below are a few parenting tips from the experts.
How Take Back Control of the Household
A common complaint by parents is that the house is a mess and their days are chaotic. They have lost control over managing the household and lost track of what the kids are doing. Hayley Gallagher is a work-from-home (WFH) mom, certified family therapist, and manager of a parenting blog called The Centered Parent. She suggests the following tips to help those families take back control:
- Make routines a priority. Use big visual aids to get everyone on the same page as to what they can expect for the day.
- Make screen time interactive. Screen time has understandably gone up in most homes. But finding ways to make it more interactive can help relieve that classic parent guilt.
- Make time for family. Though you might think the last thing you want to do is see more of each other, spending quality, structured family time together is beneficial. Holding family meetings or family game nights, will help you get along better and stay connected.
Tips for Having the Tough Talks
Talking to kids in a constructive way about parental activities and the current pandemic is a challenge. While you may have gotten past the initial explanation of the pandemic and why the restrictions are in place, there are now a host of new questions to answer. But passing on your negative feelings and frustrations will not help the kids and may contribute to their anxiety and confusion.
Elizabeth Forry is an Educational and Parenting Writer & Curriculum Designer at Master of Mixed Maternal Arts. She emphasizes the following parenting tips for discussing difficult topics with kids:
- Step One: Validate the feeling. Let the child know it is okay to have strong feelings and emotions about things being odd or different. One way to do that is for parents to simply say, “I know you’re angry that you can’t see your friends. It’s okay to feel angry.”
- Step Two: Offer to problem-solve together. Parents should follow up with, “What can we do to help those feelings feel less strong?” When you involve the child in problem-solving, it provides a sense of control over one aspect of their life. With all the changes, they may feel they have lost a lot of say in what happens to and around them.
Gallagher adds that parents should check-in often with their kids.
“Ask your kids how they are doing. Foster a safe space for expression. Allow them to ask questions and ask a few of your own. Be curious about their internal experience.”
In addition, she reminds parents to be honest while being age-appropriate:
“Do your best to deliver truthful information but be sure to balance it with comforting reassurance. Kids are not equipped with the same reasoning skills as adults so try not to overwhelm them. On the flip side, it’s important that you don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you say things like ‘no one is going to get sick’, and someone does, your kids will struggle to trust your comforting words in future.”
What is Appropriate Discipline During a Pandemic?
Many overwhelmed moms and dads are looking for parenting tips as they struggle with discipline right now. If you’re a parent that has lost control of the house, chances are you’ve also lost control of the kids. But, with all the negativity going on around them, is it really fair to discipline them? Aren’t things bad enough? Gallagher advises:
“Being a little more relaxed in your approach is definitely okay for now. Being cooped up together weathering a global pandemic takes a toll on everyone, but especially your kids. Always validate their emotional experience first. Even if you are not okay with the behavior, send the message that their feelings are always acceptable to you. If you decide to enforce a consequence, do so thoughtfully and respectfully.”
For parents losing patience, Forry reminds us that the root of the word discipline means to teach. It doesn’t mean taking out parental frustrations by yelling and screaming. However, a well-run household is beneficial to everyone including the kids, so setting boundaries is essential. “Boundaries and rules need to be discussed, and consequences for breaking the rule clearly outlined,” advises Forry, “then parents have to follow through no matter the whining or tantrum level.” This may be a tall order considering the current levels of enforced togetherness, but consistency is key and greater peace will follow. “If parents consistently follow through on their word, both positive and negative, there will be fewer fights, arguments, and tantrums at home.”
Tips to Promote Continued Learning
As months have gone by, many parents have tossed their carefully planned learning schedules and educational activities out the window. Exhausted and depleted, parents are struggling to keep them occupied. While it may be a challenge, getting back a regular schedule will help get kids back to learning says Gallagher.
Alexandra Fung, WFH mom and CEO of Upparent, a parent-to-parent recommendation sharing site, also suggests letting go of any previously unrealistic ideas about educating our kids.
“As we all continue to navigate these unprecedented times, it is important for us as parents to recognize our limitations. Especially as we do our best to fill our increasingly intertwined roles as caregivers, teachers, employees, and more. One way to do this is to let go of some of our expectations for how things should be and be okay with improvising a bit as it makes sense for our families.”
She goes on to suggest parents should prepare a few ideas in advance for educational activities that won’t feel like work. A few hands-off examples include storytelling and educational podcasts, as well as family-friendly documentaries. For more hands-on learning, she suggests simple science experiments using common household items.
Whatever activities parents select, Hung emphasizes customizing them to fit your family:
“If your children love to read, let that be a primary way to keep them learning. If they love video games, have them trying coding websites like Scratch. There is no single way to keep our kids learning, so have a few ideas ready that work for your family and embrace a different kind of learning experience!”
How to Keep Their Spirits Up
Maintaining a positive mindset is difficult for the most resilient adult amid COVID-19. Unfortunately, children are without the same emotional or mental resources. Deprived of their friends and activities for months, they may feel like their lives will never get better. Both Gallagher and Forry agree that positive family activities are the way to go.
Forry’s suggestions include:
“As a family, go for walks, play frisbee in the backyard, put on music, and have a dance party. There are plenty of ways to engage in physical activity as a family that is also mentally rewarding. I always ask my kids to tell me their favorite part of the day. It is a way to introduce gratitude, which promotes mental health.”
In addition, Gallagher further advises creating safe, comfortable spaces where your kids can unwind. “Whatever you implement,” she states, “make sure it’s focused on restoring a sense of balance and security for your kids.”
Self-Care Tips for Parents
The best way to ensure your kids weather the storm with mental health intact is to take care of yourself. Just as a drowning person cannot save another drowning person, as a parent, you cannot help your kids if you are struggling yourself.
Forry is no stranger to needing some alone time.
“We live in a house with younger kids and teens, and the rule for the teens is, you don’t need to be asleep, but you need to be in your room by 10 pm because that is the adult time in the house. Wake up an hour earlier than your kids and give yourself time to be alone, read a book, and enjoy a coffee. [But] your adult time should not be used for work.”
Prioritizing self-care is also important in the Gallagher household. “If you are expected to hold down the fort, you will do it better if you are feeling better.” She advocates talking a little “me time” every day. Other suggestions include:
“When it comes to work-life balance, create a space in your home that is just for work. Schedule some social time with friends over Zoom or do a socially-distanced hangout in a park. And don’t forget to surround yourself with support. Join an online support group or see a therapist using online therapy. Put yourself first and your family will thank you.”
Everyone is having a difficult time right now and it is healthy to reach out if you need more help. Below are some resources that are available to help parents:
- Helping Children Cope
- Parenting in a Pandemic: Tips to Keep the Calm at Home
- Parenting During the COVID-19 Pandemic
- When Will This be Over? Sesame Workshop’s Tips for Parenting During a Pandemic
Don’t think that you’re a lesser parent by using parenting tips to overcome COVID-19-era hurdles. Using your natural instincts and suggestions from the pros, you can efficiently juggle work and kids—two of the most difficult tasks that any person faces.
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