by Gina McShreffrey Emmons, PhD
Parenting on a normal day is difficult, but parenting during a quarantine is on a whole other level. Many of us have been thrown into really challenging situations during this time. We are trying to work remotely and maintain our professional roles from home while simultaneously homeschooling our children, or we are going into work as an essential employee and arranging for childcare and supervision. We are also caring for our families and possibly other extended family members, and trying to stay safe and manage our own anxieties about the Coronavirus. Some of us may even be suffering financially due to job loss, or even mourning the loss of loved ones because of the virus. Without doubt this is the most trying time in our lives and we are all struggling on some level right now. The purpose of this month’s blog is not only to offer some practical parenting tips, but to also provide support and a sense of empowerment for parents as they continue to embark on this unprecedented journey.
We Are Not Alone
First and foremost, parents have to know that we are all in this together. We are not alone during this time. Although we have different situations at home, we all share in the unified practice of quarantine and social distancing while trying to maintain a sense of normalcy. Just knowing that all parents are trying to cope with this new normal right now does provide a sense of unity, relief, and comfort. We also cannot be hard on ourselves since we did not choose to be in this situation. We are currently navigating unchartered territory and we have to realize what we can control versus what is beyond our control, and last but certainly not least, we have to learn to be patient with ourselves.
A Shift in Mindset
At this point, we have to be conscious of changing how we are thinking about our situations. Instead of waking up each morning and thinking how negative things are right now, we have to in a sense change our mindsets in order to get through this in a more adaptive manner. In committing to this shift in perspective, we can tell ourselves some positive things, which will help to shape how we are thinking. Some alternate thoughts to consider include the following:
- I am strong and resilient. This experience will only make me stronger and more resilient.
- I am modeling for my kids how I can handle stressful situations. I am their models of calm and consistency during a time of chaos and uncertainty.
- I am learning to accept my new normal.
- I am being challenged in so many ways and forced to work beyond my comfort zone, but this experience is getting me to open my mind to different ways of working.
- I am allowing myself to use my creativity as I navigate new situations and become a better problem-solver.
- I may feel like I am on overload right now, but I am training my brain to work differently. I am also learning new ways to relax and keep my mind calm.
- This is temporary—even though I do not know how long this will last, I know that it will not be forever. I will adjust to any new changes that come my way.
Practical Parenting Strategies
Once we are able to reframe some of our thinking, we can become more available to our children; however, if you have young children at home, this time can be particularly challenging. It is important to consider some practical tools and strategies to help manage expectations and behaviors at home. Here are just a few of them:
- Schedules: Create schedules and work spaces in your home for you and your children to foster a sense of organization, control, and normalcy. Even if you have limited space, it is helpful to divide spaces into different work areas. You may have to be creative! Also, keep in mind that schedules may need to change depending on your job’s demands and that’s okay. Being flexible is key when working at home.
- Work Breaks: It is important for everyone to take breaks because when you are at work or school, you are not sitting for extended periods of time as natural breaks are embedded throughout the day. Breaks help improve motivation and attention to task.
- Catch Them Being Good: Being at home all day can increase some problem behaviors such as non-compliance, fighting among siblings, etc. In order to increase the “good” behaviors you want to see more of, you need to catch your child when they are engaging in positive behaviors. Notice and praise the good they do in a day (no matter how small it is)!
- Provide Specific Praise: When praising your child, it is better to be specific and label the behavior you would like to see. For example, instead of giving a generic praise like “Good job,” you can say, “Good job cleaning up your toys.” This helps children make the connection that they will be praised for that specific behavior in the future, and it likely increases the chances they will continue that positive behavior.
- Use Positive Commands: Instead of using “stop” commands, which tells your child what they should not be doing, consider replacing it by telling your child what behavior you expect from him/her. For example, instead of saying, “Stop running!,” you can say, “Walk slowly, please.”
- Implement a Positive Reward Chart: Consider creating a positive reward chart where your child can earn rewards for following a list of expected behaviors you would like to target. This can help with increasing more positive behaviors within the home.
- Pause and Reset: It is always important to model calm behavior for your children. If you are starting to feel upset/angry with your child, it is okay to take a break and pause in another room before responding to your child. It is better to talk with your child when both of you are in a calm state in order to decrease any escalating behaviors and to have a productive conversation. This can show children that they too can pause and reset when they are feeling upset and frustrated.
Parenting is more than a full-time job, and now with all of these extra demands and responsibilities on our plates, it is especially important to make time for ourselves. When we run out of energy and our tanks run low, we have to recharge and refuel to continue being the best parents we can be. We may even be working longer and harder than our normal days; therefore, the need to reward and take care of ourselves is even more essential now. Making time for physical activity, walks, or taking breaks to do what you want to do such as reading a book, or watching a favorite TV show/movie are just some ways you can decompress. Other ways to help practice self-care is to limit news watching, and to engage in some mindfulness activities such as deep breathing, grounding exercises, and meditation. There are several useful apps to help guide you through these exercises such as Insight Timer and Calm.
Family Bonding and Maintaining Social Connections
During this unique time in our lives, we have been afforded the opportunity to spend more quality time with our families at home. Including children in everyday tasks such as completing chores, cooking, or other household jobs can be helpful in promoting family bonding and a teamwork mindset. When screen time exceeds its limit for the day, it is always good to consider family game activities with traditional board games or new games that you can make up together. It is also important to continue to maintain connections beyond the family unit to preserve and foster our extended social relationships. These connections are especially important now as social distancing and isolation can increase feelings of anxiety and depression for some people. Virtual get togethers are fun ways to accomplish this with friends and other family members outside the home. Talking with other parents and sharing parenting tips and innovative ideas to entertain our kids is also another way to help cope during this time.
Acts of Kindness and Gratitude
In times of crisis, another way to feel good about ourselves is by helping others. We can teach our children to think about others and perform acts of kindness when people need it the most. Simple acts like making a meal for a neighbor, baking cookies for your local first responders, making cards for sick patients, healthcare staff and other essential workers, or drawing happy pictures and thank you signs to hang up in our windows are just some of the things families are doing to make life a little bit brighter for others in our communities. Let’s challenge ourselves to be creative in coming up with more ways to help others during this time! Also, being thankful for our loved ones and all the good things in our lives is critical to acknowledge during this time. Try to think about what you are grateful for and tell those around you how much you appreciate and love them. Counting our blessings and expressing gratitude contributes to happier thoughts and a healthy mindset.
We are all faced with real challenges during this Coronavirus pandemic. We are learning to accept our present situations while balancing our many responsibilities, and trying to nurture our mental and physical well-being. We as parents are tasked with the extra challenge of supporting and educating our children during this time. With a shift in mindset and some practical parenting, we can get through this together. This journey will make us become stronger, wiser, and more resilient parents!