As a therapist I have been working with parents for over 20 years. I have consulted on so many different parenting concerns that I could not possibly list all of them. Consulting with parents on how to take care of their children during a pandemic is new to me. There are no chapters in books, at least that I can find, that talk about this topic. Yet, as I have been continuing to see my clients during this time, I find myself supporting parents on how to parent during a pandemic. I have to apply my knowledge of what works as a parent and tailor it to this unique time in history. Like everything else in parenting, this too shall pass, so let’s take this time and make our children stronger through this process. As I tell all of the parents I work with, our goal is (with any situation) to help children gain skills so they become capable adults. We can help them gain the skills of grit and resilience through a very tough time.
Our children will take their cues from us. You know when you are on a plane and a pilot comes on the PA and says, “ladies and gentleman, we are about to hit some turbulence. Please put on your seatbelts and I will let you know when it is safe to get back up again.” We tell ourselves, “Our pilot has this under control so I know the turbulence will feel scary but I will be ok.” We will feel some fear but we know the person in charge of us has it under control. The opposite scenario, which I hate, is when I am sitting on a plane and suddenly there is a lot of turbulence and the pilot is saying NOTHING. My mind goes crazy and I begin to panic. We need to apply this to our parenting during the Pandemic. Our children will follow our lead. We are the leaders of our house. Our children will look to us and they will operate according to how they feel their parents are operating. We must try our best to present as calm and convey that we have our house under control.
- Give only important information. There is an overwhelming amount of news running on a continuous cycle. Try to only give your children the information that they need to function in their daily life.
- Protect your time with your children. Try not to have the main topic of discussion be COVID-19. Have your meal time full of discussions that are cheerful, fun and engaging.
- Empower your children by telling them what they can control. The best thing anyone can do is wash his/her hands. When you reinforce with your children that they can protect themselves by washing their hands really well, that will make them feel more in control.
- Stay connected. Although we are all practicing social distancing, it is so important for everyone’s mental health to stay connected. I recommend having your children facetime friends and family members on a daily basis. Also, remind adult relatives to not make the subject of the conversation about the coronavirus.
- Create a daily schedule. This doesn’t have to be a beautifully written out and color coordinated schedule (I know some people have really outdone themselves on social media). Provide your family with a basic outline of the day. Children thrive with a predictable schedule. They like to know what will happen and when.
- Get creative. We are all navigating some uncharted times. Now is the time to let our creativity shine! Sit down with your children and come up with ideas to do while staying at home. You will be amazed at how creative your kids, and YOU, can be.
- BELIEVE in your kids! Tell your kids that this is going to be a tough time but you know they have the strength to rise to the occasion and they will get through this. This type of encouragement sets a bar that children want to meet.
As parents we are managing new responsibilities (work and home life colliding) and we have our own fears about the current situation. Seek support from friends and family. Stay connected to those who can lift you up when you are having your dark moments. Finally, SELF CARE, SELF CARE, SELF CARE. Take care of yourself so you can be your best parent.