Helping Your Child Thrive During The Coronavirus Pandemic

Seven ways to guide your child to more cooperation and improved motivation.

Posted Mar 27, 2020

During this coronavirus pandemic, I have been conducting an ever-increasing number of online consultations and parent coaching sessions. What I am seeing more and more frequently are parents who are struggling with trying to juggle being homebound, attend to their work, and oversee the online schooling of their kids.

The following strategies are for all parents wanting to work more smoothly with their children toward helping them gain cooperation and motivation.  

1. Be patient with yourself at this stressful time. These are uncharted waters for our society and as a parent it is important to accept that it is OK when you don’t have answers to give to your children. The more you cut yourself some slack, the more you will be able to model acceptance of the current coronavirus epidemic to your child.

2. Model yourself accepting new challenges related to coronavirus. Your children will react to their own challenges in response to how they see you cope and adjust. The better you approach new demands, the more smoothly you'll convey that our routines may be altered for the foreseeable future. And remember to show support for a must needed message right now: If we all do our part to stay home, social distance, and follow what the experts tell us, we will save lives, and we will get through this.

3. Ask your kids how they are doing (and truly listen) before pressuring them with their online school work. Remember they may be missing recess with friends at school, hanging out by their lockers, or doing many other things activities and connections such as marital arts, dance classes, or sports after school. This is not the time to be hypervigilant by addressing every annoying thing they do, especially if your critiques get in the way of asking and observing what your kids are thinking and feeling.

Yes, it is very compelling to want to impose structures for new daily routines. While structures are important to create a sense of order, checking in to get a read on how your kids are really will likely help them be more receptive to your plans. This can make the difference between them engaging or avoiding and possibly shutting down in the face of their responsibilities.

4. Give your children space when they feel overwhelmed. When families are confined to their homes for a sustained period of time. providing space to one another can reduce the stress. We all need sacred space so do your best to support and encourage it when needed 

5. Praise your children when they behave in ways that you want to further encourage. It’s easy to overlook their positive behaviors in times of stress. More so than ever, your kids need to feel your appreciating them when they are doing things they don't want to do. This builds motivation for them to keep pushing forward and develops grit. 

6. "Catch" those quick recoveries from being upset. The more you reinforce positive self-regulating behaviors, the more you’ll see them. Remember that the human brain does not fully mature until around age 25. So, help them realize when they are successful in using their "thinking side" to control their "reacting side." This will guide your child or teen to better be able to manage their emotions going forward. 

7. Be calm, firm, and non-controlling to avoid fruitless power struggles. One way to do this is to see yourself as your child’s or teen’s emotion coach when you feel stuck as a parent—this helps you take to things less personally. Remember, understanding your children is just as important as loving them. And the more you see yourself as your children's emotion coach, the more you can objectively help them navigate their struggles. 

A Few Final Thoughts

The central theme of being calm, firm, and noncontrolling, as I wrote in 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child (2nd. Ed), applies well to all housebound parents and children seeking to bypass power struggles. 

Children and teens, especially those who are more anxious, prone to frustration/anger, and defiance, tend to act out, often more so if they are experiencing stress. During this coronavirus outbreak, we are all having to adapt to the new, the unexpected, and the unknown, which can produce many kinds of pressures. For struggling children and teens, the duration and intensity of stress can aggravate and overwhelm them. They have real difficulty adjusting to change. 

Thankfully, technology is allowing us and our children to connect with their friends and do their school work. OK, maybe more video games are being played at this time. Yet, as I have seen from doing several online consultations, interactive screens are also enabling children and siblings and parents to virtually connect with their grandparents, cousins, and uncles.

Remember to be calm, firm and non-controlling (in your tone and demeanor) when requesting your kids do some chores and some schoolwork before they engage in their screens. Also, encourage them get outside at least once per day to continue to earn the screen time. Empathize with their resistance so you avoid a power struggle but stay true to your encouragement. Better yet, go outside with them, even for a short time, to change things up and feel better.

Last, remember you're a parent, not a puppeteer! By this I mean you can't pull your child's strings to make them do everything you want them to do. Yes, that is an appealing fantasy though, isn't it! If, however, you do use the strategies I have shared above, the likelihood of your kids working with you (vs. against you) will be much higher. Just have an open mind, be patient, and give them a try.  

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Bernstein, J. (2015) 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child, second edition, Perseus Books, NY.