Parenting During COVID-19: Hands-On Recommendations

Parents' contributions to children's development become more influential.

Posted Apr 28, 2020

Parenting is challenging in normal times, but it is even more challenging during the pandemic. Here are a few things to keep in mind during these challenging times.

Different ages, different needs:

Some parents may have children of different ages. Each age group has crucial needs that need to be fulfilled for healthy development. Consider the following age groups.

Infants and toddlers:

During this period, attachment to the caregiver forms. The relationship with the caregiver (typically the mother) can lead to either secure or insecure attachment. The attachment style has a great impact on the relationships we have in adulthood. Activities such as mimicking your infant’s facial expressions, singing, reading and exercising with them, skin-to-skin connections, are some examples of activities that encourage secure attachment.

Elementary school:

Play is a big part of their healthy development. Unfortunately, during COVID-19 and movement to distance learning, playing with friends was abruptly taken away from them. They also might not be as emotionally expressive, so their frustration might be disguised as:

  • All of a sudden s/he starts calling the pen "stupid"
  • Rebelling for no reason about mundane things
  • Bothering his/her siblings (e.g., hiding their phones)
  • Lethargy and loss of interest in family activity

It is important that they use any platform to see their friends such as FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, or other applications that allow them to interact with their friends. At the same time, the internet can be unsafe. So, try setting difficult passwords and monitor their internet activities. Also, rules should be relaxed during challenging times as children like everyone else are still trying to make sense of everything around them.

Teens:

Adolescence is a crucial time for identity development and interactions with peers have a large contribution to their identity.

  • Allow your teens independent time
  • Allow a budget for attitude
  • Meet them in their space: Watch their favorite show or game with them
  • Encourage them to set up virtual parties
  • Help them learn a new skill; for example, how to fix the printer, fix the fridge, troubleshoot internet problems. There are many "how-to" videos online. Share the problem with them, and indicate that you strongly believe that they can and will find a solution to that problem.

The following applies to all ages:

As a parent, think about what is your language of worry? What is your belief system about uncertainty? (Click to listen to my BBC interview.)

In one study, they video-recorded a 10-minute free play interaction between mothers and their children (3-5 years old). They found that anxious mothers use more future tense and less present tense while playing with their children (1).

The use of future tense separates us from the concreteness of the present moment. Some theorists believe that this is a cognitive strategy to avoid potential threat in the present moment.

The mother’s focus on the future compromises "noticing" what the present interaction with her child might offer. So, when the child accomplishes something, or does something cute, or wants attention, the anxious mother might be distracted by future-oriented worry thoughts. Thus, the child might be deprived of compliments, rewards, comments related to their actions in the present moment. (Read my article about how to stay in the present moment when parenting.)

Ratio of praise/criticism

It is important to pay attention to the ratio of praise to criticism. Also, praise children for the process of doing and not the outcome. Otherwise, they internalize that their self-worth is tied to outcomes, which are not always under their control.

Do not criticize them for who they are (you are not good at anything, you are such a failure). Parents' comments are more important than ever in building their children's self-confidence and self-esteem. You are all they've got!

Consequences

If you do consequences:

  • Stay calm while delivering the consequences
  • Make sure you assign a consequence you can implement
  • Provide many chances for redemption and praise them for that

During times of home confinement, every person becomes a big mirror for everyone else in their family. Also, everyone's role becomes so much more influential than before. For example, the child is at home all the time with their family members. Before the pandemic, the child was interacting with other people in the world such as doctors, teachers, friends, and others. However, during the pandemic, they are likely interacting with fewer people. So, each family member has a bigger impact on their development.

References

Geronimi, E. M. C. & Woodruff-Borden, J. (2015). The language of worry: Examining linguistic elements of worry models. Cognition and Emotion, 29, 311-318.