12 Ways to Effectively Parent During a Crisis (Part 2)
Part 2: Let my 20 years of experience in counseling children in crisis help you.
Posted March 16, 2020 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch
In Part 1 of this post, I recommended asking your kids what questions they have about coronavirus or voluntary quarantine, allowing yourself to make mistakes as a parent, being prepared for unanswerable questions, acknowledging your kids' fears, and the importance of just spending quality time with them. In the second part of the article, I'll talk about keeping your anger in check, being truthful about your ability to protect your kids, addressing separation anxiety, continuing social contact with other kids through video, turning off the news when your kids are home, having structure yet also flexibility, and the importance of practicing good self-care.
Keep Your Anger in Check
Usually, kids are oblivious to what your feelings are about how we got to the point where we are facing a pandemic. However, they may have heard you talking to your partner or friends. You have every right to be angry and even enraged that our citizens were not protected weeks ago when warning signs first emerged. If your kids overheard you talking with others and ask why you were upset, explain that adults sometimes get frustrated about some things and talk them out with other adults. Emphasize that you are working to keep the family safe and healthy.
You may be wondering how you’re going to make ends meet this month. Keep that in check when talking with your kids, and make sure your kids are not around when you discuss this with other adults. There is a difference between saying to your child in a calm voice, “We won’t be able to get that toy this month,” and “We’re running out of money.” Running out of money is an adult situation that children don’t need to know about.
Be Truthful About Your Ability to Protect Your Kids
Kids inherently feel that you will always be there to protect them. When that worldview is shattered, such as when a parent dies, it can throw kids into chaos. If your kids ask you if you can stop them from getting sick, let them know you are doing everything in your power to make sure your kids stay healthy. Then talk about all the things you are doing together at home, such as washing hands thoroughly and wiping down surfaces. If you have to go to work during this time, let them know that you are not shaking hands with anyone, and you are keeping your hands away from your face. Luckily, studies are finding that the younger you are, the more likely you will be asymptomatic even if you test positive.
If you have a kid with risk factors, such as having asthma or having a compromised immune system, be honest with the fact that you are taking extra precautions to limit his or her exposure to the virus. You can turn this into an educational moment in self-advocacy by talking with your kid about what he or she can do to help protect himself or herself.
Answer Questions About Separation Anxiety
Eventually, school will be back in session, most likely before the threat of COVID-19 is gone. The peak of infection is estimated to be in June or July. Your kid may be afraid to be away from you. This is a normal feeling for your child to have. You may also not want to be away from your child. That is also completely normal. Talk to your support system or a mental health professional if you are experiencing a feeling of dread about your kids going back to school. Talk with the school about what precautions they are taking when school is back in session to help ease your fears.
If you have to work during the pandemic, your kids will naturally be concerned if you will get sick. Some kids will wonder if you are going to be coming home. Tell them the precautions you are taking at work, especially if you are in the medical field. Let them know that a lot of parents are working to help people feel better, and quite a few of them have been okay.
Continue Social Contact Through Video
Your kids may ask when they can see their friends again. Tell them that they can, just in a different way for a while. The beauty of living in this day and age is that your kids have easy access to playmates and friends through online video. You can even set up a playdate where your child and another child engage in “parallel play.” Many kids are already communicating over the internet. They may adapt quicker than you expect.
Turn Off the News When Your Kids Are Home
While it’s important for us to keep up-to-date, the news has a lot of information that kids just don’t need to know. It creates more anxiety. Part of our job as parents is to filter that information so that kids’ questions are answered, but answered gently and lovingly. Kids do not need to be exposed to constant news. Read the news on your tablet on your own time, and do not leave news stories open for your kids to read. Pay attention to how much you are watching the news too, and check in to see if it's impacting your level of anxiety.
Have Structure…to a Point
It’s important to keep kids on a schedule. Get up, eat breakfast, take a shower or bath, brush your teeth, etc., and do school work if it has been assigned. But keep in mind kids will need more time than usual to just be silly and unwind. Yes, have a structure to your day, but also be flexible about it. Everyone may be a little crankier than usual. Spend some time just having your kids be kids. Spend some time outside (preferably in an open space with limited social contact).
Practice Good Self-Care
One of the best things we can do for our kids is to take good care of ourselves, physically and emotionally. And that means taking extra good care of ourselves during a crisis. Kids watch us like a hawk for what they are supposed to do during a time of great stress. Be a role model for teaching them appropriate virus prevention skills and appropriate stress-reduction skills. Have your kids join you for a round of deep breathing. Practicing good self-care also means making time just for you. Take a “parent time-out” when you need to. Have a designated “relief person” where you can trade off kid-watching time so you can each take a break.
Keep in mind that while things are rough now and for the foreseeable future, there will be a time when this virus will pass. You and your kids will most likely be okay. In the meantime, cut yourself some slack: Everyone is doing this with no practice. If you are feeling overwhelmed, know that many mental health clinicians are available via video (including me). Hang in there, and stay healthy and safe.
For an audio version of this entire post, click below for an episode of my podcast, "Talking Brains."
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