The pandemic has not been easy on kids. It's no surprise that the frequency of daily negative moods among children increased significantly during pandemic-related lockdowns (Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy).
While lockdowns can be exhausting for families, parental warmth can help protect kids from the negative impact of this complicated stress. Parental warmth and attachment are related to higher self-esteem in children (Child Trends Databank, 2002), fewer psychological and behavior problems (Kochanska and Kim, 2013), protection from peer rejection (Patterson, Cohn, and Kao, 1989), and protection from health risks posed by poverty or stress (Luby et al., 2013).
One way to think of parental warmth is through The Gottman Institute's phrase "Small Things Often," which is based on findings that "successful long-term relationships are created through small words, small gestures, and small acts." These micro-connections can help help kids build resilience during this difficult time.
Here are 30 ways to enact "Small Things Often" and build warmth with kids during your time at home:
- Say a kind word and give your child a hug when he/she first wakes up.
- Read to your child for 10 minutes (the Sunday comics, the Guinness Book of World Records, a sports story about his/her favorite team, or a fiction book).
- Let your child stay up 20 minutes later to watch a show you both like once per week.
- Keep a gratitude journal together – each night write something you’re thankful for or something good that happened that day.
- Talk sports with your child. Talk about who is playing. Predict who will win. Bet with house chores (e.g. whoever loses the bet will take out the garbage).
- Do a good deed for your child like charging their iPad for school or making their bed.
- Ask your child how he/she is doing and feeling with all the life changes.
- Let your child pick a “date” for the two of you out of 3 options (e.g. go for a hike, go golfing, go to a drive-in movie, etc.)
- Write a post-it note about something positive your child did and leave it on his/her pillow.
- Sit down on the floor and play whatever your child wants to play for 20 minutes.
- Take your child outside every day to walk, scooter, bike, shoot hoops, etc.
- Play catch with your child for 10 minutes.
- Talk about a few good news articles with your child for a few minutes.
- Print a photo of you and your child and put it in a frame for them.
- Fly a kite together on a windy day.
- Play Uno, Crazy 8s, or another card game together when your child finishes homework.
- Watch a short adventure film together on YouTube (e.g. extreme kayaking, extreme mountain biking).
- Let your child help you make dinner once per week.
- Walk to a coffee shop and get hot chocolate together.
- Exchange silly jokes together on the first of the month.
- Send your child your favorite photos of them via Messenger, text, or dropbox and say a few things about why you like them (e.g. remember when we went horseback riding and your horse wouldn’t stop eating?)
- Write cards to elderly relatives together.
- When your child’s in bed, ask him/her about the high/low points of their day and really listen.
- Notice/recognize something positive your child is doing at least once per day.
- Send love, strength, or prayers together to someone who really needs it.
- Do a puzzle with your child.
- Help your child connect with one of his/her friends (e.g. encourage them to make a phone call, send a text, set up a zoom call, or arrange a time to hang out).
- Send your child a sweet, positive, or thoughtful text message.
- Say thank you to your child for something each day.
- Ask your child what song they’d like to hear and play it for them.
Parts of this post have been excerpted from the book Joy Fixes for Weary Parents: 101 Quick, Research-Based Ways to Overcome Stress and Build a Life You Love.
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