Parents are among the hardest hit by the pandemic, struggling both with working from home and caring for kids studying from home. With a full house, COVID-19 has put a particularly tough strain on their stress and relationships. A lot of people are adjusting to working from home, now spending almost all of their time around family members. For parents, this means finding ways to create boundaries in the home, which has now been partially converted into a workspace. For kids, this means respecting those boundaries and finding ways to maintain independence.
Additionally, the fact that all of this is happening because of a pandemic adds an undue level of stress for everybody involved. One study of 990 foster parents found that there has been a significant increase in stress levels since the outbreak of COVID-19 (Miller et al., 2020). Especially when it comes to young children, parents are tasked with explaining these unprecedented circumstances, willing their kids to understand that, while it may seem unfair, staying inside is the safest way to prevent the spread of this new disease. Essentially, many of us are trying to figure out how to best navigate these changes and adjust to a new way of life without ruining our personal relationships.
As we know, parents’ behavior has a lot to do with children’s psychological development. Parents who adopt their kids’ perspectives and offer choices, for instance, often raise kids who are intrinsically motivated and independent (Neubauer et al., 2020). In this way, positive outcomes are often associated with parenting that involves treating children as relatively self-sufficient people capable of making their own decisions. When it comes to parenting in the era of COVID-19, this may involve having difficult conversations with your kids and explaining the severity of the situation. However, based on these findings, it’s likely that your children will appreciate your respect and better understand the nature of the pandemic and its consequences.
There is a lot we still don’t know about the nature of COVID-19, but young kids, especially, may feel overwhelmed by all the information that is constantly circulating around. If your child is scared or curious about what’s going on in the world, don’t be afraid to talk to them about it. Of course, you won’t be able to answer all of their questions, but make sure they know you’re listening and do what you can to make them feel safe. It’s important for kids to know the seriousness of what we’re dealing with, but you can also reassure them by explaining how they can help. Tell them they can keep people safe by washing their hands, wearing masks, and following social distancing guidelines. A study with 100 participants found that children are receptive to their parents’ changes in behavior and respect them more when they listen and take their questions seriously (Joussemet et al., 2014). During such uncertain times, as daunting as the thought of transparency with your children may seem, it’s important to keep them informed so that they don’t feel totally overwhelmed.
To many kids, it seems unfair that they can’t spend as much time with their friends as they’d like. If they’re feeling particularly isolated, instead of saying “Well, it’s just what we have to do right now,” try hearing them out so they know that their feelings are valid. Instead, say something like “I know it’s hard. I wish I could see my friends, too!” so they know they’re not alone in their frustrations. One study with 101 participants found that both parents and kids are struggling with not being able to see their friends (Janssen et al., 2020). It’s okay for you to share your feelings about the pandemic with your kids, too. In fact, they’ll appreciate the honesty. Then, explain the reasons why it’s best that they stay home. If they understand the reason behind the restrictions, they’re less likely to disobey them.
The outbreak of the pandemic uprooted many of our schedules, forcing us to adjust to new ways of life. When you’re home all day, it can be hard to stick to a schedule, as you would if you were leaving the house more regularly. However, maintaining structure is important, both for you and for your kids. It will allow you to create boundaries so that you’re not spending too much time worrying about what your kids are doing, and they’ll be able to maintain a sense of independence. One study whose participants were both mothers and educators found that parents felt recharged when they were able to take some time for themselves throughout the day (Guy & Arthur, 2020). It’s important to ask for some space if you’re feeling drained and need a bit of time to relax. Overworking yourself to the point of exhaustion isn’t going to make you feel any better about your work or your parenting.
During a time when every day begins to feel the same, it can be difficult to stay motivated and easy to lose patience. While it’s important to establish a routine, it’s also helpful to work on your growth, as well as that of your kids. Goal-setting can be a great way to reiterate to your kids that you’re proud of them, even if their accomplishments are different now than they were when they were in school. Psychological studies of meaning-making have found that people feel cared for when they know that others acknowledge them, however briefly (Coyne et al., 2020). Even if you set a goal as simple as having your kids brush their teeth on their own every night before bed for a week, show them how happy you are about their accomplishment. Celebrating the smallest of victories can help everybody feel better and show your children that you’re proud of them.
Even when the world isn’t dealing with a pandemic, every family operates differently. Parenting is a highly individual practice because not all kids are the same. Especially right now, it’s important to focus on the things that work best for your relationship with your kids rather than questioning yourself. If you feel confident in the practices that you’ve developed, stick with them. An autoethnographic study of five family therapists found that family therapy clients have come to realize that getting through this pandemic requires a team effort, motivating them to strengthen their relationships with their family members (Amorin-Woods et al., 2020). We all want each other to succeed and come out the other side, so do whatever works best for you and your family.
Inevitably, there will be instances of tension in parent-child relationships, but reaffirming your love for each other will make both you and your kids feel better. While kids will likely act on their feelings of frustration or stress, causing you to want to discipline them, they still need to know that you love them regardless of their behavior. While punishment and positive reinforcement can be useful tactics in certain situations, communicating your unconditional love for your kids is integral to their emotional development. One study with 469 participants found that children whose parents frequently reaffirmed their love – not only by telling their kids they loved them but also by listening to them and allowing them the freedom to make some decisions for themselves – experienced fewer emotional problems while the parents themselves were less stressed overall (Neubauer et al., 2020).
One systematic review of 21 studies found that parents tend to experience even more anxiety than their kids when it comes to the pandemic (Stavridou et al., 2020). Another study discovered that many parents feel drained because of COVID-19 without even considering their responsibilities as parents (Prime et al., 2020). So, while you may always be thinking about your kids, your well-being is just as important as theirs. Now that you’re spending more time at home than ever before, make sure you take time for yourself. Whether you relax after you’ve put the kids to bed or take a walk while your partner or babysitter looks after them, make sure you’re paying attention to your own needs. In fact, you may even realize that you’re a better parent to your children after you’ve taken some time to look after yourself.
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