14 May How to Cope with the Realities of Parenting Kids and Teens during the Pandemic
Pandemic parenting is unlike regular parenting. We are hearing from many families about how hard it is to be isolated together, now that we are almost two months into quarantine. There continues to be grief over all of the things lost – school, special events, time with friends and family. Yet, the prospect of coming out of quarantine carries mixed emotions for many families as well, with continued concerns about health and safety. In the midst of such stress, behavioral issues with kids of all ages are being reported not only to us, but to pediatricians and mental health experts all over the world.
There is a lot of fear. We are in uncharted territory. Fear shows up in weird and unexpected ways. Sometimes it looks like kids interrupting work calls, yelling at you, or picking fights with siblings. Sometimes it looks like a teenage obsession with a video game or a slammed door.
PANDEMIC PARENTING: YOUNGER KIDS
“Acting out is how kids communicate when they don’t have the words to say how they’re feeling,” said Shannon Noe, Director of Youth Counseling at ReadyKids. “All behavior is communication. Right now our kids are really trying to tell us that they’re wrestling with a lot of big topics.”
Big topics for a little kid can be worries like “Is Grandma safe?” or “Will I be able to have a birthday party?” For slightly older kids, who have some knowledge of the scope of the pandemic, they may be worried about catching the virus themselves, or if Mom or Dad will keep their job. Feeling helpless and powerless to protect your family, as most kids do, can lead to unexpected behaviors as well.
Noe, a parent herself of 3 young boys, has some tips for parents.
WHAT CAN I DO?
Calm Yourself First
- Yelling at your child or punishing them isn’t going to work. If you don’t address the deeper need that the child is trying to communicate, the behavior will continue. Needs kids might be feeling really acutely right now include safety, attention, stability, consistency, emotional support, structure, or something as simple as entertainment. Name the need and feeling out loud, “I can tell you need my attention right now, and you’re really frustrated because I’m on my computer trying to get work done instead of paying attention to your school work.”
How much does this issue matter?
- One of the places where parent-child disagreements come up the most is around limits and expectations. You may limit your child to no screen time before bedtime, or expect them to clean their room. In the big picture, what if this thing I’m asking my child to do doesn’t get done? What can you let go of? It may not matter if a child is in front of the screen longer than usual, if it means it creates more harmony in the house.
Connect before redirect
- Acknowledge what is hard for a child before correcting their behavior. “I know I’m not as good at this as your teachers are, and you really miss them. What can we do to help you finish this assignment?” Put words to why they are struggling. If a child can start to communicate verbally what is a struggle for them, they don’t have to communicate in other less-healthy ways.
Give them an avenue to reach you
- Tell your child they can write you a note or draw you a picture of what they need while you’re on a work call, or trying to get something done. Later, when there is a quiet moment, connect on what they wanted to talk about.
- Make sure the day is filled with lots of laughter and physical activity to reduce stress. The more time you put into your children’s needs, the more time they can allow you to have your own needs.
PANDEMIC PARENTING: TEENS
Parenting teens during the pandemic is going to look different from parenting smaller children.
“While the day-to-day rigor of school has gone down, the developmental tasks of teens have not,” said Jordan Leahy, Counselor in Residence with the ReadyKids Teen Counseling Program.
Teens are still learning cause and effect, who they are, and how to be independent.
“Being at home with parents during social distancing is unlikely to go as a well-received thing. That’s developmental and biological,” said Leahy. “It’s going against their natural tendency to be with folks their own age to practice their autonomy and independence. With their age-appropriate desire to pull away, feelings of frustration and annoyance are more than likely.”
It will be more common to see outbursts associated with negative emotions like sighing, slamming doors and shortened and annoyed tones of voice. It’s important to remember that under stress, high-level emotional reasoning is almost impossible for teens. The frontal cortex of the brain, the area that handles decision-making, isn’t fully developed until the age of 25.
WHAT CAN I DO?
Work to stay calm
- Do your own practice of self-care and stress reduction to manage your own anxieties, fears and frustrations.
- Help your teen feel understood. Their worries and concerns are real. Phrases you can say include: “This is really hard.” “This is really disappointing.” “It’s so unfair.”
Provide clear and attainable expectations
- Discuss what sleep schedules should look like, how much schoolwork should be done each day, have intentional times to be together and alone, find ways to provide a social life for your teen while still maintaining social distancing. Find a rhythm and routine that works for your family.
Work to Hold the Belief that Everyone is Doing the Best They Can in a Given Moment
- Understand what you’re feeling in order to make space for the emotional experience of others. These are huge shifts for everyone and they are bound to cause tension and stress. Strive to be patient.
The great poet Maya Angelou once said, “… from fear can come courage, from suffering can come strength – if we have the virtue of resilience.” Charlottesville is a resilient community. It’s a tough time for us all. It is possible to get through this and build stronger bonds with our kids, despite all of the challenging behaviors that they are dishing up for us right now.
ReadyKids sees you. We are a resource if you need it. To call our 24/7 Teen Hotline, dial or text (434) 972-7233.