Parenting During COVID-19
So, let me start off this post with a little personal experience because I think sometimes that can be the most meaningful thing. I am one of the child and family therapists at Place of Peace Counseling Center; I went on maternity leave several months ago and welcomed a beautiful baby girl on February 9th to our family. My family consists of my husband, my 3 ½ year old very strong-willed son, my now 3-month-old daughter, 3 crazy rescue dogs, and 2 cats. I explain all of this because when the COVID-19 quarantine hit, my postpartum plan of my son at school every morning to allow me to rest and have one-on-one bonding time with my daughter and for all of my friends and family to be able to come by and help and keep me company as I transitioned to staying at home --- more than went out the window.
As I write this parenting post, I want you to know I am right there with you. I am in the trenches of motherhood during the COVID-19 pandemic taking all of my knowledge of child behavior and mental health, my own parenting journey so far, things I am learning daily from my own kids, and wisdom from those parenting around me to try make something meaningful out of this unprecedented time.
Children Need Structure & Consistency
Children, of all ages and in every stage, require structure and consistency. The COVID-19 quarantine has now closed schools, parks, after school activities, day cares- you name something integral to your child’s routine outside of your home - and it is probably closed. I won’t bore you with the science behind brain development because, let’s be honest, we have enough to think about right now, but children (even teenagers) do not have the full mental capacity to process this sudden change all around them. My son has come up with numerous very creative ways to get rid of the virus such as yelling at it and using his pretend leaf blower on it, and I have assured him that if those were viable solutions, I would be the first one out in the street yelling and using the biggest leaf blower I could find! However, in all reality, we as parents can do our best to create new structure and consistency for our kids at home.
Here is a sample of what is working for my 3.5 year old below; this schedule can be modified for children of all ages. **Let me also preface this by saying some days, this doesn’t even come close to happening, and instead he spends a chunk of his morning watching Paw Patrol or Ben & Holly, and that’s okay, too. We have to give ourselves some grace and acknowledge that in the same way we crave a break from reality, so do our children! Not to mention, work must be done from home, and we need a break, too!
8:30-9:30- Wake Up & Breakfast
9:30-10:30- Learning Time (Play-Doh, Books, Watching videos from his preschool, crafts, etc.)
11-12- Outside Adventures
12-12:30- Lunch & TV Time
12:30-1:30- Free Play
1:30-4:30- Reading & Nap
4:30/5-5:30- Dinner Prep/ Cooking with Mom
5:30-6:15-TV Time and/or Free Play
6:15- Dinner Time
6:45/7- Playtime with Dad
8- Bath time, wind down & in bed by 9
Children Benefit from Discipline
The title says it all- children benefit from discipline! It is not always easy and sometimes it seems more difficult than just letting negative behaviors go, but 100% of the time, it is worth it in the long run. Discipline is going to look different for each age and stage of development. Right now, for my son, the most effective strategy is time out. He has a specific chair in a room of our house (that he is awfully familiar with these days!) where he goes when he is in trouble. Over time, he has learned that he is not allowed out of this chair until his timer goes off. I recommend one minute for every year of the child’s age. When his time is up, I go into the room and speak with him, give him a hug, and we move on. While I want to make sure my son understands what behaviors will not be tolerated and why, I also want him to understand forgiveness from me and that I am not going to continue to hold misbehavior over his head all day. As children outgrow time out or time in their room, a good discipline strategy can be taking privileges away for a certain amount of time or removing an object that has particular significance (phone, tablet, etc). With the COVID-19 pandemic and excess time spent at home away from everything our children are used to, there is likely to be an increase of negative behaviors. I have noticed an increase of parents feeling guilty for disciplining during this time, but by disciplining, you are providing a sense of predictability and stability for your kids that they are lacking! Giving grace is important, to an extent, however it is also important that our children learn to adapt and change to a new normal. Let’s face it-there will be many times throughout their lives that they have to learn how to rapidly change their routine without much notice. As their parents, we have to teach them how to do this with love and grace but also discipline.
One major thing that I want to make note of here is that certain increased negative behavior and symptoms should not just be written off; they could be symptoms of a clinical level of anxiety or depression in children of all ages which may require counseling. Thankfully, with the use of teletherapy, you do not have to wait to seek help! As your child’s parent, there is no one else who is more of an expert on your child than you! If your gut tells you something is off, do not hesitate to reach out. I have included a list below, courtesy of Olympia Therapy, of symptoms that would indicate anxiety and/or depression in children. (Please note that just having one or a few of these may not indicate an issue however a culmination of many of these symptoms is something to take into consideration as abnormal.)
Parents Were Individuals, First
If you get anything from this post, I want you to hear this- parents were individuals first. Yes, raising your children is one of the most important things you are doing right now, but you have to make yourself a priority. Before children came into our lives, we were individuals with important needs that still have to be met even in the midst of a pandemic. Self- care is critical, and even though self-care may look different for many of us during COVID-19, it is still important. One of the most frustrating things to me as a therapist is seeing self-care described only in terms of elaborate and expensive activities.
Y’all- self care is whatever you want it to be! It is whatever fills your soul, gives you a sense of peace and calm, and whatever makes you come back to your family feeling a little more “filled up” than before you left it. This can be anything from painting your nails, taking a shower, a COVID-19 approved date night, gardening, reading a chapter of a book, listening to a podcast, cooking, cleaning- whatever it is for you. Prioritize this in your life daily, even if it is just for 30 minutes a day. As cheesy as the saying may be, we cannot pour from an empty cup. We cannot pour into our children’s lives if we do not have anything left to give. It is exhausting, and it is impossible. Our children need us to help regulate them while they are still learning to regulate themselves, and we cannot do this if we are not regulated on our own.
So, as parents where does this leave us? I can assure you there will be many days ahead filled with the repercussions of COVID-19. Stay the course- take the good with the bad and understand that even if one day is filled with constant chaos, endless timeouts, intentions for a homecooked dinner that ends in ordering take out and a true battle just to get to bedtime, the next day could be the exact opposite. We must navigate this situation one step at a time, giving ourselves more grace than ever before and allowing our children to teach us about their worlds, even if that means learning about all of the Paw Patrol pups, Disney princesses, Minecraft characters, or whatever else your children may be in to. These things are our “keys” to unlock their worlds. I am learning more than I ever thought possible from my kids during this time (even though they are still so young), and my sincere hope is that they come out of this time knowing, without a shadow of a doubt, that their parents did everything they could to provide shelter in this storm.